It’s been more than two years since a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 textile workers. It’s been more than two years since the world responded to this tragedy with outrage, unable to believe that companies could risk the lives of their workers as if they were worth nothing. It’s been more than two years, and very little has changed, either for the workers in Bangladesh, or for the consumers.
I became interested in how the people who made my consumer products were treated a few years ago, but it’s really been in the last year or so that I’ve let this information really affect my actions. I’ve tried hard to find information about where products were coming from, who made them and in what conditions, and I’ve done what I could to avoid supporting companies that don’t seem to care about the people who work long hours making their products.
But I think it’s time to get positive. While many companies have done very little to improve conditions for their workers, many others have developed business models that improve the lives of their employees. Hundreds of companies have become disillusioned with fast fashion and have found new and innovative ways to make consumer products, while simultaneously empowering the workers. So rather than talk about the injustices being done, today I’m going to celebrate 5 companies that are working hard for justice in their supply chains.
The activewear retailer, which can be found in most outdoor stores, developed a Fair Trade certified fashion line in May 2014. As of spring 2015, this Fair Trade line of clothing offers activewear for both men and women, men’s underwear, women’s apparel, as well as baby clothing. Most of this line is made in a Fair Trade Certified sewing facility, meaning the men and women making these pieces are working reasonable hours, in safe conditions, with reasonable pay. Other pieces in the collection are made with Fair Trade Certified cotton. Cotton is infamous for the use of children and slave labour in the picking process, so this is a huge step in the right direction.
This National Geographic associated line of apparel and accessories gives artisans from around the world, who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance, the opportunity to sell their goods on the international market. NOVICA has regional support teams that help these artisans with everything from product development, to business development to make their business successful. They also offer microcredit loans, allowing many of these artisans to create a sustainable business, and in turn benefit their local economy. To date, NOVICA has supplied artisans with over $62 million.
Stone + Cloth. (http://www.stoneandcloth.com/)
Being part of JustUs, a team made up of people who believe a quality education has the ability to empower children and give them opportunities they could otherwise only dream of, and having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro myself, this social enterprise really excited me. Stone + cloth was created by Matthew Clough, who while connecting with his porter, Benson, on his trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro, learned that Benson doesn’t earn enough money to put his child through school. Matthew Clough decided to use his talent for design and create “the Benson Bag.” Proceeds from all stone + cloth bags help to provide scholarships for children in Tanzania through partnership with a non-profit organization called The Knock Foundation (http://www.knockfoundation.org/).
Most well-known for their fair trade “kantha quilts”, which are hand-stitched, and made from reclaimed sari cloth, dignify offers women living in poverty a second chance. All the women employed in creating their quilts were previously living on the street or engaged in the sex trade. These women are now able to make a fair, sustainable income in a safe environment.
This clothing company is using technology to create a unique system, which connects the consumer directly to the people involved in making their goods. Rather than have clothing mass produced in an environmentally unfriendly way, by machines that take jobs away from people, IOU’s products are individually hand-made. When you order a piece of clothing through IOU’s website, you’re sent a tracking number, which gives you the ability to follow your article of clothing from the weaving stage, through the production stage, all the way to your doorstep. As a consumer, you get to know the name and story of the craftsman and the designer behind your purchase, and since there are no other manufacturing costs involved, such as machine maintenance and factory rent, more revenue goes to the people who made your product.
While many companies have stubbornly refused to change the system which benefits them and harms their workers, others have innovatively found way to make our consumer goods benefit those who make them. These companies have created a way to provide a sustainable living wage for those who are daily threatened by poverty, and give them opportunities that are not readily available to most of today’s textile workers. The companies featured here are just five of hundreds that are working to provide ethically made consumer goods, so that we can stop contributing to the systematic enslavement of textile workers, and feel good about the products we buy.
Everything we buy was made by someone, working hard to provide for themselves and their families. I believe that these people deserve to be treated fairly, and have a job that will enhance their living standards, not make them worse. These five companies, and many others, share this belief, and are working to make it a reality. They’re doing justice and creating good through their supply chains, empowering their workers rather than enslaving them. Let’s join them, and choose to consume good.
*Most of the information in this blog has been found on the website of the individual brands, and on www.thegoodtrade.com. Check out their website for more really awesome brands that are doing great things!