The Role of Consumers in Promoting Fashion Garment Industry Ethics

Subject: Business Ethics
Pages: 5
Words: 1618
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Bachelor

Introduction

One of the main challenges that face the fashion garment industry is sustainability and this is because its products are in high demand and attract high amounts of profit. The growth of the internet and social media spreads fast, and consumers are more conversant with ethical fashion issues. However, settling for ethical clothing is a challenge to many people since thousands of brands in the market claim to be promoting sustainable fashion products. It is important to note that customers’ decisions are highly influenced by what they know about a particular brand, and therefore their appreciation of ethical fashion is dependent on a company’s efforts toward Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (Oka, 2017). Consumers have a key role in promoting ethics in the fashion industry but related companies have a more significant task in educating buyers on the sustainability of the purchase and use of garments.

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When a company communicates its code of ethics, consumers get to learn and appreciate its values. Some of the fashion’s industry-primary ethical issues include discrimination and unequal treatment of workers (Cerchia & Piccolo, 2019). Other moral areas of concern that demand buyers’ attention is labor safety, unfair business operations, corruption, and respect for the environment (Ambekar et al., 2019). Consumers, therefore, have a duty to evaluate a brand’s ethical principles to determine whether they prioritize ethics in general and support employment and workers’ rights. Although it might be difficult to distinguish between fashion firms that embrace sustainability and those that pretend to do so, there are legal structures that protect consumers from deceiving advertisements and promotions.

Review of Arguments

Today, consumers are not only concerned with the prices of fashion products in relation to the quality they are receiving, their demands also include sustainability and CSR in relation to their items of interest. Sustainability entails both social and environmental issues because it directs all present operations and should not compromise the well-being of future generations (Bick et al., 2018). Consumers usually identify themselves with the products they use and therefore conscious buyers have a social responsibility and ethical standard expectations from the brands they usually associate with. Additionally, globalization has impacted the fashion industry and any unethical practice within the sector attracts adverse reactions from consumers.

There are various arguments and theories that can be used to illustrate the importance of consumers in promoting ethics in the fashion garment industry, particularly in the supply chain. Ethical sourcing is the process of gathering raw materials in a responsible way and is the first area that determines whether a brand is championing sustainable garments or not (Ambekar et al., 2019). Consumers have the task of monitoring all the processes involved in manufacturing clothing to ensure the fashion industry produces safe products. Ethical buyers should only purchase products from brands that use resources that prioritize environmental safety.

However, the issue of fashion victims has made it difficult for buyers across the world to stand for ethics in the fashion industry. These are individuals who are obsessed with the latest trends in the garment industry that they focus less on the safety of using these products. Consequently, workers in China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia get exploited in the name of meeting the buyers’ needs. The Rana Plaza tragedy is an example of a tragedy that occurred as a result of ignoring employee rights leading to the collapse of the building and a total death toll of 1134 (Boström & Micheletti, 2016). It is such tragic occurrences that awaken the consciousness of consumers who do not appreciate sustainable fashion.

Although it is difficult to follow up on a brand’s ethical sourcing as a consumer, one can familiarize themselves with a company’s overall values by visiting its website. Besides the messages in advertisements and promotions, a firm’s ethical principles and choice of values demonstrate its stand on matters pertaining to ethics in the fashion industry (Cerchia & Piccolo, 2019). The main point here is the brand’s code of ethics which helps the consumers understand the business’ policies. When individuals express interest in a fashion brand’s written ethical standards then it is more than likely that the company adopts sustainable approaches to retain its customers.

Evidence and Case studies Supporting the Arguments

Ethical Sourcing

In the past, very few people were concerned with the brands that produced their garments and the manufacturing processes used. However, things have changed today since millennials are more exposed to environmental issues and are at the forefront of advocating for ethical and sustainable products and are willing to purchase such products (Kim et al., 2016). According to a survey conducted by Fairtrade Foundation on sustainable and ethical cotton sourcing, 82% of young people below 20 years in the UK believe that fashion companies need to improve their ethical presence. On the other hand, only 42% of the same sample were of the opinion that the brands already have related measures in place (Kim et al., 2016). Additionally, teenagers spend approximately $1.4 trillion on clothing and therefore their opinions have the potential of influencing the place of ethics in the fashion industry (Kim et al., 2016). Consequently, a fashion brand’s code of ethics and demonstration of its CSR determines the number of young consumers willing to associate with it.

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Consumers’ Concerns in the Fashion Industry

As pointed out, the greatest challenge in the fashion industry is attaining a safe and sustainable planet for future generations. As a result, the public, local, international, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are pushing for ethical reforms in the cloth manufacturing industry. Even with the rise of the green fashion movement, the industry is still labeled as one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and the unequal treatment of workers (Hasan, 2017). One case study that every consumer can learn from is the Rana Plaza tragedy. Every consumer familiar with the catastrophe would want to know the values of a brand before they go ahead and purchase its products. Semicon India’s case study is a typical example of how companies that prioritize working conditions have higher chances of retaining their employees. The human resource department in the technological company ensures that there is equality and that its workers are paid better than its competitors (Diez et al., 2020). Consumers favor fashion products that are ethically manufactured because they not only care about their safety but also the rights of employees in garment factories.

Environmental and Social Wellbeing of Consumers and Workers

The coexistence between humankind and the environment is one of the crucial elements of sustainable fashion. Ethical clothes are those which integrate free labor tenets with fair trade principles and at the same time protect the environment, workers and clients by embracing organic and biodegradable raw materials. The manufactured garments are supposed to benefit the people more and impact the environment less (Thorisdottir & Johannsdottir, 2020). Moreover, it is important to note that whatever affects the environment also interferes with the well-being of humans, both clients and employees. Social concerns in the fashion industry include child labor, underpayment, and the infringement of human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, the fashion industry in the US is worth $2.4 trillion, which implies that millions of workers in the industry are exposed to labor abuses in companies that pay less attention to ethics (Thorisdottir & Johannsdottir, 2020). For instance, pregnant women are often fired or denied maternity leave, which are violations of employment rights. The responsibilities still lie among consumers who have the power to reject brands that mistreat their employees.

Discussion

Achieving a sustainable fashion industry is determined by the efforts of both the consumers and companies. The collection of raw materials, the manufacturing process, and retail and advertisement are the main areas that call for attention if fashion brands are to practice ethics. I agree that ethical sourcing is a subject of concern since consumers only receive the end products and are less attracted to the initial manufacturing stages (Greasley & Thomas, 2020). Consequently, it is the duty of customers to question the raw materials fashion brands use to ascertain whether they are biodegradable and organic. However, the local and international bodies such as the government should enforce laws that promote transparency in the involved businesses.

On the other hand, working conditions in the fashion industry, particularly in the supply chain sector, highly depend on a brand’s ethical principles. The Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh is an example of a tragedy that happened as a result of negligence from the factory involved. Even though the management knew that the building was not constructed properly, they insisted that workers reported daily, which resulted in the disaster (Oka, 2017). Additionally, violations of labor rights and cases of child labor are witnessed in the industry globally. Consequently, it is necessary that consumers study the values of the garment firms they interact with and these can be accessed through the code of ethics posted on most company websites. Clients in the modern era love to associate with ethically upright brands and they can do so by ascertaining that those businesses respect the rights of their workers.

Conclusion

With developments in globalization, there have been increased concerns about morality in businesses, particularly in the supply chain. Fashion companies take advantage of the ever-increasing number of customers to use unethical means to earn profits. Consumers are in a better place to insist on ethical reformation and transformation in the fashion industry because without them brands cannot make any money. Sourcing of raw materials and working conditions in the garment manufacturing sector are the main elements that need ethical attention. However, with the right information regarding a fashion firm’s ethical principles, consumers can decide which brands to associate with and support positive changes in the industry.

References

Ambekar, S., Kapoor, R., Prakash, A., & Patyal, V. (2019). Motives, processes and practices of sustainable sourcing: a literature review. Journal of Global Operations and Strategic Sourcing, 12(1), 2-41.

Bick, R., Halsey, E., & Ekenga, C. (2018). The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environmental Health, 17(1).

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Boström, M., & Micheletti, M. (2016). Introducing the Sustainability Challenge of Textiles and Clothing. Journal of Consumer Policy, 39(4), 367-375.

Cerchia, R., & Piccolo, K. (2019). The ethical consumer and codes of ethics in the fashion industry. Laws, 8(4), 23-28.

Diez, F., Hoon, T., & Appasamy, L. (2020). Semicon India: “Demystifying workforce analytics’’ [pdf]. Singapore Management University.

Hasan, M. (2017). Corporate Social Responsibility in garment industry supply chain. Archives of Business Research, 5(7).

Kim, S., Colicchia, C., & Menachof, D. (2016). Ethical sourcing: An analysis of the literature and implications for future research. Journal of Business Ethics, 152(4), 1033-1052.

Oka, C. (2017). Brands as labor rights advocates? Potential and limits of brand advocacy in global supply chains. Business Ethics: A European Review, 27(2), 95-107.

Thorisdottir, T., & Johannsdottir, L. (2020). Corporate Social Responsibility influencing sustainability within the fashion industry. A systematic review. Sustainability, 12(21), 9167.

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