Blood, Sweat and T-shirts

Everyone has been talking about the BBC TV series, Blood, Sweat and Tshirts, in which, “six young fashion addicts experience life as factory workers in India, making clothes for the British high street.”

Last night was the final episode of the programme, along with a set-piece discussion on Newsnight (actual programme here – will work until 20th May).  Stacey and Georgina from the programme were in a discussion with Jane Mill from the British Retail Consortium, which represents a large number of the big fashion retailers.

The girls from Blood, Sweat and Tshirts had obviously been significantly affected by what they’d seen in India, but the problem – they said – was the dearth of positive alternatives on the UK high street.

We’re often asked ‘where can I buy ethical clothes’, a question we’ve tried to answer elsewhere.  The honest truth is that, while there are some fair trade alternatives away from the high street, on the high street there is no way to buy clothes that you can be sure were made in good conditions.  The important thing to do is to buy from whereever and then write to the companies telling them that you’re concerned.

The biggest disappointment of the discussion was Paxman’s line of questioning, which left unchallenged the BRC’s assertion, repeated on its website, that,

BRC members take their responsibility for the welfare of their own and their suppliers’ workers very seriously, especially with regard to the use of child and forced labour.

The reality is that if brands had been taking these matters seriously for the past ten years then a lot more would have changed.  Still, the BRC’s position is a considerable improvement on that which is found elsewhere on its website – outright denial:

It’s a myth that UK retailers source from exploitative, badly run sweatshops. That would be unethical and unworkable. For example China is producing shoes for the world on an unprecedented scale. That requires safe, modern attractive factories, not the backstreets. Standards in factories located in developing countries often surpass those in Europe and America. To provide goods in the quantities, of the quality and to the timescales UK retailers require, they have to. World class facilities in Asia are delivering product to some of the most demanding consumers in the world on the UK high street. Only the best will do and this must be built on total trust in ethical and environmental standards. Any factory which cannot compete on this level will simply not be able to meet the standards demanded by BRC members and their customers. Retailers work with the Ethical Trading Initiative to ensure that high standards are adhered to. Suppliers are systematically inspected . If they are not able to meet these standards contracts are ended and business is taken elsewhere.