If you have a look at the labels of the clothes hanging in your wardrobe, undoubtedly you will find a piece of clothing with the label ‘Made in India’. While Indian labourers live from a loan of roughly sixty to one hundred euros per month, they should receive a monthly loan of twohundred-sixtythree euros according to Indian floor wages. The Indian floor wage is based on the ability to pay for food, housing, clothing and education.
These were the first lines introducing my bachelor’s thesis research after Dutch-based Clean Clothes Campaign, established in 1989. As you can already expect from this anecdote, labourers in the Indian textile industry are usually extremely underpaid. Besides their loan they usually also have to endure bad working conditions in the factory itself. Think of the labourers being discriminated, assaulted, not being able to go to the toilet because they have to get their targets done, overworking while not being paid for it…
Enough reasons for me to show empathy and write a bachelor’s thesis about it. However, it must be said that these working conditions are not only applicable to Indian workers in the clothing industry. In the Phillipines, Thailand, Indonesia and China for example, the conditions in textile factories are usually the same. These countries are amongst the countries where the Clean Clothes Campaign, too, is active.
The Clean Clothes Campaign tries to achieve better working conditions for labourers by doing so in four different ways: the organization helps the labourers raising awareness of their own rights, lobbies clothing companies, tries to raise awareness of bad working conditions amongst the governments of those countries and the organization tries to mobilize consumers to change their consumption habits. And consumer habits, that’s what I want to go on with a little bit further now.
What I like so much about initiatives like the Talking Thread is that they make their readers aware of exactly what I think is the problem with consumption of fair trade fashion: which brands are fair trade? Many people I speak to have no clue about fair trade fashion brands. I only found out when I really started to dive deeper into information about fair trade fashion. It should be so much easier to find information about fair trade fashion. And thanks to the Talking Thread I think the world is a bit better off already, being able to consume information about fair trade fashion easily.
What I also like about the Talking Thread is that the writers behind this blog give opportunities in how to style yourself in a fashionable way even though they clothe themselves in fair trade clothing. And yes, I said ‘even though’ there. Because for many people I know, including myself since half a year ago, it seems impossible to find fashionable clothing that’s ethically okay!
However, there is a nuance to be made to the label ‘fair trade’. Are fair trade labels really that good? For subcontracting exists, even in the world of fair trade labels. Are we sure the labourers in textile factories who are working for a fair trade brand are getting the right loans and are working under proper working conditions in the factories?
I think there is still much to discover in the world of fair trade clothing. And I really think that both the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Talking Thread are amazing initiatives which have at least one really important thing in common when it comes to changing consumer habits: making consumers of clothing aware of how their clothing is made. Be it with a lot about the topic of fair trade labels to discover, I think these initiatives offer a beginning of a long process of making the world a better place. Way to go!
Inez van Gijlswijk