Livia Firth: 'Fast fashion companies are like drug pushers'

Livia Firth at the Trust Women conference, London.

Story highlights

  • Livia Firth campaigns for a more ethical fashion industry
  • She believes wages for garment workers are kept low by "fast fashion" companies
  • She wants to see an international agreement that would see global workers paid a living wage

London (CNN)"These businesses have created an evil system that works so well for them, and they're not accountable," says Livia Firth.

The wife of British actor Colin Firth, Livia is a passionate campaigner for a more ethical fashion industry. The businesses she's referring to are "fast fashion" companies -- the global retail chains that sell mass market clothes at low prices.
The creative director of "sustainability brand consultancy" Eco Age, Firth started the Green Carpet Challenge, which asks top designers to dress celebrities for the red carpet in clothes that are ecologically friendly and socially responsible.
    One of her chief concerns is the "poverty wages" paid to workers in developing countries who make the garments sold in fashion stores in the West.
    "In Bangladesh you see women who work 12 to 16 hours a day to produce our clothes in factories which have bars on the windows and guards at the doors," she says. "They are paid very little. Even if it's the national minimum wage, it's really a poverty wage."
    The minimum monthly wage in Bangladesh is $68.
    The country's garment industry came under scrutiny in April 2013, when more than 1,000 people died when a nine-story factory building collapsed in the capital, Dhaka. The majority of those killed or injured were textile workers.

    'Fashion brands make the rules'

    Firth says wages are kept low by the huge buying power of fast fashion brands, which want clothes that are cheap and quick to make.
    "The fast fashion companies are like drug pushers: they go to these countries promising to lift millions out of poverty, they get the business, and then once they start production in that country they start pushing prices down," says Firth.
    "They can always impose the lowest wages and local governments and entire countries are enslaved by that. Say you are in Bangladesh, if you are too expensive they'll go to Vietnam or Myanmar, which they are doing."
    She argues that there's an urgent need for a transnational agreement on wages, which would see workers around the world paid a living wage.
    At the Trust Women conference, held in London on 17-18 November, Firth announced a "ground-breaking study to establish the legalities for a global standard on wages."