Are These Unethical Fashion Brands Hiding In Your Closet?

4. Nike

Nike workers rallying (Credit: Teamsweat.org)

As the juggernaut of designer athletic wear, Nike built its empire on shoes made with cheap foreign labour. Though it seems to have taken some environmentally-sound steps in some of its recent initiatives, it may look like greenwash when considered next to policies that some Nike contractors are implementing. In 2008, for example, an undercover investigation by a British news channel showed that a Malaysian contractor was confiscating migrant workers' passports and forcing them to sign contracts to work off their immigration 'debt' -- in effect, as indentured slaves. And in 2010, former employees in Honduras alleged that Nike still owes 1,700 workers in $2.2 million in severance pay after it closed three factories, two of which had begun to unionize.

5. Limited Brands

Protest against Victoria's Secret catalogues (Credit: Wetlands Preserve) Limited Brands, which produces well-known labels like Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, Express and The Limited, has over 3,750 stores across North America selling everything from lingerie to home accessories.

In 2005, the conservation group Forest Ethics released a report that found that endangered forests were being cut down to line the pages of the 400 million catalogues that Victoria's Secret mails out annually (that's a whopping 1 million plus catalogues per day).

And it isn't just the virgin forests lurking in their racy catalogues, it's also the hidden labour practices that were uncovered in a Jordanian sweatshop that made lingerie for the chain. According to a 2006 report by the National Labor Committee, undocumented workers who had been trafficked from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were found inside working 15 to 19 hour shifts in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, seven days a week, with no sick days or holidays and subjected to physical and verbal abuse, under the threat of deportation if they ever spoke out.

According to the National Labour Committee's report: "Workers are allowed just 3.3 minutes to sew each $14 Victoria's Secret women's bikini, for which they are paid four cents. The workers' wages amount to less than 3/10ths of one percent of the $14 retail price of the Victoria's Secret bikini."

6. Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein storefront (Credit: Etslee on Flickr) Calvin Klein's parent company Phillips-Van Heusen is one of the largest garment companies in the world. According to IRIN (a news service of the U.N.), Phillips-Van Heusen has been linked to sweatshops with spotty labour records: beatings, confiscated passports, lack of basic benefits and unsafe working conditions.

Calvin Klein was also one of the companies named in a 2000 class action lawsuit that included Levi Strauss, Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie & Fitch and Talbots for using forced labour in sweatshops operating in the U.S. territory of Saipan.

7. Wal-Mart

Low, low prices courtesy of sweatshop labour (Credit: nowpublic.com)

Retailing giant Wal-Mart is often the subject of labor scrutiny: In this New York Times article, Human Rights Watch accuses Wal-Mart of breaking labor laws at home and abroad.

Though they have made commendable strides in improving their environmental record, their labour policies still need improvement: The International Labor Rights Forum has linked Wal-mart to sweatshops which denied workers minimum wage, overtime pay, health care and maternity leave.

More on Ethical Fashion
Ask Summer Rayne: What Is Fair Trade Fashion?
Book Review: Eco Chic: a Guide to Ethical Fashion
Green Fashion

Tags: Sweatshop-Free

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