To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? By Lucy Siegle

By now, most casually informed shoppers know that cheap fashion is something none of us can afford. We're aware that the nimble needlework of children has been found in high street shops, that seas have died satisfy our cotton addiction and that sweatshops are far from being a thing of the past. But according to Lucy Siegle's new book, this is just the thin end of an unsightly wedge. "Big Fashion" has become unsustainable and if you hoped you were doing your bit by avoiding Primark, you need to think again.

As well as being this paper's ethical living columnist, Siegle is a reformed fashionista. Her wardrobe, dubbed "fashionably overweight" by one expert, offers a bulging index of high street fashion fads from the past two decades. The story of its greening comprises the latter third of this book, but first, she leads us off on a tour of the industry's seamy side, totting up the real cost of trends such as It bags and "cheapskating".

There are conversations with Cambodian garment workers, visits to factories in Bangladesh and west Africa and tales of forced teen labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. Human misery seems endemic at every point in the production line, from the alarming suicide rates among Indian farmers to young seamstresses forced to take contraceptive pills.

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Wage laws decimate rag trade

Thousands of garment jobs have been lost in recent weeks in South Africa, as factory owners face government pressure to increase wages as a result of rigid labour laws. This highlights the problem of how to be competitive, attract greater investment and create jobs for a largely unskilled workforce. Recent press coverage shows that South Africa’s minimum wage laws are making life harder for workers and businesses in the garment industry, e.g:

Our natural sympathy for the workers should make anyone question the case for a minimum wage in that country. Given the large number of unskilled workers looking for jobs, it seems unlikely that the government will persist in trying to uphold these job-destroying rules.

At least the South African workers are lucky in that when the minimum wage destroys their jobs they can get wider attention. Most jobs destroyed by minimum wages are invisible because they are never created, so the workers don’t get a chance to be heard.

Why should the workers have to suffer

Why should the workers have to suffer so we can pay £2 for a T-shirt? Can you afford to pay just 20p more? Or better still cut the wages of the heads of the companies. They don't need £5million a year to survive. Do They?