The myth of ‘Made in the UK’: How fashion and consumer products are being mislabelled to appear more ethical

Clelia Frondaroli | Head of Comment

The typical consumer does not know where their clothing originates from. In fact, most fashion brands themselves are unaware of the areas in which their clothing is produced, as a result of manufacturers employing subcontractors to create garments. However, as concerns continue to grow over rising global temperatures and dangerous weather patterns, the fashion industry (especially in the UK) has seen a discernible shift in consumers seeking out independent brands that source production close to home. According to one survey conducted by Make it British, more than 93% of consumers are willing to pay more for products that hold a ‘Made in the UK’ label, suggesting that UK goods are perceived to be of higher quality, internationally respected and valuable. Yet, behind this apparent drive for British-made consumer products, there are many things that the ‘Made in’ label isn’t telling us.

Pioneered in the UK, the ‘Made in’ label was created in the late 1800s as an attempt to differentiate imitation goods from authentically manufactured British goods. However, there has been no law since its implementation in the UK that requires the labelling of origin on clothing and consumer products. This has led to the rise of ‘label fraud’, where cheaper manufacturing and labour costs abroad have meant that clothing is typically constructed overseas and finer details (such as buttons being sewn on or pockets lined) are stitched in the UK. This means that clothing labels are still able to claim that the product has been ‘Made in the UK’, despite being produced in developing countries where workers are paid far below the minimum wage.

This has had several detrimental implications for the clothing industry.  Firstly, it reflects poorly on the ‘Made in’ label, giving the appearance that it is a marketing ploy intended to convince consumers that they are sourcing clothing ethically when in reality it is simply re-branded fast fashion. It could also be seen as a subsection of ‘greenwashing’, where some fast fashion retailers are deliberately mislabelling their clothing in an attempt to appear more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, it is not fair on authentic independent British brands such as Oarsum, whose production is sourced entirely within the UK in a sustainable manner. Fraudulent origin labels negatively impact the perception of British goods as a whole, where poor quality garments and consumer products are passed off as ‘British Made’ despite never being produced in the country.

However, it is also important to note that there is no guarantee that British-made products themselves are ethical. Although UK guidelines and law state that ‘it is against the law for an employer to pay less than the national minimum wage’, there have been numerous cases across the country where garment factory workers have been mistreated and underpaid. In the case of one Leicester garment factory, migrant workers were found to be repeated victims of wage exploitation, where they would be subjected to extremely labour-intensive work for as little as £3 an hour. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that clothing made within the UK equates to ethically produced garments.

It could be argued then, that in a globalised world, our clothing comes from all over the world. However, it is up to us as consumers to look beyond what the label tells us and to seek out new ways to shop locally, sustainably and ethically.

Image by ILO Asia-Pacific via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.


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