In order to stop consuming fast fashion, it is important to examine where our clothes are made, and what the real price is. The sad reality is that most clothes we consume are made in places where workers rights are completely non-existent. Most of us are already aware of this: the clothes we wear come from places where workers are forced to labour in inhumane conditions. This post will examine what kind of risks these conditions entail. (1).
Fast fashion workers are rarely paid adequately for the amount of labour they undertake, in fact they are most commonly paid less than the living wage. Living wage means the bare minimum amount of money a family requires to fulfil its basic needs, including rent, food, education and health care. In countries like China, Bangladesh and India, workers are often paid something between 20% and 50% of the minimum living wage (1). A report in 2019 found that 0% of Bangladesh garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earn a living wage (2). These incredibly low wages prevent individuals from saving money and deprive them of the opportunity of looking for alternative employment options.
Fast fashion also has high rates of child labour. Due to the low wages, children are often forced to start working to provide for the family. Since the fashion industry requires low-skilled work, children often end up working at fast fashion factories with minimum wages (1).
Garment workers are often forced to work 14 to 16 hours per day, 7 days a week. This can mean working a 96-hour week! During this week, it is uncommon that the workers get breaks, even bathroom breaks (2). During peak seasons, for example Christmas, workers may have to stay even later to meet deadlines. Since their wages are so low and it is the only source of income, the workers can’t refuse overtime. (1)
The workers at factories are faced with various dangers daily. Due to poor infrastructure of the buildings in which they labour are often unstable and unsafe, and stories of accidents are not uncommon (3).
Furthermore, there are multiple respiratory hazards due to poor or non-existent ventilation (3). Workers often labour with no ventilation and breathing in toxic substances and fibre dust. Consequent diseases are common to arise in the clothing industry (1). The materials used often result in countless environmental and health hazards (3). Due to its low prices, most fast fashion manufacturers use polyester for the garments they make. Manufacturing polyester includes a large amount of pesticides and toxins, creates a health risk for the workers, as well as the environment. It releases toxins into nearby water that can affect nearby animals and residents (3). Alongside this, workers commonly face both verbal and physical abuse, and workers unions are almost always prohibited. (1)
Though the clothes we buy may be cheap, the real cost includes the countless hours, minimum wage and unsafe working conditions the workers face. We should each therefore take responsibility and do our part to stop consuming fast fashion!
Article by Ruth Malka
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