Fast Fashion Ethics: Should Clothing E-Tailers Be More Transparent?

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On November 27th, execs at fashion e-tailers Boohoo Group, Asos and Misguided attended the second evidence hearing on the sustainability of the fashion industry at the houses of parliament in London. The Committee pushed the three execs – ASOS CEO Nick Beighton, CEO Carol Kane, who represented both Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing, and Missguided head of product quality and supply Paul Smith – on their manufacturing practices in the English city of Leicester. This followed an earlier hearing on October 30, when the committee heard evidence about below-legal wages and unethical conditions for clothing manufacturing workers.

The current inquiry follows a period of increased scrutiny for the online clothing retailers, as the UK political sphere, under pressure from the public, turns its attention on clothing manufacturing practices. The questionable ethics of sourcing from the top four clothing manufacturing destinations – China, where 21%of garment importers say they source their stock, Bangladesh and India (tied for second place with 14%) and Vietnam (12%) – have been in the public spotlight for several years. Many high-street retailers, notably Primark, H&M, Inditex-owned Zara, source at least a percentage of their garments in these countries. While many have taken widely publicized steps in recent years to ensure the safe working conditions and living wages of their workers, as of the end of 2018, a lot remains to be done. According to the Fashion Transparency Index report, published annually by the non-profit Fashion Revolution, global fashion brands have increased the overall social and environmental transparency of their sourcing practices by just 5% since last year.

Despite this, international sourcing practices remain difficult to police at the government level, which may be one of the reasons why the UK government has taken issue with these four e-tailers in particular – all of which have manufacturing facilities in the UK.

In this week’s hearing, Smith testified that Missguided had reduced its presence in Leicester, after recognizing its inability to satisfactorily audit the factories it was using.  Having started this year working with 35 manufacturers at 80 different sites, the company now sources from 12 suppliers at 20 factories.

Beighton stated his satisfaction with the standards in the factories Asos uses.

Kane defended allegations from the previous hearing that Boohoo’s £5 dresses were responsible for underpaid workers and promoting unsustainable and non-environmental consumer buying patterns.

“We have 80 dresses from over 60,000 styles that are £5. They are loss leaders and we don’t make any money on them, but it’s a marketing technique to drive people to our website,” he said, according to Drapers.