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How ethical is your clothing?

AP
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You can recycle your waste, grow your own food and drive a fuel-efficient car. But being socially responsible isn’t so easy when it comes to clothes

Shoes certified by Fair Trade USA.Photo: AP/Fair Indigo
Shoes certified by Fair Trade USA.Photo: AP/Fair Indigo

You can recycle your waste, grow your own food and drive a fuel-efficient car. But being socially responsible isn’t so easy when it comes to the clothes on your back.

Last week’s building collapse in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of clothing factory workers put a spotlight on the sobering fact that people in poor countries often risk their lives working in unsafe factories to make the cheap T-shirts and underwear that Westerners covet.

The disaster also highlights something just as troubling for socially conscious shoppers — It’s nearly impossible to make sure the clothes you buy come from factories with safe working conditions.

Very few companies sell clothing that’s so-called “ethically-made,” or marketed as being made in factories that maintain safe working conditions. It’s difficult to figure out if your clothes are made in safe factories if you’re buying from retailers that don’t specifically market their clothes as ethically made. That’s because major chains typically use a complex web of suppliers in countries such as Bangladesh, which often contract business to other factories. That means the retailers themselves don’t always know the origin of clothes when they’re made overseas.

Most global retailers have standards for workplace safety in the factories that make their clothes. But policing factories around the world is a costly, time-consuming process that’s difficult to manage.

In light of the recent disasters, though, some experts and retailers say things are slowly changing. They say more shoppers are starting to pay attention to labels and where their clothes are made.

Some retailers are beginning to do more to ease shoppers’ consciences.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said in January that it would cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first.

Fair Trade U.S.A., a nonprofit that makes sure workers overseas are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions, is hoping to appeal to shoppers who care about where their clothing is made. Fair Indigo is an online retailer that sells clothes and accessories that are certified by Fair Trade U.S.A.

Rob Behnke, Fair Indigo’s co-founder says “We are connecting consumers with the garment workers on a personal level,” he says. “We are showing that the garment workers are just like you and me.”AP

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