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It’s a myth we want to believe based on a fading age of couturier craftsmanship. If it’s made in Europe, it is made with quality, fairness and ethical principles.

However, as fast fashion ravages the consumer world, large fashion brands are leveraging the glamorous legacy of haute couture fashion houses to sell poor quality, cheaply made products.

The truth is that exploitation of workers isn’t limited to countries such as Bangladesh as companies such as Hugo Boss, Zara and Adidas are doing the same in regions of Eastern Europe. This means that the low wages and unfair labour practices hide behind a mirage presented by the European fashion market.

A recent report produced by the Clean Clothes Campaign, “an umbrella group for trade unions and advocacy groups,” involved interviews with garment producers in nine Eastern European countries and Turkey. These interviews revealbed minimum wages that do not align with cost of living. For example, countries including Moldova and Ukraine have lower legal minimum wages than Indonesia, where the minimum wage is 82 Euros or $111 USD per month. Additionally, other problems identified include treatment of overtime, holidays, health insurance, and sexual harassment.

These interviews resulted in two significant recommendations for these countries:

  1. Increasing the legal minimum wage
  2. More oversight by the European Union

We say buy local, we say buy quality – but when brands start exploiting the perceptions consumers have for what local or quality mean, what is a consumer to do? It is important that consumers stay informed about where their clothing is coming from and not blindly accept a large retailers tagline. Made in Europe could mean handmade from the glamorous streets of Paris or it could mean sweatshop-like conditions in Bulgaria. We must continue to put pressure on these brands to be transparent and fair when it comes to their labour practices, and change the culture from cheap, fast fashion to ethical, quality fashion.

Poverty wages for garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey. Read the full report here: http://www.cleanclothes.org/livingwage/stitched-up

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