(Photo Fashion Revolution, Facebook)
“Who made my clothes?” It’s a simple question, but one that we seldom ask. Even less often, can we actually find the answer. When you picture the factory floor where your favorite top was produced, can you connect with an image of the (most likely) woman who cut and sewed it? What was she paid? Why is she there? Where does she live? Is she supporting a family? Is she comfortable? And finally, is she safe?
In 2013, the fashion world gained international attention following the tragic collapse of a prominent garment factory in Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh was built with substandard materials and its owner had a history of blatant disregard for maintaining safety codes. Consequently, the structure of the building failed and 1,127 garment workers lost their lives.
While this has been the deadliest and most publicized accident in the fashion industry, little has been done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Fast fashion continues to be fueled by cheap, outsourced labor in countries like China, Bangladesh, and India where the cost of labor is paltry and working conditions are less regulated. Fast fashion CEOs have everything to gain and little to lose by turning a blind eye to the workers who help them meet the growing demand of cheap clothing. For example, take a look at the wage comparison (CleanClothes.org). You don’t have to be a skilled mathematician to note the profit margins that result from hiring extremely cheap labor.
CEO of H&M Maximum annual bonus of 125,500 USD
(after tax) Gross Salary: Unavailable, Net Worth $15.4 Billion
Store Manager About 60,000 USD (47,400 EUR) a year (at H&M)
Retail Worker In the lowest retail position, employees earn 9 USD (7 EUR) per hour
Garment Factory Worker Amongst the countries that export to the US, Bangladesh and Cambodia have the lowest wages with 68USD and 128 USD (per month), respectively. Wages in Thailand are 9 USD per day.
It’s true that in many cases, garment factory jobs are often sought after and are the best that many women can do for themselves and their families in these countries. However, what should not be overlooked is that these women are having to fight daily for basic human rights and dignity, and now quite literally, their lives. With fashion production accounting for 80% of Bangladesh’s revenue, there is great potential for economic growth. However, until the demand for fast fashion subsides, conditions will continue to be poor. Furthermore, the sad truth is that in countries like Bangladesh, most of its 4,000,000 global garment workers are spending their daily lives in sweatshop conditions, have little access to water and clean air, are often exposed to harmful chemicals, and are paid pennies a day.
So what is to be done? Enter breakthrough companies such as Fashion Revolution (who coined my opening question “Who Made My Clothes?”) who exist to educate the public on the above mentioned problems and encourage radical brand transparency among fashion retailers. We all need to start paying attention, asking questions, and supporting companies who value their workers and ensure they are working in safe conditions and paid a living wage. And, as always, I highly recommend viewing The True Cost which has raised so much awareness about the negative effects of the fashion industry on human lives and the planet.
Take heart, friends, because Ethical Fashion is indeed on the rise. If you want to make a difference and don’t know where to start, check out some of my favorite brands who pride themselves on their transparency:
I’ll continue next week with Part 6 in this blog series: Made in USA, What it really Means. Hang with me! Until then….
Love and Light,