In general, people have a very simple understanding of the fashion industry. There is Fashion Week every year in New York, Paris, London, Milan, and other capitals. There are tons of magazines geared towards helping men and women achieve runway looks without paying runway prices. And when you decide you want to copy Lady Gaga’s orange knit romper look, you have Joan Rivers and the cast of the Fashion Police to chime in and let you know that while there has been a lot of full body knit on the runway lately, it probably isn’t a good idea to go out and buy an orange knit romper. It’s all very light hearted and fun.
The truth is, the industry, and those who feed into the bourgeois attitude that fashion dictates our importance and stature in life, are avoiding the more serious topics at hand. The glossy pages of Vogue and Elle are failing to place importance on the effects the industry is having on society. Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about child labor, unregulated working conditions, physical and sexual abuse, anorexia and sometimes death. The issues at hand are far from petty.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how where your newest outfit came from? India is one of the foremost important countries for textile production. However, to stay in the forefront of textile production the country uses unfavorable practices to ensure they maintain their high production rates. Young women, some under the age of 14 are held as slaves for one to three years. During this time they are paid less than minimum wage to work in factories that produce textiles. These young women are often the victims of sexual and physical abuse and forced overtime. The working conditions are dismal and lack any federal regulations.
On April 23, 2013 over 1,100 people died in a building collapse. Those killed were mostly female garment workers producing clothing for major brands. Building inspectors had warned that the facility was dangerous and had massive structural damage and immediate evacuation was necessary. These comments were disregarded by management and workers were forced to return to work the next day. This tragedy is clear cut example of how the fashion industry views those working in their factories.
In an interview with the Ethical Fashion Forum, Phan, a 22-year-old machinist in a Thai garment factory described the working conditions, “We work from 8 am till noon, then have our lunch break. After lunch we work from 1 to 5 pm. We do overtime every day, from 5.30 pm. During the peak season, we work until 2 or 3 am. Although exhausted, we have no choice. We cannot refuse overtime: our basic wage is too low. If we want to rest, our employer forces us to keep working”.
If poor working conditions, child slavery, physical and sexual abuse, and death due to the lack of a moral obligation to protect human life isn’t enough of a reason to question where your newest outfit is coming from perhaps you need to question what kind of world we are leaving our children. If you are reading this blog post you clearly have access to the internet. You have the ability to research what we talk about. We have a responsibility to be conscious consumers, to prevent women and children around the world from falling prey to the corruption of the fashion industry. It is time we start fighting for a fashion industry that is responsible.
For more information on ethical working conditions for garment factory workers please look at the following sites: