Many “Made in Britain” brands wear their Britishness as a badge of honour. But what does “Made in Britain” mean? And how does it have a positive impact on the people and environment included in the production of these garments?
Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, many consumers were tempted to boycott products labelled with “Made in Bangladesh” but unfortunately, not only does this not serve as an answer to issues in the fashion industry, this label doesn’t mean much anyway.
Under European Union law, the “Country of Origin” label has to be labelled with the country where the final stage of assembly took place that significantly altered the product. Anyone else feel like this is seriously vague? What this means is that a product labelled “Made in Britain” may have been cut, or sewn together in Britain, but all the fabric, dye, cotton, zips, buttons and literally every other component can be outsourced from other countries.
To add to the frustration, even this “British made” final stage isn’t guaranteed ethical! Producers in the UK fall short at the exact same hurdles we read about in overseas factories, and for the same reasons.
Channel 4 Dispatches sent an undercover reporter, Belal, in to clothing factories in Leicester producing products for River Island, Newlook, Boohoo and Missguided. In every factory Belal worked long hours and was paid between £3 to £3.50 per hour, a substantial undercut of the £7.20 national minimum wage.
When the brands involved, such as New Look and River Island, were confronted about these factories the same comments came up that they were “unaware” off the issues, that work had been “subcontracted without our knowledge” and that it is “difficult to police outsourced work.” A factory who had outsourced work to one of the investigated factories argued that they had done so in response to an “unusually large volume” of orders and that wages were in competition with the prices offered by factories in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
These are the same arguments we see continuously coming out of highstreet brands and their factories all over the world, including after the Rana Plaza collapse where workers were forced back inside as a result of pressure from an (un)usually large order, resulting in the death of over 1000 employees. Brands pressuring factories to produce more for less is pushing the need for outsourcing and making tracking employee rights almost impossible. And the UK is not exempt.
“At one time you would have felt comfortable about saying you only buy British-made garments, but there are no guarantees, no safeguards” - Debbie Coulter, Ethical Trading Initiative