Major Ethical Issues in Fashion

Ethical fashion raises fundamental concerns in the fashion business about exploitation, working conditions, animal welfare, fair trade, and the environment. Businesses are becoming more aware of the value of corporate social responsibility and are making the required adjustments to satisfy customers. There has been a considerable increase in consumer ethical concern over the past few decades, which has resulted in a rise in the demand for “ethical” options in the marketplace. The textile and clothing industries, which are primarily driven by labor-and resource-intensive practises and leave the largest carbon footprint of all value chains, are two of the sectors with a significant impact on our planet’s ecological and social footprints. Hence, this sector also faces significant ethical issues in the fashion sector.

Damage to the Environment

Dresses are lovely to wear, but there are several issues with how they are made. The dumping of nuclear waste, changes in the environment, global warming, the extinction of some species, and other issues are closely watched, and they are mostly linked to human activities. The fashion industry bears some of the blame, and opinions on the effects that human activity has on the environment vary. Chemical treatments are used to soften and colour a variety of textiles. Such substances can harm the environment and perhaps result in skin conditions. Chemicals used in the treatment of textiles include lead, nickel, chromium, and aryl amines.

Child Labour

Major fashion labels frequently move their production facilities to impoverished regions of the world, primarily in the Second and Third World, in their pursuit of low-cost manufacturing. Anyone and everyone who is capable of working in a factory is employed here, even children. The families of these disadvantaged youngsters know better than to criticise the standard of care given to their children or to demand that they be given worker’s rights because of their poverty and lack of knowledge. Child fashion workers are deprived of their fundamental right to school in addition to being forced to labour in appalling circumstances all day.

Increased Waste and Consumerism

The present fashion industry mostly uses the take-make-dispose model, which involves the extraction of large amounts of non-renewable resources to create clothing that is frequently worn for a few times before being discarded in landfills. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s research “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future” points out that apparel is vastly underused. The average number of times a garment is worn globally has dropped from 15 years ago to only 7 to 10 times, a 36% decline. We shouldn’t be surprised that “one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burned every second” when only 1% of materials are recycled into new garments.

Low Wages

Although a living wage has been deemed a fundamental human right by the International Labour Organization (ILO), salaries frequently fall short of even meeting workers’ most basic requirements, let alone covering emergencies. As a result, garment workers are compelled to work overtime and are unable to refuse assignments due to illness, pregnancy, or unsafe working circumstances. In countries in the Third and Second Worlds, the fashion sector claims to provide jobs. When the average worker’s annual salary is calculated and the working circumstances of his position are hypothesised, employment generation is, nevertheless, of little significance. Major fashion brands typically use contractors who typically pay below-minimum rates to their employees in many nations.

Risks to Health and Safety

In addition to depriving countless men, women, and children of their fundamental human rights and paying their employees insufficient wages, the fashion industry puts the lives of its employees and workers in danger because many of these businesses are known for constructing their apparel production facilities in developing and third-world countries on the cheap and shoddily. The majority of cotton farmers and sweatshop employees are exposed to pesticides, lead-based dyes, and chemical poisoning over an extended period of time, and as a result, they frequently experience chronic vomiting, headaches, tremors, lack of coordination, loss of consciousness, respiratory diseases, impaired memory, concentration difficulties, extreme depression, palpitations, seizures, and even death. This happens as a result of their disregard for the welfare of their employees, which eventually causes them to fail.

Animal Abuse

The fashion industry engages in two types of animal abuse: the first involves directly torturing the animal by objectifying it for its fur, skin, or hide; the second endangers animals by contaminating their habitats and upsetting their food chains. Both situations prevent these creatures from living in the wild and free due to the methods used in the fashion industry. Many animals are reared in captivity, matured to a certain age, and then their fur is removed by employees. Once their fur has been removed, live animals are frequently mutilated. Some creatures, like snakes and crocodiles, are purposely raised to be killed and have their skin removed for products like shoes, handbags, and other accessories.

High Utilisation of Natural Resources

The majority of natural resources used in the fashion industry are still non-renewable, which greatly contributes to climate change. The clothes we wear every day have been chosen for their particular utility and economic efficiency, but they have noticeable drawbacks in terms of the land, water, and fossil fuels needed for production. The production of textiles made of plastic requires a lot of energy, but the production of natural materials requires extensive use of pesticides and fertilisers (unless organic farming is used) as well as a lot of water, frequently in locations with limited water supplies.

Poor Working Environment

The great majority of clothing that is sold every day is made in hazardous and demanding conditions in underdeveloped nations. The collapse of the Rana Plaza plant in Bangladesh and the fire at the Tazreen Fashion clothing factory, which together claimed the lives of more than 1,200 garment workers, were merely the tip of the iceberg. Despite the issues receiving public notice, there are still businesses that keep hiring people in dangerously subpar conditions who are also subjected to toxic chemicals and physical and emotional abuse.


In today’s world, many discussions revolve around the ethical issues that the fashion industry faces. Numerous industries frequently respond to public concerns by demonstrating their corporate social responsibility in various ways. Being green is radical for some. Others chose to demonstrate their responsibility by picking a specific subject. For instance, several businesses clearly state that neither child labour nor inadequate pay is used in the process of creating their products. Whatever the actual situation, ethical questions continue to trouble activists, governments, and society at large.

Updated on: 23-Nov-2022


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