Shopping ethically this Christmas: Fighting modern slavery in the festive season

December 15, 2020

How to shop ethically this Christmas: A buyer’s guide to fighting modern slavery in the festive season

This week, the BBC has shone more light on the appalling plight of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, where more than half a million workers are thought to be exploited and coerced into picking cotton. The crop from this region accounts for a fifth of the global cotton supply, reminding us that modern slavery reaches across the globe and is particularly prevalent in the garment industry.

Closer to home, what appeared to be a story of a local lockdown in Leicester over the summer had a much more sinister reality beneath it as factories supplying Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal forced workers to keep coming in at the height of the pandemic, offering them a measly £3.50 an hour for their labour. You can read more about this case in our recent report; ‘Parallel societies: slavery, exploitation and criminal subculture in Leicester’.

So, what can we do about the epidemic of poor labour standards that often amount to slavery? As we embark upon present shopping and make decisions on where to spend our gift budgets, here are five ways to avoid paying into this shoddy system this Christmas:

Watch ‘The True Cost’
William Wilberforce famously said of the 18th Century slave trade, ‘you may choose to look the other way, but you cannot say that you did not know’. Let’s follow his advice and get to grips with the reality of what goes on in the shadows of the fashion industry. Watch the Netflix documentary ‘The True Cost’ for a shocking but important exposé on how fast fashion affects those making our clothes.

Download the Good on You app
It can be overwhelming to know where to start when trying to avoid companies that use slavery and forced labour. This app does the work for you, ranking almost every fashion brand based on its labour practices. Warning: be prepared to mourn the loss of some of your favourite high-street haunts. But also enjoy the range of gorgeous garments from some unsung heroes of the ethical fashion movement. Your pressies might cost a little more, but they’ll give your loved ones that refreshing ‘this wasn’t made by a slave’ feeling when they put them on. Priceless.

Tweet celebrities who endorse fast fashion brands
If you’re into Twitter, why not ask celebs who get behind brands like Boohoo if they know where the products were made and by whom? It’s extraordinary how few bother to check if slavery was involved in the products they endorse. Remember those ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts worn by everyone from Ed Miliband to Benedict Cumberbatch? They were made by women in Mauritius forced to sleep 16 to a room and paid 62p an hour. It was a similar story for the Spice Girls charity t-shirts made to support ‘gender justice’, except this time it was 35p an hour and included worker harassment and abuse. Not things we want under our Christmas tree. A well-placed query could get these ‘brand ambassadors’ thinking a bit harder.

Use charity shops
Charity shops can be an Aladdin’s cave for present buying. Second-hand doesn’t need to mean second best. A top tip: go to the wealthiest high-street you can get to and dip into the charity shops there. You’ll find barely-worn designer dresses, unopened electrical goods and beautiful ceramics and glassware. The charity shop on my nearest snazzy high-street had a sign outside it recently saying ‘Great new Hugo Boss stock in-store today’. Winner.

Have a look at companies’ modern slavery statements
Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (which was passed as a result of the work of our partners at the Centre for Social Justice) there is a clause that demands that all large companies must disclose the efforts they’re making to find modern slavery in their supply chain, putting all this information on their websites. Scroll down the homepage of places like John Lewis, ASOS and Marks and Spencer, follow the ‘Modern Slavery Statement’ link and get the updates.

Slavery-free products are increasingly available and easy to find. If it means more people are protected from exploitation it’ll be worth it.

– Lucy Colman, Justice and Care Trustee