top of page

The Dark Side of Fashion

Modern Slavery in the Fashion Industry

fashion clothing factory

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘slavery’? For most people, we think of the transatlantic slave trade; the buying and selling of people, their shipment from one continent to another and the abolition of the trade in the early 1800’s. Even if we have little knowledge of the word, we tend to think of it as part of our history rather than our present.

This is clearly not the case.

In fact, there are more people trapped in modern slavery than ever before in history. Modern slavery is real, especially in the fashion industry. The dark truth of the matter is that this kind of slavery is up and down our high streets.

Chances are, you’ll know of a few brands that clearly use the cheapest labour they can find. Take the likes of Primark, PrettyLittleThing, Boohoo, New Look. There are some obvious ones, like Primark for example. The cheap and cheerful bargains you bag, wear a few times, then dump because it’s torn or the zip’s broken, clearly cost pennies to produce.

But some might not be so obvious.

Zara reigns supreme on the high street, and it’s no lie that a fair share of their products can be on the pricier side, which is why it may seem somewhat surprising to find out they operate with a business model not too dissimilar to the fast-fashion brands listed earlier. Sure, Zara has made pledges to create all of its collections from 100% sustainable fabrics within the next five years, but what about the people making these so-called sustainable clothes?

Zara still fails to pay a living wage across its supply chain – despite such a huge profit margin. One worker at a factory for Zara in Myanmar claimed that they worked 10-hour days, six days a week and were regularly expected to work overtime to make enough money. These workers make around £2.44 per day. The sad thing is, these people in these communities are the ones more likely to experience the impact of climate change caused by fast-fashion, from flooded homes and vanishing sources of drinking water, to disrupted local economies and extreme heat waves. Even further to this, a Stanford University study revealed that since 1960, climate change has increased economic inequality between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations (exploiting and exploited countries) by 25%.

So, you’ll want to know which brands you can actually trust

It can be hard to find typical high street brands that operate positively in every aspect of ethical and sustainable categories. But focusing on labour conditions and pay, these are some that come out on top.


Marks & Spencer’s modern slavery statement states all factories are visited and inspected regularly to ensure worker’s human rights are upheld. The brand is also independently certified by SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit, who look at universal human rights in global supply chains and business practices. It has a project to improve wages in its supply chain and traces most of its supply chain including all of the final and second stages of production. M&S is rated ‘Good’ on ‘Good on You’.

People Tree

People Tree is a fair-trade women’s apparel company. Rating ‘Great’ on ‘Good on You’s research, the majority of the brands products are certified by Global Organic Textile Standard and is a member of WFTO Guarantee system. (A WFTO member is a guaranteed fair trade organisation which demonstrates that all producers, marketers, exporters, importers, wholesalers and retailers throughout the supply chain have a 100% commitment to fair trade.) The brand also strives to ensure payment of a living wage in pretty much all of its supply chain.


Patagonia, Inc. is an American clothing company that markets and sells outdoor clothing.

It is an accredited and founding member of the Fair Labour Association and in 2019 the brand also received Ethical Consumer’s best rating for supply chain management as well as a middle rating for its cotton sourcing. Since the mid-2000s, Patagonia has implemented a system to pre-screen factories before they place orders. This process includes screening potential new suppliers for the ability to meet their sourcing, quality, social and environmental standards. Even further, Patagonia uses a high proportion of eco-friendly and recycled materials in its collections.

You can check out how ethical and sustainable brands are at, where you’ll find trusted ratings based on how impactful the brand is to people, the planet, and animals.


bottom of page