SEATTLE, Washington — An ethical company is one that minimizes harm to the environment, pays workers a living wage and creates quality products. In this era of greater accountability and working to preserve our planet and the people in it, these ethical business practices are more important than ever. Yet, unfortunately, many businesses still operate unethically, underpaying workers and damaging the land upon which the workers live. Even so, that is changing. Various industries have by-and-large begun reforming themselves to follow ethical guidelines more and more. One such industry is fashion.
History of the Fashion Industry
One prominent industry in the discussion about the impact of ethical companies is the fashion industry. The fashion industry has increased the demand for clothes by increasing the speed at which clothing is produced. This led to companies needing faster, cheaper labor. Thus, the manufacturing companies outsourced production, leaving the original company unaware of who was truly making their clothes and the conditions of these workers. This problem has contributed to an estimated 73 million children being exploited for work across many industries, including fashion.
Additionally, rapid clothing manufacturing has put further strain on the world’s already scarce resources and its high CO2 emissions output. The textile and fashion industry directly impacts the lives of people in developing nations due to how many natural resources they require to make clothing. One tee-shirt in the fast fashion market uses 715 gallons of water, and one pair of jeans takes 900 gallons. This substantiality minimizes the resource for the 780 million people without access to clean water around the world. Furthermore, clothing manufacturing is responsible for 20% of water pollution.
Despite these grim statistics, change is happening. Many fast fashion and clothing brands in general are reevaluating their practices and ethicality. Below is what is how the impact of ethical companies and their change toward sustainable clothing is changing the industry.
Change to Ethical, Sustainable Clothes
In recent years, the impact of ethical companies has been growing. These companies are raising the bar and showing other companies how to make changes. Making the switch from an unethical and unsustainable company is not easy, but it is also far from impossible. It simply takes dedication and the commitment to improve people’s livelihoods.
One place companies have started is by creating strict guidelines about factory workers’ pay and working conditions. Some ways to ensure factories treat workers with dignity and pay them a living wage is to assess every aspect of the supply chain and consider producing products in countries with stricter and more humanitarian guidelines.
Another change companies are making is reevaluating the materials they use to create their products. Around 8,000 synthetic chemicals used in clothing manufacturing can cause cancer and skin irritation, something companies do not disclose. To combat this problem companies can use more natural and organic products. It is estimated that growing organic cotton uses almost 50% less water than non-organic cotton. By adopting this change, there is less risk for the consumer and producer as well as a significant decrease in overall resources.
One common misconception for companies is the fear of losing customers if they practice more ethical behavior. Companies worry they won’t be able to compete because their products will have to be slightly more expensive. However, according to Fairtrade, 80% of consumers have a “more positive perception” of a company that carries a Fairtrade label. Research from the Journal of Business Ethics also confirms that ethical companies create greater customer loyalty and appreciation.
Consumers need to be a part of this ethical change as well. Consumers can start by reducing the number of clothes they purchase and recycling clothes when they are done with them. For example, repurposed denim does not require water. That means the exorbitant resources usually needed can go to other purposes. Several companies such as H&M and Nike have created recycling programs in their stores to make this easier for consumers. Customers also need to commit to purchase from sustainable brands and wear their clothes for a longer period of time.
The impact of ethical companies continues to shed light on how all companies and consumers can do better. With these changes, the fashion industry can lift more people out of poverty allowing them to obtain a higher quality of living.
– Allison G. Caso