The contradiction in the school uniform debate

Schoolblazer sheds light on the unethical practices happening around the world in the manufacture of school uniforms, and how it is promoting respect for workers’ rights

There’s an interesting contradiction inherent in the ethics and environment debates currently taking place.

On the one hand, retailers need to reduce single-use plastics, their carbon footprint and their reliance on non-sustainable materials. On the other, they are under increasing pressure from all sides to reduce their prices to meet the demand for quality garments at bargain-basement prices. Back-to-school has become a flashpoint, with parents opting for basic uniform sets from popular retailers that sell for as little as £3.75.

Great price. But at what cost?

Whereas with, for example, single-use plastics, we are more active consumers, choosing to use a ‘bag for life’ or refusing a bag altogether at checkout, when it comes to ethics, we are prepared to ‘buy’ what manufacturers are telling us about their ethical trade practices, just as long as we don’t have to give up getting what we want. We are unprepared to face the inconvenience of the so-called truths that we are not being told. We want to purchase something that gives us change from a tenner while leaving our consciences intact.

Here are just a few hard facts

Ethical trade abuses continue unchecked in developing countries, with little regulation or accountability

Bangladeshi workers are making uniforms for UK budget retailers that sell for less than the cost of the uniforms they have to buy for their own children. And they can’t afford to buy them.

If you think sourcing your garments in the UK/EU is a safe bet, think again

In Bulgaria, some textile workers do 24-hour shifts for less than €100 per month. The UK has been under the spotlight with the exposing of ‘dark factories’ in Leicester, where the average worker wage is £4.25 per hour.

High fashion doesn’t escape either

A high-profile Made in Italy label has been found to pay sweatshop wages of about 90p per hour.

This has to stop

As the leading uniform supplier to UK independent schools, Schoolblazer is determined to lead by example. To this end, it is the only specialist schoolwear retailer in the UK which is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative – an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that are promoting respect for workers’ rights around the globe. This includes freely chosen employment and union membership; safe, hygienic working conditions; no child labour; a living wage; reasonable working hours; regular employment; and freedom from discrimination and maltreatment.

While the environment is front and centre in the news and in our hearts and minds (as it should be), it’s critical that we look at the other side of the equation – the one that offers a fuller picture, yet which is being neglected, and to the detriment of both.

“We think it’s vital that we know about where our clothing is sourced, who is making it, and the conditions in which they are working,” says Schoolblazer co-founder, Tim James.

“Our mission is to create uniforms that are made to last, using designs that are classic to avoid the built-in obsolescence adopted by many fashion labels and lines, where styles are changed regularly and discarded easily.

“While taking care of our environment is critical, unless and until people are supported and remunerated well – until they thrive instead of simply eking out an existence – then they suffer, and the environment suffers along with them. Understanding this symbiotic relationship between the two is what is going to effect positive change for both.”

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