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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015: www.maquilasolidarity.org

'Where can I buy clean clothes?'

LAST UPDATED: APRIL 2007

Clothes on a line

Unfortunately we don't have a list of 'clean' retailers or manufacturers -- MSN does not endorse or recommend any specific companies.

Recently, however, we've seen an increase in small companies originating from a fair trade or activist background who are trying to provide an ethical alternative for consumers. For a discussion of the pros and cons of the ‘fair trade' approach and some of the new ‘sweat-free' brands, click here. Some unions are also promoting union-made apparel and other products for institutional buyers.

With the mainstream brands and retailers, finding 'clean' clothes is tricky.

There are companies that have made progress on the policy level, for example by agreeing to a code of conduct that refers to ILO standards. Of course companies also have to make sure they implement the labour standards outlined in the codes, and this is where it gets difficult. MSN believes its important that trade unions and NGOs, and ultimately the workers themselves, have a voice in determining how codes are implemented.

Some companies have joined Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) such as the Ethical Trading Initiative in the UK, the Fair Wear Foundation in the Netherlands and the Fair Labor Association and Social Accountability International in the US. Being a member does not mean that the clothes the company sells are 'clean'. What it means is that companies have committed to a programme of work to address labour rights in their supply chains, and workers and their organizations can file a complaint with the MSI if they believe the member company has violated an agreed code. For a comparison of these and other MSI's , see "Who's got the universal code?", MSN's Codes Memo #23.

Other companies have agreed to work with Trade Unions and NGOs to experiment with methods of code implementation. Again this offers no guarantee for clean production, it does however show the preparedness of these companies to cooperate in working out effective means to protect workers rights.

Lastly, some companies have made efforts to communicate to the public about their efforts to address labour rights issues in their supply chains. We rate the extent to which companies are transparent on the issues in our Transparency Report Card, available here. Although the top companies in our report are not 'clean', they do provide you with more information about their operations and policies which will help you to decide whether to buy or invest in their companies.

The best thing to do, in the absence of a list of 'clean' companies, is to keep asking companies questions about how and where their clothes are manufactured, and what kind of policies and programs they have in place to identify and deal with violations of international labour standards when they occur.

More MSN resources on "sweat-free" and fair trade products

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