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Britons say willing to pay more for fair fashion but trust in brands lacking

by Kieran Guilbert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 January 2019 13:31 GMT

Shoppers view shoes inside a store on Oxford Street during the Boxing Day sales in central London, Britain December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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Fast fashion has fuelled the risk of worker abuses such as forced labour in global supply chains, activists say

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Jan 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most British consumers would pay more for their clothes if factory workers received fairer wages, but lack trust in the ethical pledges made by brands, a poll found on Thursday, amid growing concerns around labour abuses in the fashion industry.

Six in 10 people in Britain said they would spend up to 5 percent more on clothing if it meant garment workers were paid the so-called "fair living wage" that would allow them to cover the basic needs of their families, according to two charities.

Yet more than two-thirds said it was difficult to know if the brands they buy from have high ethical standards, while less than a fifth would trust information on sustainability provided by clothing companies, showed an opinion poll by Ipsos MORI.

The advent of fast fashion, with consumers constantly buying and discarding clothing, has fuelled the risk of worker abuses such as forced labour in global supply chains as factories come under ever greater pressure from leading brands, activists say.

"People expect brands to take responsibility for what happens in their supply chains, both in terms of their workers and the environment," Urska Trunk, a campaign adviser for the Changing Markets Foundation, said in a statement.

"All the indications are consumer mindsets are changing: they want more accountability and more information and they are increasingly putting their money where their mouth is."

British lawmakers are scrutinising sustainability in fashion, and in November called several online retailers to parliament over concerns that rising demand for cheap clothing is leading to poor working conditions and exploitation.

The poll - based on interviews with 7,700 adults across seven nations from Britain and France to the United States - found consumers considered luxury brands to be no better than budget or high-street retailers when it came to sustainability.

About 6 percent of respondents associated Italian label Gucci and budget chain Primark with having sustainable supply chains, according to the poll, which was commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation and the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Yet such polling should be viewed with suspicion as academic research shows that consumers often say one thing yet do another, Andreas Chatzidakis, a marketing professor at London's Royal Holloway University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A study published last year by Ohio State University (OSU) in the United States found that consumers may forget or tune out uncomfortable information about the origin of products they buy if they learn those items were made unethically.

"Consumers are sometimes willing to act - and their actions can be effective - but usually and understandably they need to know that ... other actors do their bit in the fight against social and environmental injustices," Chatzidakis said.

"Otherwise consumers are left feeling that such actors are simply passing the buck on them."

About 25 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labour, from factories to farms, the United Nations says. (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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