I wasn’t sure if I should put this out there, but people need to listen.
Where do clothes come from?
I had an overwhelming desire to share my thoughts, the more I read the more irritated I get.
We hear the phrase “sustainable fashion”, “organic fabrics” and “ethically sourced” being used across fast-fashion retailers like H&M to luxury brands like Gucci. But, are people actually aware of the price others pay for their garments?
The media does little to no coverage of bonded labor, forced labor, and human trafficking. More than 25 million people are entrenched in some form of unethical and inhumane labor- especially vulnerable marginalized sections of society being children and women. They are made to work under unthinkable conditions or even for free.
The fashion industry is famous for forced labor and trafficking. Women are constantly abused in the workspace- sexually assaulted or egregiously underpaid. This aggressive streamlining of supply chains has led to companies paying lesser and lesser for garment production, hogging up all the profit, and not giving back to society. Global supply chains have allowed forced labor to thrive.
The apparel sector employs over 60 million workers worldwide, according to the World Bank Group. And while 97 percent of fashion and retail brands have codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards, such policies are neither effective in preventing forced labor nor in ensuring remedy outcomes for workers, according to advocacy group KnowTheChain. (Aljazeera, Jul 2021)
Hard to swallow that those who are the least involved in the economy, economic growth, and over-consumption are the most affected by the negative consequences.
When we look at the forced-labor index, luxury apparel companies that sell their products at excruciatingly high prices rank abysmally. Yes, I am going to say the name- but Prada ranked so low on the KnowTheChain’s index at a whopping 5/100. It has been clearly stated that it is not the lack of resources, but a clear lack of will.
If we take the devastating example of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, the cost of production of the garment was as low as 75 INR ($0.50) for a pair of jeans, the owners of the building had no money for building repairs let alone Government approved minimum wages for the workers. The building in its entirety soon collapsed, leaving more than 1,300 workers dead and many more injured. Does it need to reach such an extent for human beings to identify problems within the industry? “This horrific disaster has now galvanized the entire industry.”
Despite this disaster taking place, the companies responsible for the production of their garments in Rana Plaza swiftly and effectively shrouded their involvement. More than 500 lives have been lost in fires between 2006 and 2012 due to faulty electric wiring and were not given the attention it required. Again, a factory called Tarzeen Fashions went up in flames claiming 120 innocent lives and more than 200 injured. So many lives lost just for your summer dress. Disgusting.
This is not the only incident in the world that has been reported. Several production units across India and Vietnam have also faced the brunt. With mostly women workers employed across 3,000 factories, their wages are $68 a month (5,100 INR).
I wasn’t aware of this until I began learning a short course online- Fashion and Sustainability, where an article from The Guardian was cited. Factories in Maseru, Lesotho, followed a funny practice of not hiring regular full-time workers to complete flooding orders from the EU and the United States. Instead, the owners took pleasure seeing women beg for employment for the day. They would endure repeated sexual assault and harassment. The only way to maintain their place in a company is to have sex with the managers.
Last year, a report by an NGO, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealed a widespread incidence of rape, sexual assault and harassment at multiple garment factories in Maseru. More than 120 women from three different factories testified that they had been forced to have sex with male supervisors in order to keep their jobs. Some alleged that they had been raped on the factory premises. Some said they had contracted HIV from supervisors who withheld their salaries until they agreed to have unprotected sex. Those who complained were sacked. (The Guardian, Aug 2020)
Companies around the world seek cheap labor from India, Bangladesh, Africa, Vietnam, Uzbekistan among others. To set up a business, the capital required is phenomenal and hence labor is the best way to cut costs. Even as Indians, company owners will go around chanting the low wages workers receive here, for their convenience. Do we all even care? This just puts into perspective the atrocities of the fashion industry beyond its highly polluting capacity.
As an Indian woman in the fashion industry, I am more concerned about the supply chain. Education is power. Most of the people involved such as farmers (I will be going in-depth regarding this in another article), workers, employees, and even customers must question a company’s manifesto at every single step. No stone must be left unturned.