Did you know that approximately 1 out of 8 workers is somehow employed in the fashion industry? When thinking about the average garment worker, you might imagine a woman at a sewing machine, putting the parts of a garment together. Although it is true that 75% of all people employed in the garment factories are women, the scope of the work done is a lot more than sewing.
So who are the Workers?
Farming actually requires the most work, and in truth, farm laborers are really the main source of fashion labor. Agricultural work represents ¾ of all people employed in the fashion industry. However, there is a massive cause for concern when you look deeper at who is being employed. Unlike the US, many countries around the globe do not have age restrictions for employment, and this leads to the employment of minors. Approximately 11% of the world’s children partake in child labour, and the fast fashion industry plays a major role in that. Consumers often want the newest trend for the lowest price, and child labour becomes hard for big brands to control. Manufacturers feel the strain of the high level of demand. Manufacturers are pressed to sell their labour for extremely low wages and to neglect safety precautions in order to guarantee the lowest price – and the most output. If the manufacturers don’t give the big brand the best deal, the big brand can find another factory. You may have heard that The Gap has been under public scrutiny multiple times after it’s been discovered that down the line of production, children are employed. Although many brands have ethical guidelines, we all must rely on the manufacturer’s honesty.
In countries where the minimum wage is less than half of a living wage, coercion is often used to recruit these children. Sometimes, recruiters will approach families and offer high wages, 3 meals, safety, and a sum of money in exchange for their child’s labour and well-being. For many families, this is an offer that is hard to refuse.
In recent months, with the spread of COVID-19, many clothing brands have simply stopped paying their workers during the struggle. As it stands, approximately 40% of clothing companies simply haven’t paid their manufacturers. Workers are taking the hit for a global trend of mindless consumption and waste, and it’s time to slow down fashion.
Working Conditions on the Job
Years ago, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and more than 1,000 people died as a result. It shocked the world, and brought very temporary coverage to exploitation for the sake of our clothes. The impact of that Rana Plaza Accident wasn’t enough to encourage change in the industry itself. Since the tragedy, almost 1,000 garment workers have died in accidents at work. There are young women and mothers all over the globe still working in those same conditions. Not all of the danger is about the structural safety of the buildings they work either. Alarmingly, ¾ of women interviewed by the anti-poverty non-profit War on Want reported abuse by their managers, and half had been beaten. They also noted 14-16 hour days, sometimes working through the night and into the next day to meet production deadlines. Of course, workers have tried to protest and go on strike, usually with minimal results. Just a year ago, thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers clashed with police – one protester was killed. For those who survived, 5,000 were still fired. This sent a clear signal to those who were also discontent with their wages and conditions.
What Can We Do?
Since we buy most of our things instead of making them by hand, our purchases should be careful decisions we make. Consumer culture alienates us from the process of how our goods are made – and who made them – and the best thing we can do is to self-educate. We are all busy, and a quick purchase is easy and tempting to make, but with everything we buy, there are consequences. Unfortunately, the most common answer to “who made my clothes?” is someone underpaid and working in unsafe conditions. In the case of workers and worker exploitation, we can buy from companies that we know make it their brand to ethically treat their garment workers. That means a lot of research, since a lot of big companies have some sort of ethics rules, and they don’t always make sure that those guidelines are actually being followed. There are several great sources for information on the products you buy, like Fair Trade Certified.
At Borobabi, we make the research less complicated, since we make sure that every brand we partner with is ethical and sustainable. We go down the supply chain – making sure that responsible and ethical decisions are made throughout. At the end of the day, fast fashion is heavy on the heart, environment, and workers. We vow to take all of the steps to move the fashion industry in a better direction.