We live under the impression that when a piece of clothing is marked, “Made in Britain”, it was made in a garment factory in the UK that upholds good workplace ethics. The fact of the matter is that, sweatshops are not just common in the developing world. United Kingdom also has quite a few of these garment factories. With the strong, and very effective marketing of ´Made in the UK´ it is important for designers to realize that if the price of an item of clothing is very low – is it logical that it could be produced at this price in the UK and that minimum wages are being paid and that conditions for the workers are suitable?
Having our sampling studio and production in Saigon we are often asked about fair working conditions. And we want to be asked, because it is something which is at the core of our beliefs. Of course there are factories in Vietnam which do not have good standards, there are sweatshops just as there are in Bangladesh, or Cambodia, India or China. And as you will read below, also in the UK and certainly other Western countries. At Source Studio, we work with a select number of factories, currently 18, and a big part of our role is to select these factories as our production partners. Many of these´factories´ are smaller workshops with 25-100 workers and they have typically been set up by ex-line managers from the larger factories. We have worked closely with many of these workshops since their set-up, training in high quality production, standard operating procedures and controls and advising in general so that we could partner with them for parts of our production orders. These types of work shops typically work on low volume orders, as well as more complex styles and to a high quality level. Perhaps because the management are ex- line managers having worked their way up from being a seamstress in most cases, they value the working environment and create friendly and comfortable work places for their staff. Because we work in a transparent fashion, and because we are the eyes and ears for our clients, we consider it our role to ensure that production is carried out in not only fair working conditions, but good working conditions, with above average wages and with overtime paid to dedicated and hard working staff. It means also that we do not compete with sweatshop prices – if a shirt, ordered in 50 units is quoted at $7 a piece, it is not likely under fair working conditions, be it in Vietnam or elsewhere.
What is the situation in the UK?
Leicester is currently under investigation after reports found that more than a third of workers are being paid half the legal minimum wage requirement, working in unsafe conditions and/or without employment contracts. Leicester accounts for a third of Britain’s garment manufacturing output. Its clientele is composed of well-known high street brands.
According to reports, the fashion manufacturing industry is plagued by bad labour practices. Many factories are notorious for poor employment conditions and a blatant abuse of human rights. According to Debbie Coulter from the Ethical Training Initiative, it is shocking to learn how, in a country whose average wage is £3 per hour, there are still people paid as little as £1 per hour in sweatshops.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Anders Kristiansen of New Look has expressed qualms about using Leicester factories to support the rising demand for its products. It is a known epidemic in the industry and everyone is aware of it but no one is necessarily doing anything about it. Also chief executive Nick Breighton added that manufacturing the UK may be the fastest way to bring their line to consumers but Leicester’s bad reputation may just force them to look elsewhere to keep up with their inventory without sacrificing their reputation and corporate ethos.