Since the 1990s, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of fast fashion in first world countries. Consumers are buying cheap, stylish clothing for a fraction of the cost of high-quality goods. Garment manufacturers have been able to build this business model by relying on cheap labor in developing countries, where workers are exploited, underpaid and often work in inhumane conditions. We examine what sweatshops are and how the trend has evolved over the past few years.
What are sweat shops?
A sweat shop refers to a “typically tiny manufacturing facility that employs workers in unfair and unsanitary working conditions”.
Lots of fast fashion retailers like H&M and Forever 21 receive New clothing shipments every day. These brands are able to sell huge amounts of clothing at extremely low prices by contracting with suppliers in underdeveloped countries. These companies then outsource production to unregistered suppliers who are not required to comply with any laws. In other words, these brands are not required to provide safe working conditions for these workers.
Underpaid and Overworked: The Human Cost of Cheap Clothes
Sweatshops are not a new phenomenon and have been covered in the media for decades. That fast fashion industry has long been complicit in a system that pays workers below the living wage to maximize profits. This business model, focused on selling mountains of clothing at an unsustainable cost, has brought less and less profit to those who make them directly.
From Bangladesh to Leicester, the fashion industry is built on mass exploitation. Credits: AM Ahad/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.
In order to make things quickly and cheaply, sweatshop workers – often women and children – endure grueling workdays and meager pay that doesn’t cover basic costs while providing them with atrocious working and living conditions. In several manufacturing nations, including Bangladesh, China and India, only the minimum wage applies covers half to one fifth what it takes for a family to make ends meet. In Bangladesh, workers are paid about 33 cents an hourwhile the average wage in sweatshops is in India hardly 58 cents.
Working conditions are poor, unsanitary and unsafe as a large number of sweatshops are located in poor countries with weak labor laws and little government control; So if workers try to challenge their rights or working conditions, they risk losing their jobs. Garment industry workers necessary Putting in 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week and enduring verbal and sometimes even physical abuse from managers. Workers are often exposed to pollutants when working without adequate ventilation. Accidents and injuries are also common. In 2013, over 1,000 garment workers in Bangladesh lost their lives working as clerks result the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory.
Garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013. Source: Business and Human Rights.
While these companies rely on the poor, they specifically target underprivileged children. according to a opinion poll At plants in India, 60% of employees were younger than 18 when they started work. These children are particularly at risk of being forced to work in sweatshops because they are caught in the cycle of poverty.
The Serious Impact of Sweatshops and Fast Fashion on the Environment
The ongoing consumer demand for new clothes has a significant negative impact not only on people but also on the environment. When you combine this with fashion brands’ planned obsolescence, which causes items to wear out faster due to poor manufacturing quality, you have a business strategy that is bound to be wasteful.
Between 80 and 100 billion new tracks Clothing is reportedly made around the world every year, while every single second a truckload of used clothing is incinerated or buried in landfills. The number of times a garment is worn before being discarded reduced according to market experts Euromonitor International by more than a third since 15 years ago. British citizens alone are reportedly throwing around one million tons of textiles annually.
fashion is ranked as the second most common polluting business in the world by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD), just behind the oil industry. It takes 93 billion cubic meters of water per year, equivalent to 7,500 liters needed to produce a single pair of pants. The amount of plastic microfiber that is unloaded into the oceans per year is almost 500,000 tons.
The toxic dyes produced in factories and the chemicals used in cotton cultivation are other aspects that contribute greatly to environmental pollution. Chemically contaminated water kills organisms found in or near rivers, thereby reducing ecological biodiversity in those regions. The chemicals used in dyeing have also been linked to a number of malignancies, digestive problems and skin irritation, all of which have an impact harmful effect on human health. When crops are irrigated with dirty water, contaminated vegetables and fruits enter the food chain and pose a major threat to human health.
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How can you tell which brands rely on sweatshops?
A good rule of thumb is to check a brand’s level of transparency; If they don’t release information openly, it’s definitely a red flag. In May 2020 two reports by Global Labor Justice (GLJ) describe the mistreatment of Asian women garment workers at H&M and Gap supply factories, including (but not limited to) physical abuse, sexual harassment, unfavorable working conditions and mandatory overtime.
The best way to learn more about a brand is to visit their website and read what they have to say. Nowadays there are a number of websites like Fashion Revolution that come out annually fashion transparency index Review of 150 of the world’s biggest fashion brands. You can also use apps like good on you to search for specific brands that have been ranked based on factors such as how they treat their employees, the impact they have on the environment and animals, and more.
Featured image: Flickr
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