Size inclusivity and ethical sportswear
We looked at women’s leggings for all brands to see which made these in sizes above UK women’s size 20. Of those listed below, Adidas and Girlfriend Collective also used plus size models. Girlfriend Collective is one of our Recommended brands.
Workers’ rights issues in sportswear - the real sweatshops
In our research into ethical sportswear, we found evidence that sweatshops exist. Some suppliers are not even paying the local minimum wage.
The legal minimum wage in many countries is already much lower than that needed to escape poverty, but over the last year or so it’s got even worse for some workers. The international Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) says that 400,000 garment workers in the Indian state of Karnataka have not been paid even the minimum wage since April 2020.
One worker was quoted as saying,
“Throughout this year I have only fed my family rice and chutney sauce”. “I tried to talk to the factory management about it,” she added, “but they said, ‘this is what we pay to work here. If you don’t like it, you can leave.’”
The executive director of the WRC said it had demanded for two years that western brands including Puma and Nike intervene, but that they had let it continue.
The minimum wage had gone up by just £4.10 a month in April 2020, but had never been paid. Suppliers argue that a legal complaint over the raise was still in the courts, but the Karnataka high court had ruled in September 2021 that the new minimum wage and all arrears should be paid.
Brands need to take responsibility over sweatshops
In Sri Lanka, The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) has submitted a legal complaint against Columbia Sportswear Company, Asics, and Tommy Hilfiger, claiming they are acting as ‘shadow employers’ and should be held accountable along with suppliers for alleged wage violations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
AFWA released a report in July 2021, looking at what it argued was wage theft in six garment-producing countries. It listed 15 global fashion brands as jointly responsible with suppliers for the destitution of millions of garment workers, and the poverty wages before the pandemic that did not provide any safety blanket to tide them over.
"These suppliers, are not independent manufacturers, having garments produced and selling them on the global market. Rather, they are contract manufacturers" said the report. It argues that brands should have responsibility to sustain workers in times of recession. Instead, workers, and especially women workers, had to reduce consumption, deplete savings and increase debt. It was in fact the workers who "subsidised the stabilisation and recovery of brand profits".
The report argues in its Foreword that
"the risks of business were basically transferred to suppliers from the Global South and, in turn, to their workers." Global brands, it says, sacrificed workers from the Global South to protect their share value in the Global North."
Asics said it did not agree that it had a joint business relationship with its suppliers. Columbia Sportswear Company said, “We believe that the strategies we enacted were able to reduce the impacts of the global pandemic on our supply chain partners and their employees.” PVH, parent of Tommy Hilfiger, did not comment.
Go to the Clean Clothes website for a live blog on how Covid-19 continues to affect garment workers’ rights.
Which sportswear brands are doing better for workers' rights?
The only brands to get our best rating for Supply Chain Management were Beyond Retro, Ellesse, Girlfriend Collective, and People Tree.