A study last year by Harvard Business School concluded that consumers care, that they will pay more for clothes that represent fair-labour practices. However, most brands will only embark on a strategy of full disclosure if compelled to by consumers. And despite the Harvard research findings, I really do not believe there are enough consumers who are willing to make a stand against exploitation. The garment factory collapse that killed more than 800 workers in Bangladesh last month is testimony to magnitude of such exploitation.
It is time consumers really did begin to think through the ramifications of their purchase decisions and reward those brands pursuing strategies with a higher purpose and social conscience. Unfortunately most consumers express the same self-interest motivation that most businesses do. If consumers really did care they would demand far greater transparency in the product sourcing of brands and retailers. They would seek labeling that informed them fully, and they would shun those who failed to provide such labeling and or were obviously on a path to exploitation.
Frequently in our work with brand owners we ask them what they crusade for and campaign against. We attempt to identify a belief system that may exist beyond the need to simply maximise profit. For many brands there is really no need to look too far afield to find a noble cause, as fair trade is an agenda still far to often ignored. Some apparel brand owners are showing positive inclinations. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition whose members include major players such as Nike, Wal-mart, Gap and Target have began working on a measurement called the Higg Index that will cover environmental, social and labour standards. But their efforts, and those still not acting, would all be hastened if consumers used their buying grunt to express a desire to make a difference with each and every purchase.
With the right amount of pressure we may get to witness a far more wide spread adoption of the standards being set by high fashion site Honest By. Transparency sits at the core of what they offer. Who else is telling you that a cotton shirt that costs about $320, took 33 minutes to cut, 145 minutes to assemble and 10 minutes to iron at a Belgain factory. It then took an additional 10 minutes in a Slovenian factory to apply the trim. Add in a safety pin at 4 cents and transportation of about $10.50 and you are beginning to get some of the facts behind the cotton shirt you may choose to put on your back.
It is not a question as to whether consumers have the power to make a difference in the world, it is more will they exercise it.
Image sourced from National Post