Last week's decision by Nike to publish the names and locations of more than 700 suppliers that manufacture its goods was designed to help the world's largest sportswear group highlight its adherence to ethical working practices in developing countries.
In the 1990s, Nike was dogged by allegations that some of its products were made in sweatshop conditions and even by child labour.
When it comes to ethical conduct and social responsibility, fashion brands have often had a poor track record because outsourcing to low-cost contractors in developing countries typically resulted in arms-length relationships between brand owners and producers, making labour practices harder to police.
Nike's latest move to counter of such allegations has come a month after the launch of Edun, a fashion label that places its ethical practices at the heart of its brand. The line of organic cotton shirts, jeans and hemp blazers was launched by U2's Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, as an attempt to prove the commercial viability of ethical fashion.
By working to ensure that their products have a positive rather than negative impact on the people and places where they are made, companies such as Edun are trying to do for fashion what the Body Shop did for the cosmetics and beauty industry.
However, the growing band of fashion businesses highlighting their ethical practices face significant branding and marketing challenges. Brand owners must not only substantiate any ethical claims they make; they also risk being criticised by consumers for cynically exploiting doing the right thing for commercial gain.
Richard Cervera, Edun's chief executive, is under no illusion about how difficult it is for a brand to live up to such promises. "The extent to which ethical codes of conduct within the fashion industry are adhered to is variable," he says. "Even where practices are sound there is a tendency to switch production frequently to achieve the cheapest prices, so relationships between brand owners and their producers in developing countries are short term."
The company, which is based in Dublin, uses non-subsidised cotton to boost the local economies of the developing world countries where its products are produced and sourced. A primary aim is to support the African businesses making Edun products through close partnerships and business development support. The company's website includes live camera feeds from the factories where its clothes are made.
"The fashion business is uniquely suited to addressing third-world issues because of its increasing reliance on outsourcing," says Mr Cervera. "Working conditions can be ethically appraised, and who a brand such as ours conducts business with - and which brands consumers choose to buy - has a significant impact."
The company is not alone. Its clothing line has been created with Rogan Gregory, the New York-based designer whose Rogan label recently introduced a line of organic cotton clothing called Loom State. Other ethical fashion brands include US-based American Apparel, which has its own outlets in Germany, France and the UK as well as the US and Canada. It has grown rapidly in the two years since it introduced a "no sweatshops" policy.
Meanwhile, Katherine Hamnett, a leading British fashion designer, is to launch her own ethical range this autumn. Shocked by the fashion industry's lack of concern about the economic and environmental damage caused by industrialised cotton production, Ms Hamnett has spent the past 18 months assembling a new supply chain based on certified organic cotton and ethical manufacturing.
Many industry observers believe the time is right for such fashion brands to move into the mainstream, buoyed by the marketing value of their ethical stances. "A brand's true value today isn't just about profit and loss. Increasingly it's about accountability - being able to demonstrate clearly where and how a product was made," says Martin Raymond, futures director of London-based trends forecaster The Future Laboratory. "There has been growing acknowledgment that brands can leverage their position internationally by being ethical."
However, opinion is divided over the extent to which corporate ethics should be employed in branding and marketing.
Ben Wood, director of Added Value, a Paris-based strategic marketing agency, argues against aligning brands with a business's ethical stance: "There's now a growing expectation that companies should behave ethically as a matter of course - that to sell your brand as ethical is a cynical exploitation of good business practice."
He also argues that consumers' interest in corporate ethics varies across products. "Fashion is primarily about style and aesthetics," he explains. "The sexiness of a brand will always be more important to the consumer than any socially responsible, positive message."
Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, agrees. The company bucked the fashion industry trend for outsourcing when it began producing its products in downtown Los Angeles with a commitment to pay its workers a fair wage. But while ethics have played a central role in the brand's marketing since then, the current emphasis is on the products' fit and sense of fun.
"Often, ethics are paraded to create attention," says Mr Charney. "Even Wal-Mart is talking about social responsibility in its marketing in the US now. We've moved on. Our social philosophy is still there, but it is not - and never has been - the point of our brand: product comes first. As a fashion brand you must accept ethics will always be a secondary issue to consumers' self-interest."
Ms Hamnett, on the other hand, says she wants her brand to be closely associated with social and environmental responsibility. "If you are behaving ethically you might as well talk about it, as long as you have made sure there are no chinks in your ethical practices," she argues. "Openness and honesty are the best route - even when a business is not as ethical as it would like to be. So addressing this in your marketing seems a natural step."
Others add that changing consumer opinions will soon force many fashion brands to use their ethical practices more overtly in their brand communications. "The danger is saying nothing," says Steve Hilton, founding partner of Good Business, a London-based corporate responsibility consultancy. "Keep silent and you leave yourself open to criticism that you just don't care."
Evidence suggests that consumers, especially younger ones, do care about where and how the clothes they buy are made.
Just how brand owners use their ethics in marketing, however, remains a conundrum. Mr Hilton says that while the Body Shop is now seen worldwide as an ethical brand, the origin of this was its pledge not to test its products on animals.
"Simply claiming you're ethical is very risky," he says. "It is far better to be precise and specific. Generalise and you invite people to pick holes in your claim. Your product may be manufactured ethically, but what about every other aspect of the rest of your business?"
He says the closely controlled use of ethics in brand marketing can deflect criticism that a brand owner is simply being ethical to make more money.
"It should not be about grabbing headlines, it should be about choosing the media channels best able to allow a brand to explain the story behind it.
"At the end of the day, today's consumers want brands they believe are authentic: brands they can take pride in."
II. Read the following sentences and decide which of them reflect the context of the text. Find the proof in the text.
1. It is known that Nike was following "sweatshop policy" and that ruined its reputation in the world of sportswear.
2. Some companies consider ethics just for commercial gain.
3. Working conditions are really important for commercial gain.
4. It takes a lot of time to work out the quality of cloth and the latest is a significant part of ethical manufacturing.
5. Martin Raymond supposes that Nike was ethically wrong in 1990s but now things are changing.
6. To make more money, you should consider ethics.
III. Answer the following questions:
1. Why did fashion brands often have a poor track record when it came to ethical conduct and social responsibility?
2. Why must not brand owners substantiate any ethical claims they make?
3. Do they also risk being criticised by consumers for cynically exploiting doing the right thing for commercial gain?
4. Is the fashion business uniquely suited to addressing third-world issues?
5. If you are behaving ethically might you as well talk about it, as long as you have made sure there are no chinks in your ethical practices?
6. Is it very risky simply claiming you're ethical?
IV. Find in the text the English equivalents to the following words and create your own sentences using them:
1. обозначить отношения
2. в противовес заявлению
5. политика потогонной системы
6. держать на плаву
7. повлиять на чье-либо положение
8. установленные бренды
10. загадка, головоломка
V. Read the following article and summarize the main recommendations for running a successful business meal.