During the last month I have been taking an online (free!) course called Who Made My Clothes through futurelearn.com and the University of Exeter. Having watched The True Cost film on Netflix which investigates the Rana Plaza tragedy where over 1000 garment workers died during a factory collapse and subsequently getting involved with Fashion Revolution week back in April this course appealed to my interest in ethical fashion.
We were asked to choose some of our own clothes to investigate and try and uncover stories about the people who made them. I enjoyed playing super-sleuth, but it wasn’t an easy nor happy task. I thought I already knew a lot about the rotten core of the fast fashion industry having done a lot of research on the subject for my business. However I still found myself shocked and tearful when faced with the human stories I uncovered.
I chose three different garments to start with but then had to focus on one which ended up being a pair of black skinny jeans (92% Cotton, 6% polyester & 2% elastane) from River Island which were made in Turkey. I focussed on these mainly because River Island customer service was initially quite helpful when asked where the cloth came from. They actually responded whereas French Connection when asked about my white dress didn’t bother and stayed ominously silent. River Island stated through Twitter that they would contact their production team and look into it for me. However I have had no answer on this now for a month and don’t imagine that I will.
Many of the other course participants had similar problems so we were asked then to investigate the countries of manufacture for information about garment workers and then what we could find out on the countries that were likely to have produced the materials involved. Furthermore what was the track record of these chosen retailers on ethical issues? This way we could uncover likely or possible stories that the brands are not keen to tell us themselves.
The Turkish Garment Industry
As my jeans were made in Turkey it became obvious from news articles such as this one from The Guardian that they could have been made by Syrian refugees. (NB. This is a guess not a fact)
“On this weekday morning most Turkish children are in school, but this Syrian boy is busy supplying the 15 sewing machines producing clothing mainly destined for the European market. Shukri, a Syrian Kurd who fled with his uncle from Qamishli in northern Syria 10 months ago, often works 60 hours a week earning 600 Turkish lira (£138) to help support his family. “I can’t go to school here because of work,” he says “.
“The factory’s supervisor agrees that 12 years old is very young to be working so many hours, but shrugs off responsibility. “It’s not our fault that they need to work,” he says, “the state failed to provide for them.”
Exploitation of Refugees
In the Fairwear Foundation’s 2016 report on the clothing industry in Turkey it states
”Syrian families who are trying to survive in Turkey end up in the lowest paid and most precarious segments of the workforce, due to economic pressure. Since Syrians often lack the residence or work permits that would allow them to work legally in Turkey, without any official sources of income they have no other choice but to accept to work in very hard conditions”
In February 2016 The Independent reported that The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) asked 28 major brands about Turkish suppliers and what strategies they had in place to prevent Syrian children and adults being exploited within their supply chain. Ten companies including River Island have yet to respond.
So as I am already feeling rather ashamed of my River Island purchase and only covered half of what I found I shall save the rest until next week! I just hope you have to stomach to stick with me and read on!
#WhoMadeMyClothes #FashionRevolution #RiverIsland #FairWearFoundation #FutureLearn