Communicate with companies to demand responsible fashion

© Chris Sattlberger/Panos
Are you interested in knowing where and how your clothes were made? Do you want companies to prove that they are acting responsibly? Then why not do something about it? Most fashion brands are not sufficiently committed to guaranteeing a living wage and better working conditions for their workers. Contact the companies and call on them to do so. You will show them that responsibility in fashion is important to you.

Before contacting a company

  • Consult their website or brochures to see what information they publish.
  • Don’t allow them to pull the wool over your eyes with hollow, nice-sounding words about sustainability or their company’s corporate social responsibility. Be critical in your analysis and look for missing or vague information.

Contact with the company

  • Use your preferred method of communication. Using a physical postal address always has additional impact, but you can also ask questions in shops (a good company should inform retail staff about production conditions of their fashion items), call the company, send them e-mails, or ask questions on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms.
  • Company addresses and telephone numbers can be found on their websites or in their retail outlets. Don’t forget to leave them your contact details so that they can get back to you.

How to word things

  • Some companies have standard replies to questions on their working conditions. If you ask vague or generalised questions like “How are your T-shirts made?” you will probably receive a standard answer or a link to the company website.
  • If you want to receive more precise information, ask specific questions such as “In what factory was this T-shirt made? What is the monthly wage of the workers who made it? Where does the leather for these shoes come from, and how do you guarantee that the factory workers in the tannery are receiving a living wage?”
  • If you are making particular reference to abusive behaviour that you have heard about, mention your sources and ask the company to take a position on the issue.

Evaluating replies

  • You failed to get a reply to your question? Keep trying! You can use a different method of communicating, such as the “Comments” section on their Facebook page to ask why they didn’t reply to your e-mail.
  • You received a reply, but it’s evasive and doesn’t answer the question you asked? Or the answer begs other questions? Then use a courteous but firm tone and reply something like “Thank you for having sent me your code of conduct and your sustainability report. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to answer the question I asked about the monthly wages of the person who made my T-shirt. It is important to me that they get paid a living wage. I would appreciate it if you could send me the details of the minimum wages paid to workers by your Indian suppliers”.
  • The company says that everything is going well? Show some scepticism and ask them to substantiate their claims if they did not send you any detailed information or proof of what they say. For example: “Thank you for your reply. You said that all your seamstresses are paid higher-than-average salaries that allow them to meet their needs. I am happy to hear that, but I would appreciate your telling me exactly how much they earn (overtime excluded)? What do you do to ensure that this is the case? Please tell me where I could get more detailed information on the subject.
  • What if the company just refers to external code of conduct guidelines (such as BSCI or amfori), and states that they comply with these norms without providing any additional information? Ask them what additional measures the company is implementing over and above the code of conduct.

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