Sustainable fashion is based on a few pillars. Of course sustainability immediately makes most people think of things like a carbon footprint and recycled materials, but aside from this, we also consider ethical production to be an important part of creating sustainable clothing. We think that everyone that works in our supply chain should be treated with respect and valued for the work they do. Of course this sounds nice, but we also make sure to do our due diligence in establishing if the workers in our supply chains are treated well. The factories of our supplier are audited on the social standards on their workfloors, which includes multiple themes, such as compensation, protection of workers, checking for discrimination, etc. & we also make sure to monitor social standards ourselves by regularly checking in with factory management. Furthermore, we provide our supplier with consulting on social issues, to help in capacity building among all parts of the production process as well as to create space for improvements. 

In short, we are happy to say the factories are rated as sufficient to good when it comes to social standards and our work with them will only see this improve in the future. The workers in the supply chain are all paid, at least, a living wage, and no indentured or child labour takes place anywhere in the facilities. Furthermore contingency plans and grievance mechanisms are put in place to make sure that if anything untoward were to happen, issues can be spotted and fixed as soon as possible.



How much does a worker in our factories get paid? And does everyone receive a living wage?


These are the two most important questions we get asked, concerning the wages in the factories where Honest Basics is produced. To answer both questions quickly: everyone within our partner-factories gets paid at least a living wage or more. 


Reality is often not as black and white, so to answer both questions properly, we need to add some extra contextual information. 


To go back to the first question: how much does a worker in our factory get paid? We cannot simply give you one answer to this, as there are many different roles within the ecosystem of a factory and of course these roles are compensated with different salaries. The salary of a seamstress in the sample room will be different from the salary of a line-manager and also different for someone working in the finishing department.


It is also important to mention that different rates for working overtime or working on the weekends or during holidays are used. We often see that workers use these systems of different overtime-rates to boost their overall compensation. 


Overall, the factories we work with use hourly wage compensation to pay their workers. But to add to the complexity, some of the sewing factories we work with offer compensation based on a piece rate to their workers. This is a different wage method from the hourly compensation, where workers will be paid based on how many finished pieces they deliver on a daily/weekly basis. We also think it is important to mention that piece-rate compensation is considered to be quite high-risk regarding labour freedom issues within the fashion industry as a whole. We often see piece-rates being abused in sweatshops / exploitative style factories, to push the workers to work ever faster and churn out low-quality garments as fast as possible. So when we encountered this, of course this was mentioned to factory management. They explained that as they’ve worked with this system for the last 20+ years and the workforce is used to it, they’re reluctant to change. Of course, they also assured us that no exploitation takes place here. Further assurances came through a big fashion company sending in a very experienced team of sustainability managers at the end of 2023. They audited the payment slips of the workers at 2 sewing factories that also produce Honest Basics, and they found everything more than in order. There was even a case of a seamstress receiving more than $ 2.000 USD in monthly compensation, which is a lot and very far above the local Chinese minimum wage. So in this case, the piece-rate and overtime-system are definitely working in the worker’s favor.


Back to the second question: does everyone in our factories receive a living wage? The short answer is yes, we checked and this is the case.


Important to acknowledge here is that there is a massive difference between what a national or regional minimum wage is and what is considered to be the living wage. China determines minimum wage mainly based on regions, specifically differentiating between urban and rural regions. In the region where most of our factories operate, the minimum wage is a little over 2.000 Yuan per month, which comes just short of 300 euro. The living wage was determined as a concept because so many minimum wages actually do not meet the requirements for an individual and/or family to meet their basic needs. A living wage is thus determined by addition of the costs of different basic needs in a certain country or region. However, what is considered a basic need differs. There are two reputable initiatives that we look to when determining the living wage for our workers: the Asia Floor Wage Alliance & the Global Living Wage Coalition. The first is specifically focussed on the garment industry in Asia, whereas the latter is also able to provide regional estimations of the living wage. Together, they show us a spectrum of possible living wages from 3000 Yuan up to 5114 Yuan. Looking at the Hangzhou region, the living wage according to the Global Living Wage Coalition is 5030 Yuan, a little over 600 euro and thus more than half of the minimum wage! We are happy to report that even the lowest paid workers in the production facilities make well over the living wage. 


Important distinction to make here as well is that we can only verify and guarantee the living wages within our partner-factories. This means the 6 sewing factories and knitting and dyeing-houses that are part of the Vane Fashion Group. At the time of writing this, we are (way) too small of a business to realistically also control the wages that are being paid further down the supply chain, for example in cotton production. However, we can still create some influence further down our supply chain, by buying the raw materials for our production that have been certified according to the Organic Content Standards.  


There has been a lot of research into the benefits that growing organic or regenerative cotton has on the communities that live around the cotton fields. Of course there is the obvious benefit of the agricultural communities not having their air or water being poisoned by hazardous pesticides. Some research has also shown that there are often extra socioeconomic benefits, such as that farmers get better compensation for their work and there are lower chances of child labour occuring. These results are also found because certifications like OCS create more transparency in a supply chain and make the farms part of a system, providing opportunities for audits and support. 


Unfortunately Honest Basics doesn’t have the resources to properly check if all workers in our supply chain are compensated fairly. We are aware of the black hole in our transparency coverage, so as soon as we have the resources we will most certainly deep-dive further and try to clarify the situation all the way back to the cotton fields. 


Workers’ rights

Aside from being paid a fair amount of money for their work, what do the rest of a factory worker’s rights include and how does Honest Basics monitor if these rights are met? 


We follow the guidelines set out by important monitoring organisations like the SLCP & Amfori across the industry to categorise workers’ rights into separate themes, making it easier to check the current situation for each theme as well as to operationalise solutions if/where needed. 



Of course we have strict boundaries when it comes to discrimination in the factories. Simply put, we do not allow any type of discrimination based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, ability, or age. However, a statement like this is not enough to actually ensure that discrimination, whether conscious or not, does not occur. It is well known that certain types of discrimination occur more often in the fashion industry than other types. 


For example, because migrant workers often make up a big part of the employees, the likelihood of discrimination based on ethnicity or region/country of origin as well as discrimination based on religion is quite high. Furthermore, in some contexts discrimination based on hiv-status poses a high risk to (potential) employees, often making it difficult for hiv-positive people to even get hired somewhere and if hired, face a high risk of overt discrimination and bullying. Lastly, across the entire industry as well as unfortunately many other sectors, female workers often face discrimination. In many ways these forms of discrimination can also be hidden because even if these people might be involved in the manufacturing, factory managers have realised that monitoring on discrimination is becoming more frequent and thus might only hire employees that are ‘at risk’ of discrimination without registering them as official workers. 


Thus, reducing and eliminating discrimination in our supply chain as well as everywhere is a monumental task and requires a lot of vigilance. We do not merely ask our manufacturing partners to supply us with a code of conduct that states their policies against discrimination, we also personally check in with factory staff and the audits we request our factories to undergo also include randomised interviews with factory staff.


Furthermore, many management decisions that might not obviously be linked to discrimination, can indicate whether a working environment is at risk of being discriminatory or not. For example, if proper registration of all employees is maintained, this is of course good practice and if employees speak multiple languages, this should be reflected in the languages spoken by management as well as in different language versions of all documents being available to staff. It is also important to see whether there is a balance in the amount of male & female workers in the factory, also especially paying attention to the management positions. A similar consideration can be done for ethnicity/nationality, if it is apparent that a certain area has a high number of (domestic) migrants or ethnic groups, these groups of people should be reflected in the hired employees. Basically, the more heterogeneous the population of employees is, the better, as long as internal policy exists to provide for the needs of this diversity of people. 


We are happy to report that our factories perform very well in the social audits overall and particularly in the theme of discrimination. Managing staff show a high degree of knowledge on different types of discrimination to be vigilant of and factory staff is quite diverse, especially managerial staff including a high number of women.


Worker Participation/Involvement

Worker participation and involvement is all about two important international workers’ rights: The right to collective bargaining and the right of freedom of association. What these rights essentially mean is that workers should be free to create and be members of any union or other bargaining association, without interference by state or employer. These rights are so very important because as individuals, workers do not have enough political or economic power to bargain for their rights. However, as a collective, unions can put a lot of pressure on states and employers to provide better working conditions, higher wages, or concerning any other issues that might be faced by a specific group of workers. 


The right to freedom of association is a somewhat difficult theme concerning producing in China, as China as a communist state has very specific rules on the types of associations citizens can belong to. China has a national worker’s union which is considered to represent all workers across the country. Technically, people are allowed to form their own unions, however these unions are not allowed to be separate from the national union and may merely exist as subfactions of it. 


However, within that context space can still be made for workers to participate in decision making. Within factories, workers’ representatives can provide an important voice for the collective group of workers on many management decisions. It is considered necessary to have representatives be involved in decision making on specific topics, such as health & safety, and to have representatives be available to highlight any occurring issues to management. Of course these representatives should be chosen by the employees and should be ensured to have some power within the organisation. This can be organised through mandated membership for workers’ representatives in certain managerial teams, as well as regular documented check-ins in meetings. Furthermore, a grievance mechanism should be in place that is also checked by a third party that could be a mediator between factory management and the worker representation if any serious issues arise. 


For the workers in our supply chain, representation is well organised on a factory level. Elected representatives are members of several managerial teams and show a good amount of understanding on worker’s rights in the audits that were conducted. We do see that a grievance mechanism could be expanded upon and are working with our partners to ensure continuous improvement in this area.


Health & Safety

Obviously work in a factory also comes with its safety concerns. To ensure that safety standards are established and monitored, all our partner-factories work with theme-specific policies. Policies concerning the use and waste-management of chemicals are, for example, legally mandated both for environmental concerns, as well as to protect the workers working with these chemicals. Other safety concerns to consider include fire hazards, electrical safety, but also the availability of adjustable chairs in work-stations, accessibility tools for workers that might need these and private toilets are included here. 


The policies have all been checked and approved through the yearly social audits that the factories go through.


Checks & Balances

How do we control that the working environment in our partner-factories is actually okay? 


We’re basing this on 3 different pillars:

  1. Annual social certifications that the factories go through with the SLCP and/or BSCI programs
  2. Our internal transparency controls and factory visits.
  3. (Independent) audits organised by third party brands producing at our production partners’ facilities 


The social certifications that each of our partner-factories have are SLCP and/or BSCI. These certifications are updated every year, so we always have relatively recent results on the current working conditions. We make sure that each factory we work with is certified under one of these programs and of course we also check there are no zero-tolerance violations.


Secondly we ourselves do a lot of controls on the factories we work with. These can range from physical visits, which are of course always a great indicator of the atmosphere in a factory and a way to directly see how the workers are treated. (Atmosphere and worker-treatment are both pretty great, as per our visits!) Additionally we check all the certifications thoroughly and will discuss issues with the factory directly, if any are found. 


Thirdly there are other brands that work with our partner-factories, who regularly send in their own auditors to control our partner-factories. Since almost every brand is bigger than Honest Basics and therefore has more resources, mostly we find that these audits by other brands are of a good quality and are really able to deep-dive into the situation and help fix issues at our partner-factories.