What Are Ethical Issues in Fashion?

As the world is inundated with an endless supply of dirt-cheap clothing, ethical fashion campaigners in Dubai, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are raising awareness of the continued exploitation of natural resources, human beings, and animals in the fashion industry.

International clothing brands were forced to reevaluate how their manufacturing procedures affected their employees, the towns they lived in, and the environment as a result of the Rana Plaza catastrophe, which shook the glitzy world of fashion.

Globally, ethical people started aggressively denouncing immoral fashion, including philanthropists, environmentalists, human and animal rights advocates, and conscientious citizens.

Nearly every fashion firm engages in unethical production methods, from haute couture companies to fast-fashion behemoths to the labels that rule internet shopping in the United Arab Emirates.

The fashion industry is intricately linked to a wide range of other industries, including production, marketing, raw materials, transportation, and retailing.

The enormous potential for financial gain in the fashion industry makes it tempting to act unethically.

Fashion executives have an ethical duty to intervene when producers, manufacturers, models, or customers are being taken advantage of or treated unfairly.

The fundamental issues surrounding working conditions, animal welfare, fair trade, exploitation, and the environment of the fashion industry are brought up by ethical fashion.

Ethical Issues in the Fashion Industry

Child Labour

Major fashion labels frequently move their production facilities to impoverished regions of the world, primarily in the Second and Third World, in their pursuit of low-cost manufacture.

Anyone and everyone who is capable of working in a factory is employed here, even children.

Even though it is illegal in the majority of nations, child labour is nevertheless used to produce goods at low cost all around the world.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 170 million children (11 percent of all children worldwide) are working, with many of them working in the fashion industry's supply chain, which includes low-skilled labour such as harvesting, spinning yarn, producing clothing, etc.

These kids frequently labour long hours, are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and are denied their basic right to an education and a brighter future.

The families of these disadvantaged youngsters know better than to criticise the standard of care given to their children or to demand their rights as workers due to their poverty and lack of education.

As a result, young people employed in the fashion industry are denied their fundamental right to an education in addition to being forced to labour in appalling conditions all day.

Many businesses try to reduce their expenses in order to boost their revenue. One strategy is to use a low-cost labour force.

They did this by establishing companies in nations with low labour costs, occasionally employing child labour.

Such actions are considered unethical in terms of ethics. It is completely unacceptable to exploit kids, especially under such harsh conditions as forced labour in unsanitary settings.

Poor Working Conditions

The great majority of clothing that is sold every day is made in hazardous and demanding conditions in underdeveloped nations.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh and the fire at Tazreen Fashion, which killed more than 1,200 garment workers combined, were simply the tip of the iceberg.

Despite the issues receiving public notice, there are still businesses that continue to employ individuals in dangerously poor conditions who are also subjected to physical and emotional abuse as well as exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Low Wages

According to the fashion business, it creates jobs in developing and third-world nations.

But as a result, whether or not their so-called sweatshops pay their workers living wages, they always improve the lives of those workers.

The essential requirements of garment workers and their families, including as food, shelter, clothes, education, and healthcare, should be supported by their revenue. Sadly, a large number of factories in developing nations fail to pay their workers a minimum or living wage.

When the annual salaries of the typical sweatshop worker are assessed and the working conditions of his job are hypothesised, however, employment generation becomes of little significance.

In the majority of these nations, the subminimum salaries offered to employees by contractors employed by the major fashion brands do not even meet their basic necessities, much less give them money for emergencies and other unforeseen expenses.

Millions of garment workers in developing and third-world nations are exploited by fast fashion businesses in the pursuit of low retail prices because their pay are substantially below the minimal living wage.

Despite the fact that the International Labour Organization (ILO) regards a living wage as a fundamental human right, pay for workers frequently fall short of meeting even their most basic requirements, let alone covering emergencies.

Because they cannot afford to deny work due to illness, pregnancy, or unsafe working conditions, garment workers are compelled to work after hours.

The fashion business is of the opinion that it creates jobs in developing and third-world nations.

As a result, their so-called sweatshops continue to profit on the lives of their employees, whether or not those people receive decent wages.

The majority of these nations do not even have minimum salaries that can cover an employee's basic necessities, much less allow them to save money for unforeseen expenses and emergencies.

High Natural Resources Use

The majority of natural resources used in the fashion industry are still non-renewable and greatly contribute to climate change. The clothes we wear every day have been chosen for their particular utility and cost efficiency.

Still, they have notable disadvantages in terms of land, water and fossil fuels required for their production.

The production of textiles made of plastic requires a lot of energy, but the production of natural materials requires extensive use of pesticides and fertilisers (unless organic farming is used) as well as a lot of water, frequently in locations with limited water supplies.

Dresses are lovely to wear, but there are several issues with the way they are made.

The disposal of nuclear waste, changes in the ecosystem, global warming, and the extinction of some species are all closely watched.

They are primarily due to human activity.

The fashion business is somewhat to blame, and perspectives on the effects of human activity on the environment are divided.

Health And Safety Risks

Cotton is a common material for clothing. The use of pesticides while growing cotton poses an environmental risk, which raises ethical questions.

Both individuals and the ecosystem should avoid using pesticides. People who use pesticides may experience negative side effects such as depression, seizures, migraines, or loss of consciousness.

Pollution of the soil, water, and air is another effect. In addition to harming other animals, insecticides can also cause the death of bugs.

In addition to depriving countless numbers of men, women, and children of their fundamental human rights and giving its employees wages that are insufficient,

As many of these businesses are known for constructing their apparel production facilities in Second and Third World countries on the cheap and shoddily, the fashion industry poses grave hazards to the lives of its workers and employees.


Subcontracting is the process by which a factory that holds the original order requests another factory to finish the job covertly.

This frequently occurs and is one of the causes for why the majority of high street stores cannot be certain with absolute certainty where their clothes is created.

Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty frequently occupies the majority of campaigners' time. The skin of many animals is utilised in the production of many different types of clothing, including shoes, belts, and other accessories.

For instance, killing mink, foxes, or other animals whose skin can be used in the manufacture of fur jackets is necessary.

These animals are frequently slaughtered in extremely brutal ways. As a result, they are now less common throughout the forest.

Because of excessive hunting, certain creatures are on the verge of extinction.

Chemical treatments are used to soften and colour a variety of textiles. Unfortunately, these substances can harm the environment and lead to skin conditions.

Some of the chemical substances that are used to treat textiles include lead, nickel, chromium, and arylamines.

Many discussions revolve around the ethical issues that the fashion business faces. Numerous industries frequently respond to public concerns by demonstrating their corporate social responsibility in various ways.

Being green is radical for some. Others chose to demonstrate their responsibility by picking a specific subject.

For instance, several businesses clearly state that neither child labour nor low pay is used in the production of their items.

Whatever the actual situation, ethical questions continue to trouble activists, governments, and society at large.

Animal cruelty is another important ethical problem in the fashion industry. It is incredibly cruel to raise and hunt wild animals just to get their fur.

In addition, animals that have their natural habitats polluted frequently have their food chains disrupted and are unable to live a wild and free life.

Quick Lead-Times

Western consumers put enormous pressure on their suppliers, who are frequently headquartered in Eastern Europe or the Far East, to produce and deliver things as quickly as possible, at the lowest price—even with last-minute changes—due to the quick turnover of fashion trends prevalent in high street shops.

​​increased Consumerism And Waste

The present fashion industry mostly uses a take-make-dispose strategy, which involves the extraction of large amounts of non-renewable resources to create clothing that is frequently worn for just a short time before being dumped in landfills.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation paper "A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future," apparel is massively underutilised. In comparison to 15 years ago, the average number of times a garment is worn has fallen by 36%, and it is currently just 7–10 years worldwide.

We shouldn't be surprised that "one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burned every second," as only 1% of materials are recycled into new garments.

Environmental Impacts

Modern cotton growing releases pesticides into nearby waterways, which people use for drinking and washing. Additionally, extra dyes used to colour denim and clothing might contaminate surrounding rivers and streams.

The interaction between the environment and humans is one of the primary ethical issues facing the apparel sector. As a result, a lot of customers prefer to work with companies that use fair trade principles and organic and biodegradable materials to avoid utilising sweatshops or harming workers or the environment.

The environment is impacted by the materials, transportation, and production processes used in the fashion business. While many natural materials are cultivated on land that could be utilised for food production, many synthetic materials are derived from petroleum.

Since the fashion business is the second-largest source of environmental pollution after the oil industry, it is the most frequent environmental concern that the apparel industry faces.

This is due to the fact that the garment sector produces significant volumes of goods, which results in large waste disposals and exacerbates the problem of a lack of natural resources.

Additionally, because of the high demand from consumers for clothing, the majority of clothing companies now produce low-quality clothing, sometimes using dangerous colours and artificial fibres that have a harmful impact on the environment.

Local fish supplies perish when rivers are poisoned, which has an impact on the amount of food that is available for people who depend on it to survive.

Because it is the fastest option, sending goods around the world frequently via airfreight contributes significantly to pollution in the fashion sector.


Most clothing manufacturers have faced international accusations of using slave labour. Accusations have been made against clothing firms for allegedly violating the human rights of their employees.

The majority of businesses pay their workers less than the minimum wage ceiling established for multinational organisations.

Additionally, rather than guaranteeing an hourly wage, the majority of them pay their employees based on pieces. In addition, complaints have been made about force overtime, health and safety concerns, and negligence-related regulation infractions.

Additionally, since most workers wear casual clothing, the majority of clothing firms willingly overlook their welfare in order to save money.

Many stylish garments are made by workers in poor nations who are given pitiful wages.

This practise, also referred to as sweatshop labour, has drawn significant attention and been strongly criticised by a wide range of critics. The use of young children in the workforce is particularly alarming.

In other cases, even after working for months, employees are fired from their jobs without being paid.

Additionally, because most businesses do not enter into written agreements with their employees, they can terminate their employment at any time without providing prior notice.

Customers have been pressuring companies in the apparel sector to offer fashion with a conscience, even if the majority of them assert that they adhere to ethical standards.

Customers believe that even though prices have been reduced to be more affordable for them, these businesses still have a duty to uphold policies that are in line with the established standards for the welfare of their workers.

As a result, the majority of consumers have been choosing products from businesses that uphold and adhere to human rights policies towards their employees.

Exclusivity And Inequality Issues

Expensive, stylish apparel has a lot of its attraction due to its exclusivity. Because the great majority of people cannot afford it, those who can enjoy a certain sense of status and splendour.

Why Is Ethical Fashion Needed?

A significant portion of Western retail is made up of the high street clothes sector. 100 million people shop on London's Oxford Street alone each year.

Because of globalisation, it is possible to find cheap labour and supplies in many different places of the world. Additionally, cotton can now be grown using industrial processes, which allows for the quick, inexpensive, and massive production of fabrics.

Since these savings are transferred to the consumer, high street fashion is becoming more and more affordable and is often thought of as disposable.

Ethical fashionistas, however, contend that all of this comes at a cost that cannot be seen on the price tag.

Ethical Fashion Starts With You

It is not difficult to understand that the mainstream fashion sector has to be completely restructured.

Thankfully, a number of concerned organisations, personalities, and businesses have begun to recognise the issues and take steps to raise awareness of them and hold the offenders responsible for their damaging and frequently illegal industrial practises.

Most companies have recently been judged on their capacity to generate high-quality goods that meet consumer demands and their capacity to uphold moral standards in their business activities.

But over the years, there have been ethical concerns in the fashion industry, particularly with regard to social and environmental aspects.

The apparel companies have come under fire for using hazardous colours and chemicals on people while manufacturing clothing made of low-quality fibres. Inhumane methods used by these businesses to gather animal goods, such as fur, wool, and leather for use in clothing creation, have also drawn criticism.

As more established and emerging fashion firms adopt ethical, ecological, and sustainable apparel supply chains and manufacturing processes, there is a clear upward trend in ethical fashion.

Consumers and people who have become aware of the injustices and atrocities that mainstream and fast fashion businesses perpetrate on millions of human and non-human lives worldwide are at the forefront of this ethical fashion revolution.

Therefore, let's all take a stand and spread the word that no living being should have to endure pain or die for a piece of clothing.

Brands will eventually need to assume individual accountability for all ethical and environmental concerns brought up in their supplier chains. Still, the sector will change only via consumer cooperation. What then can we do?

FAQs About Ethical Fashion 

What are ethics in fashion?

Designing, making, and distributing clothing in an ethical manner minimises the harm done to people and the environment.

In a perfect world, it benefits everyone who works in the supply chain and improves the future of everyone, not just the wealthy few.

How do you choose ethical fashion?

  • Recognize consumers of sustainable fashion
  • Buy less clothes.
  • Purchase long-lasting, higher-quality products.
  • Purchase functional, basic apparel.
  • Buy apparel from brands that are environmentally friendly.
  • Buy from brands that are honest.
  • To stop microfibers and plastic from entering rivers, wash clothes in cold water.

Why is it important to shop ethically?

The nice thing about ethical consumption is that when demand for things manufactured responsibly by outstanding firms increases, so will supply. Therefore, shopping sustainably not only helps you live according to your ideals now, but it also opens the door for more such possibilities in the future!

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