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For many years, the global textile industry has been an enormous blot on the ethical landscape. The size and scale of it is hard for anyone to comprehend. Millions toil making clothing in unholy conditions for extremely low pay. Many more work the cotton fields, picking and processing the heavilysprayed cotton crop for a pittance. Once it has been used by our disposable British culture, most of this labourintensive product is turned into a waste problem in a landfill site. And it is truly a waste – a waste of millions of lives, a waste of resources to make and fuel to transport the finished products around the world and a toxic waste gift to future generations. In the UK, much has been made of the Organic and Fairtrade movements, with certain sectors of the textile industry racing to embrace the profits of being 'ethical' and 'green'. Whilst in some ways these are positive developments, it translates into very slight ripples in the global textile industry sea. However much we might try to hide from the reality, the system requires a pool of poorly paid people to produce items in poor countries to feed our endless appetite for new clothing. Fairtrade certainly makes a slight income difference to people in a small part of the supply chain, but can never force meaningful changes throughout the system because consumers would never pay for it. Often a major part of the attraction for the large brands is that they can sell the items at a premium which is out of proportion to the extra production costs involved. It also does nothing to address the wanton destructive force of the global textile industry. We fool ourselves into believing that a few extra pennies to the producer does anything more than paper over the cracks that we would rather not think about. At some point we have to rethink fashion. We have to reinvent the process so that it provides for our clothing needs in a sustainable future. In this paper, we will argue that there is an alternative which few have so far examined. We will further argue that the answers lie in front of us and that the moral imperative is within us and not in some distant forgettable land.
The scale of the problem
Figure 1 – Global Exports
© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan) Figure 1 shows the worldmapper1 image of global fashion net exports where the territory size is related to the net value of exports of clothing in US$ using figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development statistics from 2005. Fashion exports represent 7% of global international trade.
1 http://www.worldmapper.co.uk/display.php?selected=83# accessed 10 October 2008
Figure 2 – Global Imports
© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Figure 2 shows the worldmapper2 image of global fashion net imports where the territory size is related to the net value of imports of clothing in US$ using figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development statistics from 2005. These figures show that of clothing exports worth nearly US$450,000,000,000 1. About 18% went to North America, 6% to Western Europe and 4% to Japan. 2. The UK net imported 3.6% of the total worth US$16,000,000,000 What is clear from these figures is that most trade is in a certain direction – from the factories of Asia and towards the consumer markets of North America, Europe and Japan.
2 http://www.worldmapper.co.uk/display.php?selected=84# accessed 10 October 2008
Figure 3: Global population
© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan). Figure 3 shows the worldmapper3 image of population, where the territory size is related to the proportion of the world's population living there. When we compare Figure 3 with Figure 2, we see that the minority of people that live in the consumer countries (less than 15% of the total) are buying a disproportionate amount of global clothing exports. Some of the exporter countries are highly dependent on textile exports. For example 85% of Bangladeshi exports are said to be textiles, in a country where half of the population – 70 million people – live on less than $1 a day4.
End of the life cycle
According to the UK Government5, the UK consumes around 2 million tonnes of textiles per year. At the end of its use, 1.52 million tonnes are disposed of. 63% of that ends up in landfill, 16% is recovered and the other 21% is unaccounted for. Charity shops6 say that they receive 250,000 tonnes of textiles per year which they either sell themselves or pass on to the textile merchants. The merchants sort and bale garments for reuse into other products or export, which in 2003 amounted to 207,000 tonnes. A detailed report by in 2005 by Oxfam7, a major player in the second hand export market, examined the impact of second hand clothing (SHC) on developing countries. It found that as a whole, more than 26% by value of all imports to countries in SubSaharan Africa were SHC in 2003. In Kenya,
3 http://www.worldmapper.co.uk/display.php?selected=2 accessed 10 October 2008 4 BBC report 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4336085.stm accessed 10 October 2008 5 DEFRA, 2007 http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/consumerprod/pdf/clothingbriefingDec07.pdf accessed 10 October 2008 6 Association of Charity Shops http://www.charityshops.org.uk/recycling.html accessed 10 October 2008 7 Oxfam, 2005 http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/policy/trade/downloads/research_shc.pdf accessed 10 October 2008
Cameroon, Rwanda, Niger and the Central African Republic more than 80% by value of all imports were SHC. 95% of all Ghanans wear SHC and it represents a staggering 60% of all clothing purchases. Whilst Oxfam recognised that there were likely local economic impacts from the cheap imports, they argued that the trade in SHC was likely to generate some jobs and SHC would only be replaced by other cheap imports if the trade stopped. A study of the impact of SHC in Kenya8 observed that there were 1.5 million people working in clothing reclamation worldwide with 250,000 in Europe. However, as Table 1 shows, the majority of the profit for sale of SHC (94.7%) remains in the UK. Table 1 – profits through the supply chain of SHC from UK grader (textile merchant) to Kenyan retailer Enterprise UK Grader Importer Wholesaler Retailer Total Source: Field et al (2007) page 30 So, it is clear that UK SHC often has a useful secondlife as clothing for people in countries where they cannot afford anything else. It provides jobs and some income from something that would otherwise be a waste product. Having said that, not much of the money reaches the retailer selling the clothing and only a small proportion of all the waste produced is reused. Most still goes to landfill. Net profit per month/£ 140,000 4400 3298 137 147,835 Profit per month/% 94.7 3 .0 2.2 0.1 100
Destroying local production
According to the UK government9, in 2005 the UK clothing retail sector represented 5% of all expenditure on consumer items with £21 billion spent on womenswear, £10 billion on menswear and £6.7 billion on childrenswear. UK designers sold £750 million of designer products, two thirds of which were exported. Whilst the sector is expanding, the amount of clothing produced locally in the UK is in steep decline with many established brands going out of business and others moving production offshore. Those that continue with British manufacturing have often significantly downsized and moved into more exclusive markets. This has led to an inevitable reduction in staff
8 Field, S et al (2007). Who Benefits From the SecondHand Clothing Trade?: The Case of Kenya: Full Research Report ESRC End of Award Report, ESRC 9 Prime Minister's Office, 2006 http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page10308 accessed 10 October 2008
and production. Others have been able to sell the fact that they are close to the market and rapidly produce very low quality garments for low cost retail such as market stalls. One group which has been particularly affected by the decline has been the homeworkers. These are primarily women who cannot work ordinary factory hours so complete work on a piecerate basis (ie they are paid for each completed garment). These often are not classed as employees, so do not have the rights associated with employment and are often pressurised into working long hours for little pay10. According to a recent survey by the National Group on Homeworking11, the numbers of people working in this way are likely to be more than the 3.1 million people suggested by the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey in 2005, since many will not admit to working at home for fear of losing their work. NGH's survey found that 23% of respondents were still sewing at home, even though this was far less than a similar survey found in 1994. There are many reports of low wages, poor conditions and irregular work. Workers are reluctant to complain about conditions as the money they receive is an important part of the family income which they do not want to lose. Hence there are thousands of people working in an ignored and shadowy underground economy.
Conclusions: dressing for a better world
The consequences of this massive international trade include:
Impoverishment of workers in the supply chain including • Poorly paid factory workers in intolerable conditions • Damage to the environment by overspraying of the cotton crop with agrochemicals • A massive use of fuel for transportation A huge waste clothing problem leading to • Millions of people in subsaharan Africa who depend on waste clothing from the UK • A disposal problem in the UK • Destruction of local production in favour of imports of Second Hand Clothing The destruction of our own clothing industry which leads to • Increasing unemployment of workers in the sector • Adverse affects on some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK homeworkers
Environmental concerns would clearly encourage as local production to the market as possible and use of locally available materials. We believe this would mean using the locally available skills and waste materials to produce new clothing for brands in the future. These brands would be able to quickly produce new styles for the market and would be run for the benefit of the producers rather than shareholders.
10 For further resources on homeworking, see the National Group on Homeworking http://www.ngh.org.uk 11 Subject to Status, An investigation into the working lives of homeworkers in the UK 2007 NGH http://www.ngh.org.uk/resourcefiles/Subject_to_Status1195636482.pdf accessed 10 October 2008
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