Can We End Sweat Shops – The Fashion Debates


Last week I attended The Fashion Debates, following up from the interview I did with Co-Founder Olivia Pinnock, I thought I’d be writing a review, but the event, which by the way was excellent, inspired a different piece, this one you are about to read. While sitting there listening to the panel some ideas I’d already had started to form up into the article. It’s not often a fashion event inspires quite so much, and to the team behind The Fashion Debates, I can only applaud you for creating a platform for that debate.

Clare Lissaman quote.jpg

The simple fact, demonstrated by the decades of work by panelists Carry Somers & Clare Lissaman show two things, sweatshops are a huge issue, and that it’s taking a long time to fix. I look through my followers and see a rising demand for a better industry, but it’s not translating into purchasing power. In the month prior to this we have seen a pension scandal, a pop star who may be linked to producing her range in a sweatshop, actions against unionisation of some of the poorest workers on the planet that may be the only way to fight back for them, UK employers sacking shop cleaners for asking for a living rather than minimum wage in London and at least two labels having been exposed for “green washing” their ethical claims, and this is the tip of an iceberg.

We have great influential power as consumers but we have to choose to use it – Carry Somers

These are emotive issues, ones I’m incredibly passionate about asmany others are, we believe children belong in classrooms not factories, we believe that adults deserve to earn a fair wage and not live in grinding poverty locked in unsafe buildings using unsafe machines before being locked in company dormitories, worried about not having work the next day and having to had their few pence earned back to the factory owner for anything they buy and for rent.

Exploiting people to do business has been part of our history – Clare Lissaman

We have huge power, in the storm that followed the truly shocking deaths at Rana Plaza we saw the seeds of change, the offenders were in the spotlight, accords were created, compensation was paid by some, not all, and it seemed as if this disaster, so avoidable, had become the line in the sand, it turned out to help but really can we say the corner has been turned?

Brands and retailers have to take responsibility for what’s happening all along the supply chain – Carry Somers

This is where the importance of people like Fashion Debates panelist Stella Heng becomes so important as a new front in the fight. She is co-founder of Sports Philosophy a athleisure label that uses fully commercial business models to fight child labour by committing 10% of profit ( you can read more on Sports Philosophy and business model here) but also saying if nobody else will do this we will. They are not only making a supply chain that is ethically right, fair wages, safe processes etc, but are actively investing in long term solutions in the regions affected by sweatshops and child labour.

Stella quote

As Stella recently told me, “the answer doesn’t end with taking a child out of a factory it starts there, where do they go instead, and what happens when they are old enough to work”.

The problem lies not only in fighting in countries where these practices currently happen, it’s about stopping where they can go next. It’s about short and long term solutions. It’s about consumers making choices in what they purchase. but it appears that fast fashion and a desire to accumulate may be addictive and therefore shape the industry.

When did it become counter cultural not to have too many clothes? – Clare Lissaman

But isn’t it simple, many are unaware of the true horror of the factories and the system, they haven’t yet become truly informed as to some of the less glamorous parts of this fight, it’s hard to make cool issues of fire safety certificates, building codes and transparency of supply lines. But and its an important but, these are as much a part of the struggle.

These are people too – Stella Heng

It’s a simple matter of respect for our fellow humans, I often quote a mantra of a defining principle of, We Are One World, One People. We should all go out and spread a simple message of what is right, safe working conditions in a secure job for a fair days pay.

Just because people are desperate to get a job is no reason to exploit them – Carry Somers

However the biggest question of the debate for me is why aren’t governments doing more, they stay out of it on many levels, they see the economic benefits of the system, it is after all very profitable. However if people are slow to change and enforce change by buying power, should we legislate sweatshops out of existence?

Carry quote

For me it’s the case that we can’t await a moment of change from companies, they are beholden to the markets, profits, shareholders and banks, they are able to maintain this barbarous process within legal rules. That is why for me we should put so much pressure on our governments, our trade blocs and the global political organisations to shame them, to force them to take real, effective action, that is the only way to defeat the sweatshop system, to force it into the dustbin of history. We must make it an offence with huge fines and prison time. We need to make it a legal requirement  that any goods on sale in this country come from places with good conditions and fair pay, that the supply chain is transparent, because that way we make it unprofitable to be in the business of modern slavery.

I’d Love to know what you think?

Olivia with quote

About Ross Pollard

Since starting writing on my 31st birthday in 2011 I have held a number of positions at magazines and websites as well as regularly producing articles for numerous publications alongside contributing to TV & radio shows as a freelance fashion journalist including Hoxton Radio & Fashion One TV. Alongside writing, I have worked in other industries helping to design & grow digital platforms, develop businesses and support operations practices. This experience has proved invaluable in building an understanding of how businesses work, and the landscape in which retail, B2B commerce and other commercial operations develop. Knowledge of commercial interests has helped shape my fashion industry insights beyond critiquing of garments


  1. Hello! I was very moved with how much they shared and felt I learnt alot of new things – like sweatshops int he UK. I agree the pressure should be on governments to enforce the rules we want, as the government is meant to represent the people. Will you be at the next event? Dont think we got to meet after the debate?

    • Hi, it’s so saddening that so much modern slavery exists in this country today, not just the brazen sweatshops of the East End, but on our farms, on our High St’s and in many other places.

      I will most likely be at the next one, so do come say hi for sure.

      • Didn’t think it included farms in the UK. There is work to do to raise awareness, at least there was the anti slavery act introduced recently. But much more needs to be name is Natasha so Ill try come say hi in person.

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