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.


29 Responses to “Blood, Sweat and T-shirts”

  1. jay Says:

    Can somebody help me? If I want to reduce my contribution to the exploitation of clothing workers, do I have to shop away from the high street? Is that the only way? I am uncomfortable giving my credit card number over the internet where people can steal your details.

    • Anayah Holily Says:

      Hi Jay. Good question! One of the ways which we can all make wise choices is to buy Fair Trade .. everything! .. this ensures fair wages, and better working conditions. A win-win. Gotta love that! Anayah

  2. jay Says:

    I’ve just sent a letter to Sainbury’s on the ethical issue. Thing is, I already bought 2 articles of clothing from there even though I knew. But the author of the blood, sweat and t-shirt message said that the important thing is to buy your clothes from wherever and voice your ethical concerns to the businesses. Hypocrite I may be, but I cannot afford to buy stuff from ethical websites that ship in stuff from the US or wherever. I’m not made of money and I need cheap clothes. If I had bought clothes anywhere else on the high street, I would be in the same position.

  3. holly martin Says:

    I think that people should do is buy their clothes from wher ever and go to the manager or who ever is in charge from were you brought your clothes from and tell them that they need to make things better.

  4. Rock Pilgrimages Says:

    This guy Richard in the series is unbelievable, he doesn’t see any political side to why people are so poor, sleeping on factory floors and at the mercy of the factory owners.

    The whole reason why the UK is NOT like that anymore (although it was about 150-200 years ago) is because workers got organised and made unions, they negotiated better pay, they made their own parties and voted them into power.

    I am not saying India needs some sort of Communist revolution, but what they need is to go through the process that Britain and the other western countries went through to ensure their workers have a decent standard of life. We should be responsible when consuming, and aid that process.

    It’s both about the politics in India and our consumerism!

  5. tamz Says:

    One way to reduce your impact on exploitation is to invest in clothing-if you buy decent, hardwearing and well made clothes, you will be reducing the demand for cheap,fast fashion. Try and buy decent staples like jeans,and wear what you already have more often, and buy from charity shops (i snapped up a zara shirt from one the other day for £3.50,its not all frumpy rubbish) Alternatively make your own clothes like I do,patterns are easy and with a few common sensical adjustments or lessons from someone they can be made fashionable.

    • Anayah Holily Says:

      HI Tamz. One of the problems is that high end companies are having their garments made in sweat shops, yet selling them for an enormous price. I totally agree with you about looking after or clothes etc and making them last. Well said! I feel Fair Trade is the wisest, fairest, most cost effective way to go. Couple that with what you have had to say, makes a huge amount of sense. (“,)) Anayah

  6. Shade Says:

    Just finished watching the series through on playback.
    and the first thing i have to state is how astounded i was that these six fashonistas HAD NOT GOT A CLUE!!
    i was astounded that they had never asked themselves the questions that were addressed in these programmes.
    richard especeially came accross less idealist and more blinkered. his inability to understand that life for some people is HARD was difficult to comprehend. i had not realised the moral and psychological damage the consumer culture we live in has inflicted on our outlook on the world.

    oh and on the front of ethical fashion, its probably not the answer to all problems but me and my fiance shop goodwill and vintage ( go banardos!!) and revamp the fashion ourselves to the latest styles. that way your giving to charity and getting kick ass clothes that are exactly how you like them. it takes a lil expertise but you can start with the little things. the jeans that got stained and shredded in the winter or are just a year out of season.
    can become cool 3/4 lenghts (or even cheeky hotpants.) in the summer.
    The sweatshops were born when the ‘make do and mend’ culture died.

  7. jay Says:

    I’ve been trying to become a more responsible consumer but this ethical shopping is hard. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of fairtrade, but if fairtrade is not entirely fair then what are the consumers supposed to do? stop buying fairtrade?
    This stuff really does your head in if you think about it too much too deeply.



  9. jazz Says:

    What an insightful series. If your interested in learning more about fashion with a social conscience and want a t-shirt that you can be sure their was no blood behind check out Edun Live the ethical company set up by Ali Hewson and Bono

    • grammarstickler Says:

      What an insightful series. If you’re interested in learning more about fashion with a social conscience and want a t-shirt that you can be sure there was no blood left behind, check out Edun Live, the ethical company set up by Ali Hewson and Bono at

  10. Alexwebmaster Says:

    Hello webmaster
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  11. iluvfairtshirts Says:

    Yeah we source our tshirts from places like edunlive, they’re great. In fact, many people who come to us haven’t heard of the companies who do ethical clothing… so unless they’re actively researching they won’t find anything. Check us out.

  12. jacob kotze Says:

    can you please help me..where can i get hold of copies of the all episodes of the series..
    Please confirm…

    Many Thanks

  13. Graca Mancilha Says:

    I am portuguese and I work on textile business for 20years now . And I think main issue is when you buy clothes to check in which country they have been made in .
    Last year a lot of manufacturers have closed in Portugal due to international crisis and also because is very difficult for us to compete with Asia prices .
    Here all companies really have to follow all human rights and all our laws according to minimum wages , extra time , etc . Otherwise our courts and laws for workers are very severe .
    So this is very unfair , we are a very pacific country , we do not have problems with race , human rights , wars , anything .
    The textile industry is very big here in the northern part of Portugal and even though several UK retailers still prefer to produce great part of their garments in Asia just taking into consideration the very low prices they get but not thinking how many people are afftected by that .
    I do work for some UK retailers ( producing t-shirts , sweaters , etc ) but those are the few that are being more and more worried about the use of child and forced labour. And prefer to have lower margins better feeling when they see their garements .
    Since Asian governments have not done anything to improve workers conditions neither great part of retailers seam very worried about it I recomend BUY ONLY GARMENTS MADE IN PORTUGAL .

  14. james king Says:

    took me forever to find a super hero t-shirt store online .. proved to be the answer – and my nephew was happy with his hulk t-shirt. 5 stars.

  15. Daisy Says:

    a good way of not buying highstreet clothes is to buy vintage or second hand-yes they may have been made by forced labour etc but it’s better two people wearing one item made by forced labour than two people wearing two items made by forced labour (you could also make your own clothes).

  16. seetha Says:


    this series is being shown in australia now. As an indian i find it hard to watch ,so stopped after the 1st episode.

    One of the young men keeps saying India isa shit hole etc. I undertand it is a shit hole, and I am going back to my shit hole of my own choice.But what makes me angry and defensive is, it is extremely comlpex country with complex issues. India did not become a shit hole overnight,

    it is still a young country as a post colonial concept.

    I would like to quote our prime minister’s speech in OXFORD in 2005, a small statistics to understand how it became a shit hole.

    “We were overwhelmed by the legacy of our immediate past. Not just by the perceived negative consequences of British imperial rule, but also by the sense that we were left out in the cold by the Cold War.

    There is no doubt that our grievances against the British Empire had a sound basis for. As the painstaking statistical work of the Cambridge historian Angus Maddison has shown, India’s share of world income collapsed from 22.6% in 1700, almost equal to Europe’s share of 23.3% at that time, to as low as 3.8% in 1952. Indeed, at the beginning of the 20th Century, “the brightest jewel in the British Crown” was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income. “

  17. Joe Says:

    I stumbled upon this article and then continued to read the coments and people saying that they can not find high street places which you can not fully trace the items of clothing, but i know of one place which they over complete transpanrency and honesty, they have a programme on their site which you can trace any item from seed to shop, wouldn’t it be better if there were more companies illing to be this honest ?

  18. Bagsful Says:

    Read my letter to H&M, asking about their minimum wage in China and Bangladesh.
    I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say…

  19. Downshifting challenge: clothing week part two | The Frugal Life Says:

    […] Kerri, who had seen the 2008 BBC programme Blood Sweat and T-shirts, said that the actual mark-up on products isn’t always a good guide because some more expensive companies save money by having their clothes made in sweatshops too. I was disappointed, if not surprised, to hear this. So just because the clothes cost more, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t sweatshop clothes. To be certain, you need to buy charity shop clothes, make your own or shop in a store committed to fair trade which aren’t always easy to find according to this blog. […]

  20. Ingrid Says:

    Western companies that move their business into these asian countries are showing they have no conscience as in their home countries they HAVE to provide a living wage and proper conditions, so when they move to asia they are just reverting back to what these sort of companies used to do in the west, mill sweat shops etc etc. How can they face themselves when they say ‘we are sorry, but the pays are so low in those countries’. SORRY!!!!? Exactly, they are no better than the mlll and clothing makers of 150 years ago. They KNOW they are NOT paying a living wage. They KNOW they are keeping people in dire poverty for 18 hrs a day. Only, those countries have huge populations, absolutely HUGE, what employment can there be for them? There are so many many people, you just cant imagine it. when you walk down the street, its shoulder to shoulder. Like ants, swarming everywhere. It might help if they could use some pop control, china has made some effort. If we are forbidden to buy clothes made in these countries, our own factories would open and we would be giving our countrymen employment and the clothes will often be much better quality. We would need less of them, last longer. But what will the billions do in Asia?

  21. Paul Says:

    I saw this for the first time last night and all it did for me was made me think what a bunch of whimps we’ve sent out to India.
    One scene was where the toliet was blocked and instead of just holding your breath for a few minutes and unblocking it (any of them could have done it) they left it like that so no-one could use it. The landlord was disgusted when he came in. The indian workers, who the English were feeling sorry for, wouldn’t have left it like that.
    In another they had to work in the cotton factory and one guy refused to even try to carry a bail on his head, just flatly refused to TRY. The others then didn’t manage to finish their alloted task and move the pile of cotton. They were complaining the whole time and kept getting upset and crying. They then, point blank refused to finish the task and left it to the indian workers to finish it for them, skulking off, back to there toilet blocked digs.
    What a bunch of hopeless clowns. When I was that age I would have just got stuck in and tried anything and tried to make the whole thing fun. It’s not like they are going to have to do it for the rest of their lives like the poor people they are supposed to feel sorry for. They didn’t feel sorry for them when they had to stay working overnight to finish off their work.
    All the do-gooder comments on here too! How much are you willing to pay for your clothes? If someone did a case for paying the indians a decent wage with nice conditions how much do you think a pair of jeans and that designer T-shirt would then cost?

    Get in the real world people, you would change your mind in a flash. It’s like global warming (or climate change, whatever the buzzword is). Everyone wants it sorted AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T AFFECT THEM.

  22. A.R. Says:

    I’m a Columbia grad student doing a reporting piece about the economic and environmental impact of international fashion vs. local fashion. If anyone has resources on this information, I’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail Many thanks.

  23. Lily Leong Says:

    hii..i have a did the indian families act,live and work with dignity in spite of their poverty? can u give me some examples?

  24. Lily Leong Says:

    and..did they appear to be happy??

  25. Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts | My Blog Says:

    […] “This guy Richard in the series is unbelievable, he doesn’t see any political side to why people are so poor, sleeping on factory floors and at the mercy of the factory owners. The whole reason why the UK is NOT like that anymore (although it was about 150-200 years ago) is because workers got organised and made unions, they negotiated better pay, they made their own parties and voted them into power. I am not saying India needs some sort of Communist revolution, but what they need is to go through the process that Britain and the other western countries went through to ensure their workers have a decent standard of life. We should be responsible when consuming, and aid that process. It’s both about the politics in India and our consumerism!” (Rock Pilgrimages 2008 link) […]

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