56% of Americans don’t check labels to see where apparel is made, according to a recent poll by Harris Interactive. Forty-four percent do.
The poll surveyed 2,052 people in the U.S. online in May. It was conducted in response to the recent factory disasters in Bangladesh, including the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen Fashions Fire, to gauge public awareness of the origins of garments. Even with widespread coverage of the disasters, fewer than half of Americans are checking labels.
This raises serious questions about the ability of consumer sentiment to impact ethical sourcing decisions. After the Rana Plaza collapse, many commentators called for a customer driven uprising to force major brands to change improve their practices. However, the lack of serious consumer engagement makes it unlikely that the industry will make large changes based on that alone. The threat of a specific boycott is enough to compel action, as well as negative impacts for high-profile firms seeking to present a positive corporate image.
The poll also found that 69 percent of Americans had heard about the building collapse, and 92 percent of those who knew were aware that the death toll was high. 52 percent of those who knew about the disaster reported that they “will be no more or less likely to purchase clothes made in Bangladesh,” versus 39 percent who say they will be less likely to buy clothes made there. Men expressed greater apathy than women, with 56 percent saying that they were unlikely to change their purchasing habits, versus 48 percent of women.
These statistics don’t match with the number of people actually checking labels, indicating that consumers would need a simpler way of identifying garment origin in order to put their ideas into practice. Additionally, the poll didn’t account for variations in price or presentation, which can both have a major impact on purchasing decisions.
Bangladesh is a major global exporter of garments, apparel, and home goods, with over 80 percent of its garments going to the United States.