Since the time I began dressing myself, my wardrobe has been filled with items from H&M, a clothing company based in Europe. I loved the clothes, and I really loved the prices. However, after learning about how H&M and other popular clothing companies treat their workers, I’ve realized that it’s time for me to start putting a little more thought into what I buy.

In October 2012, a broadcast company in Sweden accused H&M of continuing to offer its Cambodian workers much less than a living wage, even after the company acknowledged that it should raise the amount it pays. Then, in March of this year, the Clean Clothes Campaign (an alliance of organizations working toward improving conditions in the garment industry) released a spoof advertisement claiming that H&M’s practice of poverty pay led to mass fainting in the company’s shops.

When I first heard about H&M’s immoral operations, I felt cheated. Had I known the kind of company I’d been supporting for so many years, I would have saved my money and shopped elsewhere. However, there was no one I could blame but myself. Like many others, I had never given much thought to the production of the things that I bought. I had never done my research.

After learning about the conditions in H&M’s shops, I began to wonder if any of my other favorite stores had been accused of similar offenses. The information I found was disturbing and not very difficult to uncover. Investigators discovered that Urban Outfitters, a store I also visited quite frequently, had been maintaining illegal sweatshop-like conditions in multiple locations. In downtown Los Angeles, the company was found guilty of paying less than the federal minimum wage and inaccurately recording work hours, among other transgressions.

Another distressing article I unearthed told of Gap dumping its blue jeans in Lesotho, Africa in 2009. This disposal contaminated the river with dye, making it undrinkable, and polluted the surrounding area. As it turns out, most of the stores that I used to frequent had been guilty of unethical practices, and it only took a few minutes of Internet research to figure it out.

As consumers, we all have a certain responsibility to know how our money is used and how the companies we patronize conduct business. When you’re simply strolling through the mall, it’s easy to forget that each garment you see was produced by the hard-working hands of another person, but I urge you to keep this thought in the back of your mind. Every dollar you spend on an item produced by an unethical company tells that company that it’s OK to continue its practices; companies won’t change their ways until we tell them to do so by refusing to patronize their stores.

Instead of purchasing clothes from such places, try to support small businesses that engage in ethical practices. There are many companies out there, such as Symbology Clothing and One Colour fashion line, that are dedicated to creating quality garments under humane conditions, and they need and deserve your support more than any large corporation.

We live in a world in which information is readily available at our fingertips. Therefore, there is no excuse to turn a blind eye toward institutions that are truly in need of reform. I’m not saying that we should stop shopping all together. I’m just urging all of us to do a little bit of research before making our next purchases.

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