Slavery in the Fashion Industry

When we go shopping we typically don't put much thought into the history of all the products we are looking at or the processes that it went through to land on this shelf or clothing rack. "Made in China", "Made in Vietnam", "Made in Bangladesh", "Made in Indonesia", have become the norm for us - when we see "Made in the US" we are often surprised. There is some information on a garment's history, a care label, content label, and what country it was made in. It doesn't say who made it, where the fibers came from, what the buttons, thread, zipper, drawstring, etc are made of. It doesn't say if those fibers were ethically sourced, or if the person who sewed it is getting paid a decent wage. If that person has proper protection while working, in a safe building, if she has access to clean water. It doesn't say what chemicals or dyes were used and what health risks that those dyes have (most dyes are considered carcinogenic). It doesn't say how much water was used, how much water was wasted and how the waste water was discarded or if it was just thrown into a body of water polluting it.

The lack of transparency in the fashion industry is causing lives. We are unknowingly supporting these companies who may not provide a safe workplace for their workers, who may pay them next to nothing, who may not allow them to have bathroom breaks during their 10+ hour work days. These factories may have child labor, whose tiny hands are perfect for sewing on buttons and picking cotton. There are currently 152 million children engaged in child labor. What we can't see, we cannot fix. We must start thinking about what we are about to purchase, where it's coming from and what the true cost of the garment is.

In Bangladesh the minimum wage is 8,000 Taka a month, which is $94 USD. Studies have shown that workers need double that to achieve a decent standard of living (food, water, shelter, education, healthcare, transportation, and ability to save for unexpected events).

75% of the worlds garment workers are women, 1/3 of those women reported experiencing sexual harassment. These women need protection, often times when they try to speak up for their rights they get fired or threatened. One of H&M's factory owners illegally laid off 1,300 garment workers, these women are protesting for their right to their job, H&M is doing nothing about it.

In 2018, The New York Times reported homeworkers (people who get paid to make garments at home, usually in partnership with a factory) getting paid 1.50-2 Euro/hour to make garments for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and MaxMara. Italy has no minimum wage allowing these workers to make sweatshop-like wages. These women are working up to 16-18 hours a day, and often only get paid once a month or when a garment is complete which could take days to complete. All of these garments will have a "Made in Italy" label.

Cutting back on fossil fuels, implementing clean energy, waste water and chemical waste management. Paying all workers a decent wage, allowing them to support themselves and family, have access to further educate themselves is something everyone should have a right to. Yet this is not happening, and the consequences are dangerous for the people and the planet.

Transparency is crucial in the fashion industry and it's where the industry seems to lack the most. As consumers we can ask these questions to our retailers and favorite shops about the history of the garments they are selling and if they take any precautions to ensure there aren't any unethical practices happening. It's common for child labor or dangerous working conditions to be going on within a factory and the brand or retailer not knowing about it. Factories tend to keep their secrets hidden, this is why auditing and certifications are important. Governments also need to step in to enforce more regulations and consequences when not followed.

Photo: Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution releases an annual Fashion Transparency Index rating top fashion brands on their transparency efforts. The more information that consumers know gives us the ability to shop at places supporting everyone in their supply chain. This also gives retailers visibility on the areas they need to improve upon. Transparency doesn't mean sustainable. Transparency means they are providing information about their practices, it doesn't mean that their practices are sustainable. H&M is the top scorer on the Transparency Index, does that mean I will shop from them now? No, they are still a fast fashion brand and making cheap clothing to be disposed of in a linear way, using fossil fuels, and are still having issues with their garment workers as I mentioned above. Adidas is also a top scoring brand, which I tend to shop from. They have made multiple efforts towards bettering themselves as a brand in a sustainable, authentic way. They are collaborating with Allbirds to make the "most sustainable sneaker" to exist. They are also in the process of making the first 100% renewable sneaker.

If a brand has regulations in place, providing that information to customers should be easy. If you cannot find it on their website, they should be more than willing to provide you with that information. Those who don't have regulations or don't know much about their supply chain probably won't get back to you or will be very broad with their information they are providing.

By choosing to support brands that support everyone in their supply chain can make a huge difference in so many lives. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the problems that are happening in today's world. Asking questions, speaking up, supporting people and brands that are ethical and environmentally conscious, VOTING for officials that believe in climate change is all crucial to our future and the world we want to live in.