Ethically-made Garments

The deaths of 1100 people (mainly women) in the collapse of a garment-making factory in Bangladesh three weeks ago cannot readily be ignored. Nor should they be. The terrible ramifications for the children and families who have lost their parent(s) and livelihoods (such as they were) are immense and devastating.

Source: Reuters

As an op shopping mother of four children, I've always prided myself on this way of buying clothes ethically - recycling/reusing etc. It is one step (at least) removed from buying directly from the retailer, and hence I conveniently don't often worry about where or how the clothes are made. But like most parents with a stretched hip pocket, I too can be a sucker for the retail catalogues that pour through my letterbox, advertising cheap kids clothing.

But as parents trying to provide for our children the best way we can, we shouldn't have to manufacture empathy for parents in other countries trying to do the very same thing. Are we happy to accept mothers and children working in dangerous and exploitative conditions such as those found in Bangladesh, just so we can pay $8 for a tee-shirt or $6 for some track pants?  We need to accept our role in this. Being cash-strapped or time poor isn't a good enough reason when you think about the working lives and death tolls attached...

Photo of Arch, taken by M Dudley, 2013

The Bangladesh tragedy is the world's biggest disaster regarding the clothing manufacturing industry (going back to the abuse of children and workers in the industrial revolution) and it is a tragedy that it took this to force retailers and manufacturers to account for how their clothes are made.

And yet some of Australia's major clothing retailers have, even now, refused to disclose details about how and where their clothes are made. More reprehensibly, they've refused to sign an international Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which aims to improve health and safety conditions for workers in that country.

I urge you to express your concern to these companies (as of writing, Target, Big W, KMart and Cotton On have been mentioned) - any way you can. I'm writing to all of them (check out my letter under Pages on the side bar - feel free to use it as a template), and I'll let you know what responses I get.

I recently recommended a great teen fashion novel by Sophia Bennett (Threads), which dealt with the issue of African child soldiers in a really sensitive and great way. The second book in the series Beads, Boys and Bangles is also fantastic, and deals with issues of ethically-made clothing, and the tyranny of the sweat shop manufacturing industry. This series is highly entertaining, with a social conscience and a great way to introduce your tweens to areas of social responsibility in the (often vacuous) world of fashion.

Would you change your spending habits to make a stand in this area?
Will you consider changing where you shop to make a difference?
How do we find out if the clothes we are buying have been ethically made? Can we believe what we're told by the big companies?

I hope these issues don't go away in a hurry. The pain of the Bangladeshy people affected by the factory collapse will last a lifetime, so change is the least we can do..


  1. Dear Sarah,
    I have been looking into sweatshop free clothing (on a budget - Carla Zampatti may be sweatshop free but that is not an option)over the past few weeks as I have lost weight and needed new clothes for work.
    A friend told me about what you had written and I thought I would reply by sending you a link, via the oxfam website, that I had found helpful. This is the list of signatories to the ethical clothing Australia.

    Also it is worth noting that Country Road and affiliates have signed a separate agreement in regards to workers overseas.


    1. Thanks so much Rosanna for the link - i've added it to my facebook site. Good to know about Country Road too - their quality has never been the same since they went off shore but am happy to promote them if their agreement for o/s manufacturing is worthwhile.
      Hope you've found some good work clothes, and do tell your secret for weight loss! Kind Rgds, Sarah.

  2. Ooh, just seen you are happy for me to use it as a template - awesome! What's your FB site? Is it a public one? I'm always looking for more ethical ways to shop! Bek


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