Updated: Feb 11, 2018
Shopping for clothes in 2017 can be described as convenient if nothing else. Gone are the days of waiting an upwards of six months for a dress off the runway to be available for purchase. Now consumers can wait three weeks and six business days for a similar dress to promptly be on their doorstep. To many people, this is incredible. But before you enter your credit card number, ask yourself if the workers who made your dress think the convenience is just as amazing.
The answer is probably no. With the recent emergence of fast fashion, sweatshop workers in garment factories have suffered more than before with a growing pressure to produce clothes faster. More media coverage has left consumers with a few important questions.
Who Is Behind Fast Fashion?
Karl-Johan Persson is the CEO of H&M, a company accused of using labor from sweatshops.
There are two faces behind fast fashion. There are the heads of companies like Forever 21, H&M, Zara, and Adidas; all of which have been rumored to use sweatshop labor to make their clothing. When it comes to this controversial issue, they tend to keep their faces hidden.
Next are the faces of the workers. Workers in garment factories are usually women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. They work in countries such as the United States, Bangladesh, China, and Cambodia. These women can earn less than three dollars a day, and most of that money goes towards necessary living expenses or other family members. The working conditions of their jobs are often dangerous and unclean, riddled with abuse.
Buried under the synchronized sound of sewing machines, their voices and concerns are mostly ignored.
Why Should I Care?
Girls as young as fourteen work in garment factories.
Putting aside any political ideals or social status, there’s one major reason why everyone should care about the harmful effects of fast fashion; we’re discussing people. Human beings with as much emotion and complexity as you.
The conditions they work in are highly unfair. A nineteen-year-old factory worker would have to spend eighteen months to make what a fashion brand’s CEO would make during their lunch break. Yet leaving isn’t an option. For many garment factory workers, their current job is their best option in their area. While it’s great for women to have an independent source of income, don’t they deserve better? Are widespread harassment and grueling labor worth just enough to pay the rent? Will the long hours translate into happier days?
If you can imagine yourself, a friend, or a family member in the situation, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it for these workers well being or for your fifteen dollar dress. If the humanitarian aspect isn’t convincing, there’s an environmental concern. With so many clothes continuously being produced, people can own more of them. They can get bored with more of them. Then, they can throw them away and order more. This is a common ordeal for the average woman. Thirteen trillion tons of clothes will end up in landfills...in just the United States. Every year. Soil and water become contaminated and unsafe to use for locals. The clothes sit on top of the earth, unable to decompose due to its material.
Can I Help?
50% of garment factories in the US violate at least two basic labor laws-technically making them a sweatshop.
In short, yes. There are multiple ways the average person can help slowly end unfair working conditions in sweatshops and garner more attention to the issue. The most effective way can be the hardest. Buying more expensive pieces made by well-treated workers and getting clothes that are locally made will eliminate the need for sweatshop labor. It also saves more money for people in the long run, as you can keep a pair of jeans for years as opposed to disposing of a cheaper pair every four months. You can also donate to charities that have promised and proven their devotion to ending unfair treatment of workers.
Finally, perhaps the easiest method is you can stay aware and make others around you aware of this issue. That cute jacket may be twelve dollars, but to speak up and share links to articles costs a minute of your time. ✉
piece by: yasmine duncan