Is a Cheap Dress too High a Price to Pay?

As the days lengthen and the warmer weather approaches shops fill with summer fashion. Tempting styles, colours and prices lure us to purchase a new dress, top, trousers, whether or not we need them. Crucially today it is often the price that determines the purchase and some of them are so cheap how can we resist? And a glance at the label will tell you that it has travelled many 1000s of miles to hang on the shop rail. The question to ask is not  “Can I afford this? ” but “Why is it so cheap?

How can clothing be made so cheaply?

Britain led the way in the Industrial Revolution with the huge textile mills of the 18thC onwards and produced cheap clothing for home and for export. They were able to do this not just with the mechanisation of the mills but by employing many thousands of workers men, women and children at extremely low rates of pay. Conditions were so bad and horrific accidents so frequent that soon even Parliament had to act and a series of laws prevented children from being employed and set at least basic levels of safety.

Britain exported not only goods to the world but the factory system itself including the poor working conditions. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, New York, in 1911 caused the death of 123 women and 23 men with the youngest thought to be a girl of 14. The owners had locked all the doors to prevent workers taking an unauthorised break. Men and women perished in the fire or leaped to their deaths from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors where the factory was located.

In 2012 the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, resulted in 117 dead and 200 injured. Workers were trapped on the upper floors and either died in the fire or leapt from the building often with fatal consequences.

In 2016 a fire in an alleged ‘illegal’ factory in Delhi, India killed 13 people who were unable to escape. Piles of leather stacked on the narrow staircase and the cramped workshop made escape extremely difficult and most succumbed to smoke inhalation.

The list is  endless. This is the price of our cheap clothing.

More than 70% of EU garment imports come from Asia, where China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia are the largest producers. The buyers are global brands – the ones we buy in our shops.

Spanish MEP  Lola Sánchez Caldentey,said:

“The EU has the means to set common rules that establish mandatory human rights obligations on partner countries and we are asking the Commission to do so. Voluntary initiatives and codes of conduct are always welcome, but citizens expect more. The EU needs new rules to ensure that hard-working people who produce our clothes are treated with dignity and respect worldwide”

Her report adopted by the EU development committee on 21 March…

“calls on the European Commission to propose that European companies outsourcing production to countries outside the EU would be made responsible for checking that all of their supply chain respects OECD guidelines and international standards for human and social rights.”

And that there should be ” other measures, such as incentives and special labels for textiles that are produced in a sustainable manner”. The vote takes place in April.

And finally the  Rana Plaza disaster in, Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 where 1,100 workers were killed and 2,500 injured when a building housing several clothes workshops collapsed. The building’s owners ignored the warning cracks appearing in the days before the tragedy . Currently it holds the record as the deadliest clothing factory fire.

The cost of our cheap clothing is the highest price paid by those who make it.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Further Information:  The True Cost

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2 replies »

  1. OK – I’m going to really get on my hind legs here……………..
    To start with, we don’t need to keep buying new things. We simply don’t – we’re brain-washed into thinking we do. Even young people who are slaves to passing trends, don’t need to get as much new stuff as they do. It really is just quantity not quality.
    I admit, I was born in 1955 and my parents had an approach to buying things which was a product of both coming from an Irish peasant background where new clothes, new anything from a shop, were almost unheard of. ‘Shop’ products were a rarity. Combine that with the ‘make do and mend’ mentality of the war in Britain, where they then lived, and this meant that, when I was growing up we mended things, didn’t buy new things unless we absolutely had to, and……something lasting a long time was seen as a good thing!
    It hasn’t taken all that long for attitudes to turn around completely. The glamour of the new has led to a foolish waste of resources. It’s foolish and it’s not sustainable.(I warned you that I was getting up on my hind legs).
    There’s simply no point. We don’t need all this STUFF. Really, we don’t. So, first step – don’t keep getting new stuff! Buy from charity shops – that way you’re getting things which are….different – new to you, and you’re supporting something worthwhile as well.
    Then, yes, as Fiona has said – think about where the item you’re buying has come from and the situation of the workers there. The Devil not only wears Prada, the Devil wears Primark too!
    I think it might be a stretch to ask suppliers to only source from reputable producers, but….why not? Why not insist that the pay and conditions of service of workers in the countries which supply goods to Britain, should be on a par with the pay and conditions of work expected here?
    We expect the food which arrives here to comply with our standards of health and hygiene, so why not other products?
    Believe it or not, that’s a short version of what I could say about this topic.
    It’s plain common sense. We can’t keep on gobbling up the worlds resources, and people should have fair working conditions.
    ‘Do as you would be done by’ – it’s a simple enough guideline to live by, as much as you can. Though it doesn’t go down well in business or politics!
    You set me off on one there Fiona.
    When people in Britain heard of all those people being killed in the factory in Dhaka, did they take on board what had happened there? No, they didn’t. And, it was in Dhaka, not Dallas, Dusseldorf or Dublin.
    If folk would just think a bit before they spend their hard-earned cash. And I mean in every way: Do they need what they’re buying? Where has it come from?
    I love a bargain, but I tend to think that if something is un-realistically cheap, someone, somewhere, is being screwed.
    I once asked a lady in a charity shop, how come there are often new things, still with their labels on in charity shops. She said that folk go South, to the big shops, get over-excited, and buy things they really don’t need at all, and things they never meant to buy! They then get home and decide that the item doesn’t fit or doesn’t suit them, and send them to the charity shop. While this is a good thing for us charity shop shoppers, it’s a very silly way to spend your money!
    It’s the same with all that food that gets bought and then thrown away. GGGRRRRRRRRR.
    OK, I’ve made my point, and I’ll shut up now. It does make me angry though.
    Do as you would be done by – that’s all that’s needed. And a bit of Yorkshire/Scots thriftiness wouldn’t go amiss!

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