How Can We Break The Bias In Garment Production?

On 8th March 1917 women textile workers in Russia went on strike for “bread and peace”. We now celebrate International Women’s Day on the same day as this, each year. It’s a chance for us to remember the often overlooked achievements of women (like Marie Tharp creating the first map of the ocean floor leading to the discovery of tectonic plates) and take action for equality (it’s projected to be another 136 years until we close the gender gap). 

The theme for this years International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. Can you imagine a world where people aren’t stereotyped or discriminated against because of their gender? Trying to break gender bias and stereotypes is a core reason for Ducky Zebra’s existence, and we live this through our clothes and values every day. 

Have you ever spotted a feminist slogan t-shirt for under £5 and wondered who made it? And in what conditions? We work in an industry that has a long way to go to break the bias. And we want to be part of that process. Did you know:

  • Between 70-80% of people making clothes are women - but they’re not visible as supervisors or managers. Women are not represented amongst their leaders. 
  • This means that decisions are made by men, about a majority female workforce - resulting in maternity leave, child care, and women’s safety either not being considered, or not being fair. 
  • The average gender pay gap in garment factories is 18%.
  • Violence and harassment against women is tragically endemic and often goes unreported because of fear. 
  • To keep pricing low, a lot of factories outsource parts of production to homeworkers, who are almost always women due to caring responsibilities - as a homeworker, they have very few rights or job security. 

Why is there such gender inequality in the factories where so many clothes are made? There are a number of deeply entrenched and messy problems: 

  • There’s a huge lack of transparency across the garment supply chain meaning abuses can happen unknowingly
  • Developing countries have weak labour laws to attract buyers to produce in their country, creating a race to the bottom
  • In countries where a lot of clothes are made, labour is cheap and disposable, so it’s easy to replace someone if a woman falls pregnant or cannot work overtime
  • And as fast fashion has become the main business model, short turnaround time and low prices from buyers are forced down onto the factories - making a ripe environment for an abusive and high pressure work environment.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and we’re so pleased to have found a factory that agrees with us - Shine Organic Clothing. Our manufacturing partner takes a number of steps to drive gender equality, including paying all workers a living wage, investing in the skills of their women workers, implementing working hours that work well for parents, being GOTS certified (which means they’re measured against international decent work principles including no discrimination and no harassment and violence), and when we started our partnership, they had 50% of women in leadership positions. 

Sadly, this last achievement has been affected by COVID-19. Globally we’ve seen women disproportionately affected by the Pandemic due to the gendered demands of home-schooling and/or caring for family members. From our manufacturer’s perspective this has reduced the number of women returning to work in the factory, and is one of many examples of how gender bias in general, and COVID-19 in particular, has rolled back so many gains towards gender equality. But we’re pleased to know that Shine Organic Clothing is focused on returning to the gender balance they once had. 

Our manufacturing choices, as well as our core value of being free from gender stereotypes, are two ways in which Ducky Zebra is proud to be trying to break the gender bias. But what more can we all do to continue driving gender equality in the garment industry? In such a notoriously complex industry which has been set up to benefit the large brand CEOs rather than the worker, it can feel hard sometimes to know what we can do as consumers, and whether our clothes have been sourced responsibly. 

But there are some steps each of us can take:

  • Ask brands #WhoMadeMyClothes - a campaign setup by  Fashion Revolution to encourage customers to ask where and who made their clothes. They also urge brands to be more transparent. Behind every piece of clothing there’s a person behind it -  - people like Gomathi and Guna. We’re proud to share their story on our website.
  • Ask brands what they’re doing to #BreakTheBias in the garment industry - publicly ask them what percentage of their leaders are women, what the gender pay gap is in their supply chain, what they’re doing to stop violence against women. 
  • Before you buy, have a look at how the brand is scoring on gender issues - apps like GoodOnYou factor gender equality into their ranking system, as does the Oxfam supermarket scorecard. Sadly these tend to focus on the larger brands, which means you won’t be able to find Ducky Zebra (well, not yet anyway).
  • Chose companies that have signed up to the Ethical Move, like we have - they’re more likely to have a responsible business model
  • Beware of greenwashing, such as slogans on t-shirts conveying one message, when the labour conditions are quite another.

We know there’s always more that we can be doing, especially as a young brand that’s still learning the industry. What else do you think we can be doing to #BreakTheBias, and what are your tips for steps we can all take?

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