Now that we know that Fair Trade, in short, is how fairly people and the environment are treated in order to present a finished product in a store, we can consider who’s responsibility it is to ensure that what consumers ends up purchasing is, in fact, ethical.
On the one hand, consumers are entirely capable of making educated choices of their own. Consumers can make their own efforts and use their own ethics to decide and, essentially, use their own free will to physically purchase products.
On the other hand, the fashion industry makes it very difficult for consumers to make these informed decisions. The fashion industry, encompassing labels/brands, advertisement and magazines, has taken over consumer perception, telling people what they ‘need’ on order to be accepted into or even be part of society.
So who is responsible? Should consumers allow industries to manipulate their perceptions? Or should industries, whose sole purpose really is to work as a money making business, be a better example to the world?
The problem with industrial responsibility is that companies/labels/brands are not legally liable when they outsource to other countries for their supply. Of course, they do this to keep costs down for the consumer, but doesn’t that mean they should also be liable for what affect these cost cuts have on other humans and the environment? Patrick Kroker, a German Human Rights lawyer who works with sustainable businesses, says, “The fundamental problem is that human rights law hasn’t kept up with economic globalisation. To close the gap, we need a supply chain liability clause parent companies established in legal systems in Europe.” But as a consumer, does this liability make a difference to you? If a company is or isn’t legally liable for the affect they have when they outsource, does that affect the choice you make when you purchase a product?
Maybe the problem is transparency. The fashion industry does not add a tag to their clothes letting you know by who, where and how the garment was made. Once again, companies/labels/brands don’t have to tell consumers these details and, for obvious reasons, the information is not advertised or readily available in stores. Does the company have access to this information down their own supply chains? Patrick Kroker suggests that they do and, to prove its validity, France is just one example of a fashion industry proposing for a ‘duty of vigilance law.’ He says that, “Companies carry out risk assessments all the time; they need to know the likelihood of the supplier failing to supply. So it should be possible for them to carry out risk assessments for human rights violations.” Do you, as a consumer, need a brand to tag their clothing with this information to make an educated decision before purchasing? And if a label doesn’t tag their products with this information, are you not simply justifying your choices with ignorance and allowing yourself to be, in some sense, controlled by the industry?
Of course, from a consumer’s point of view, you are not able to march into a store and demand human rights and environmental impact information of each garment from the retail worker and solve the problem once and for all. But surely, having some control over your ethical decisions when purchasing products should have value to you and sorry to say… only you are responsible for that.