By Kate Gatto
Clothing serves a curious double function in modern culture. It allows us to both protect our bodies from the elements and to make a statement that expresses our individuality. It has evolved into both inexpensive options and high-fashion.
No matter what your preference when it comes to clothing we can all agree that the people who make our clothes deserve to be able to support themselves, and their families, with their labors. The most powerful way that any consumer can send this message to the companies that make our clothing is with our pocketbooks. By patronizing retailers who give their workers a fair shake, and actively choosing not to shop in stores where employees are mistreated.
The question we are going to answer today is how can you tell a labor conscious retailer, from one that just puts on a good show.
More than Made in The USA?
Many people believe that they have automatically found a labor conscious company, if the label on the product says “made in the USA.” Sadly, these people have been misled. Not only can that label simply mean that certain items, such as buttons or zippers, were attached to clothing in the USA, it also means nothing in terms of labor fairness.
If you wish to search your clothes by the label in store, a better choice would be to look for the UNITE label. This label ensures that the workers who created the clothing are members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (a group that represents many workers and takes care to ensure that workers are given a fair shake).
Preparing Before You Shop
If you know what you want, but not where you want to get it, then you can do a great deal of good by choosing to browse only at labor friendly shops. That way you can find the perfect shirt, or pair of kicks that express your personal style, without resorting to retailers who don’t value their workers.
Fortunately the folks over at Green America have created a list that ranks some of the most popular retailers in the United States from the most responsible to the least responsible. Retailers on that list, from best to worst, include:
It is important to note that while the treatment of workers is an important part of these rankings, other factors, such as the environmental impact of the company and its ethics policy are also included as factors. If you are interested in finding out in more detail why the company has been given the specific ranking it has, simply click on the link in order to make a determination about why the company was given a good or bad ranking.
If you do not see your target retailer on this listing, there is no need to despair. Other sites have created blessings as well, in that they can help you to find a labor conscious retailer, without having to do detailed background investigation.
One site that provides reliable listings is Sweat Free. There you can find out more about manufacturers who use sweatshop labor and the retailers who choose to buy from them in detail. If you’re interested in taking things to the next level, the site also provides you with breaking news about sweatshop labor, and petitions that will allow you to help take action to protect the rights of workers around the world. Other options for researching companies include Fashioning Change and Wear This, Not That.
If you’re still having trouble finding information about a specific retailer, you should also be able to Google the company’s name with the words “labor practices” or “sweatshop labor” in order to get more specific information about your target company.
Brands that Have Made a Commitment to Fair Labor Practices
Some companies in the retail closings sphere have made an active commitment to renounce the ways of sweatshop labor and pursue more socially conscious option. This agreement, known as the Fair Labor Agreement, include some fairly well-known brands. A list of some of the better-known retail brands who have willingly participated in the Fair Labor Agreement include:
Adidas Brands (including Reebok, TaylorMade adidas Golf, Rockport, CCM, and Ashworth)
Cutter & Buck
New Wave and Clique brands
ABC Gruppen and Nordic Traditions (all sportswear, student caps, yearbooks)
Fenix Outdoor AB (a textile provides for apparel, accessories, boots and outdoor gear including
Fjällräven, Hanwag, Primus, Brunton and Tierra, Follett Clothing and Footwear,)
Forty Seven Brand headwear and apparel
Russell Brands/Fruit of the Loom (including Russell Athletic, Fruit of the Loom and Vanity Fair Brands)
Gildan apparel and GoldToe socks
H&M (Onley includes items that are produced in China, Turkey and India)
Hane’s Brands (Incuding Hanes, Champion, Playtex, Bali, Barely There, JMS, Duofold, Wonderbra, L’eggs)
NCAA, Alta Gracia, Pro Edge, Red Oak, Pro Player, Pro Player 2, Section 101, Knights Apparel; non-collegiate brands: NBA, NBA Player, NHL, NHL Player, MLB, NASCAR and X Games
New Balance, Dunham, P.F. Flyers, Aravon and Brine
All Nike footwear, and apparel/ equipment
Van Heusen apparel
Port Authority, Port Authority Signature, Port & Company, Precious Cargo, Red House and Sport-Tek.
Final Options for Getting Information On Consumer Consciousness
Of course if you still can’t find information about a brand you’re interested in you can just ask the company directly. Find contact information for the customer service number of the company and a few simple questions can help you determine the labor consciousness of the organization. You can find a list of sample questions to ask in our Consumer consciousness 101 article.
In the end by supporting consumer conscious businesses, and denying less ethical businesses your hard-earned dollars, we can make a serious change in how businesses do business.