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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

24 October 2012

Is ethical shopping headed for the mainstream?

Contributor Rebecca Taylor


With the advent of several new sustainability indices, ethical buying decisions will soon be made easier – but will consumers' actions match their intentions? Rebecca Taylor from Responsible Trade Worldwide discusses the gaps between industry progress on sustainability and consumer buy-in.

Consumers’ demands to know the journey of the products they buy are getting louder. More than ever, retailers and suppliers are being called to account for anything other than watertight sourcing and production practices.

Newly established indexes and tools are making waves in the industry by lifting the lid on the supply chain to give purchasing power to the end consumer.

The question remains whether consumers will follow through on their calls for transparency with concrete action. It remains to be seen whether, when given the opportunity to make ethical choices, consumers will prioritise factors of sustainability and responsibility over other powerful influences in the buying thought process.

Consumers are a fickle lot. Led by both head and heart, our buying decisions fluctuate according to many, sometimes conflicting, factors. Debating whether to buy a new bag, for example, involves considerations of seasonal trends, brand loyalty, price, materials, etc. And more recently, a desire to know the wider impact of the purchase. More than ever, we want to know the story behind what we’re spending our money on – from how the materials were sourced to how many hands the product has passed through to reach us.

Holding retailers accountable for suppliers falling short in this regard (for example, Burberry having come under fire last month) is a growing attitude amongst consumers that is wholeheartedly welcomed by those working in responsible trade.

But where does this concern come from? If we were presented the facts about how our products were sourced and produced – as we are already demanding ever-louder – are we genuinely willing to change the way we shop and favour the responsible decision?

Time will soon tell. Sustainability and ethical indexing has been developed with the very goal of increasing the transparency of the supply chain. Both the Higg Index and the Responsible Trade Worldwide Tool make it possible to measure and evaluate the environmental and social performance of a product, and the working conditions in which it was produced.

Indexing on products has been on the food industry agenda for some time. Walmart, collaborators in the development of a Sustainability Index, have confirmed an imminent launch, accompanied by a customer awareness drive on new product indexing and labelling.

With retailers and suppliers increasingly committed to facilitating more informed decisions at the buying end of the chain, the future of responsible sourcing falls firmly into the hands of the consumer. Let’s hope that when faced with the facts, consumers are willing to prove that an ethical conscience is more deeply rooted than the season’s must have.

Read more from Responsible Trade Worldwide, here – Big business and ethical practice: A growing challenge


1. The Guardian | Burberry Stops Handbag Production in Chinese Factory in Ethics Row | 2012 | [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/sep/18/burberry-handbag-chinese-factory-ethics

2. Source Intelligence | SAC Measures Fashion Footprint with Higg Index | 2012 | [ONLINE] Available at: http://source.ethicalfashionforum.com/article/sac-measures-fashion-footprint-with-higg-index

3. Responsible Trade Worldwide | Find Out What Your Workforce is Really Saying | 2012 | [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.responsibletradeworldwide.com/

4. Walmart | Sustainability Index – The Secret Life | 2012 | [ONLINE] Available at : http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/environment-sustainability/sustainability-index

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