As I mentioned in my previous post, I have made a real effort to maintain a certain level of sustainability and ethics in my shopping practices. It actually came about after watching The True Cost, a documentary about fast fashion available on Netflix! I had of course heard of all of the terrible things that go on in factories abroad and I thought sure, I know it’s not good for the Earth to be producing this many clothes and I know that people are being mistreated, but what can I do? It never really hit me until I watched that documentary. (Obviously post-documentary I began to do my own research.) It’s hard because this is not something that I think a lot of consumers think about. I think people love finding on-trend clothes at bargain prices…I mean, who doesn’t? And often times sustainability and living organically is automatically associated with being pricier. Unfortunately at this point in our country that’s the case in most regions. I began to think, what if I just stop supporting these places? I know these billion dollar fashion corporations don’t care about the $9.99 jeans I purchase here and there, don’t think I’m naive. However, what if I can convince even one more person to cut off fast fashion, and then they convince one more, and so on and so on. I’m not saying you’ve got to cut off these stores cold turkey. I mean, passing Zara everyday on the way to work without going in is still one of my most challenging tasks, but then I think of the workers in Bangladesh that are living in conditions unimaginable to most people in our Country, or the many many American farmers that have died due to a cancer cause by the pesticides and chemicals used in cotton. It is hard to take advantage of a $4.99 sale on t-shirt that says #wokeuplikethis when you think about what goes into to making these clothes.
I believe that the three major harmful effects of fast fashion are the labor laws (or lack there of) abroad, the pesticides used on cotton, and the environmental impact of throwing away unwanted items.
Human Rights- Working Conditions Abroad
On the morning of Oct. 13, Taslima Aktar arrived at the gates of a Bangladeshi factory called Windy Apparels, in the industrial suburb of Ashulia, where she had been employed as a sewing operator for a year. For two weeks, the 23-year-old had complained of a fever and a hacking cough; her supervisor had refused her repeated requests for time off. Ten years in the garment industry had taught Taslima the costs of missing a day’s work without permission—especially before a big order had to be shipped out. As a young woman from the countryside, this job, at a large garment factory, was her only ticket out of rural poverty. Getting fired was simply not an option.
When she walked onto the factory floor that day, she already felt faint, but when she approached her line manager about going home early, he refused her again. Shortly afterward, she passed out and was rushed to the factory clinic, only to be sent back to her sewing machine. As the floor emptied out for lunch, she collapsed again. This time, she couldn’t be revived. Taslima was taken to the nearest hospital, where she was pronounced dead 10 minutes after being admitted. Her death certificate notes that she died of cardiac failure following “severe respiratory distress.” –Excerpt from Slate. Read more here
More than 700 garment workers have died since 2005 in Bangladesh, says the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group. –Excerpt from Bloomberg. Read more here
Deadly factory accidents are relatively common in Bangladesh, where government safety standards are rarely enforced. Foreign companies met earlier this month to discuss improving worker safety, despite having refused to fund safety improvements for factories just months ago. Bangladesh has said it will discuss raising the minimum wage from $38 a month, currently the world’s lowest. – Excerpt from Business Insider. Read more here.
This news is not new, and there are so many more articles just like these. People are beginning a dialogue, and there are several organizations aimed at helping these workers, but we can also help. We can educate ourselves about where our clothes are coming from. There are campaigns and organizations that facilitate looking into this. Project Just is an amazing source. It’s easy to use and helpful if you are out for a day of shopping. Simply type in the brand that you are looking for and up pops information on ethics, sustainability, and what actions the company is taking to improve.
Chemicals on Cotton
- It takes at least 20,000 liters of water to make 1 kg of cotton. This is equivalent to one pair of jeans and one t-shirt.
- Over 1 million Americans will learn they have some form of cancer and 10,400 people in the U.S. die each year from cancer related to pesticides:
- Chemicals remain in the clothing and are passed into the bloodstream of those wearing them
- Nutrients in soil are depleted, not renewed
- More chemical pesticides are used for cotton than for any other crop. Cotton accounts for 16% of global insecticide releases. 60% of the world’s cotton is used for clothing
- 84% of unwanted clothes in the United States go into either a landfill or an incinerator. Those chemicals can leach from the textiles and into groundwater. Burning the items in incinerators can release those toxins into the air (Newsweek).
- Charities only sell about 20% of the clothing donated to them at their retail outlets