It’s easy to focus on the ‘label’ we are wearing and who ‘designed’ our clothes and easy to forget the people who actually make our clothes. How are they treated in the process of producing our items?
There are three different stages in the production of goods that need to be considered when looking at ethical standards. A majority of people only concern themselves with the garment manufacturing and if the workers are treated fairly. Unfortunately, the harvesting and production of the materials are often ignored. All 3 areas need to be assessed.
There are 2 main troubles with fair labor that need to be considered at each level of production: working conditions and pay.
Working Conditions: A 'sweatshop' is defined by the US Department of Labor as a factory that violates 2 or more labor laws. Sweatshops are notorious for not have temperature regulation, not allowing workers bathroom breaks, over-crowding the space, and forcing them to work 12+ hours a day for 6+ days a week. Many conditions have lead to mass faintings, high rates of cancer and autoimmune diseases, building collapses, and death. (Watch the the documentary SweatShop here http://www.aftenposten.no/webtv/#!/video/21031/sweatshop-ep-5-what-kind-of-life-is-this. Just because an item wasn’t made in a sweatshop doesn’t mean it wasn’t made in sweatshop-like conditions.
Pay: Many workers are lucky to make $1 per day. When companies pay their workers so little they then mark up their product 95% and pocket that money. Companies could very easily pay their workers a fair wage. Remember, fair wage to a third world country will not be the same as the United States, more times than not, it’s a lot less, even half. This would allow workers to be able to be able to live comfortably as we do.
You may remember the devastating event from 2012 in Bangladesh that made headlines when the country’s worst factory fire killed 112 workers. The factory supplied products to Walmart, Disney, Sears, Gap, Forever21, and more. Or the factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onD5UOP5z_c & http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/world/asia/bangladeshi-factory-owners-charged-in-fatal-fire.html?_r=0
There was an ethical fashion campaign conducted by the Canadian Fair Trade Network that was very eye opening. They unveiled the stories of a few pieces of clothing on its label. When people checked the label of the item they would see the actual story of how it was made.
Here is an example from a sweater label:
- 100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, 9 years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degree Celsius. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.
A blazer label read:
- 100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of 12 to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he works. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes every day. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.
This is not only a problem for the fashion industry but others as well. In 2005 the U.S. State Department estimated that more than 100,000 children in the Ivory Coast are working under the worst conditions of child labor producing chocolate that supplies 40% of the worlds product. Both numbers have been estimated to be more than that today. (Global Exchange, 2005)
It is very sad and many others have similar stories as this. It’s also important to note that unfair labor is not an issue just for third world countries. It happens everywhere even in the United States. Is this right? Would we be supporting these companies and brands if we knew what people actually went through to make them?
Why do we let this happen?
There are many reasons that explain why our society is in such conflict over these issues. The most obvious being that since they are happening so far away and we are not exposed to the stories on a regular basis (or ever), that its easier for us to turn a cheek and act like it’s not actually happening. We are hard wired not to cause harm to other beings but since our consumer system is so indirect we don’t think about where our products are coming from anymore. And it’s easier that way. The other reason is that people do not endorse unfair labor but what we say and what we do are often different. Also, when we hear about the tragedies in the news that affect garment workers our emotions are so intense and we are so motivated to do something about it but our feelings are very short lived. Usually only lasting a few days.
The easiest way we can alleviate the effects of unfair labor is to simply not support it. Use your dollars as votes and buy from the brands and companies that are doing the ethical and right things by AT LEAST using fair labor practices. So, spread the word to others and make sure you support ethical companies. In the end, as long as its profitable companies will supply what the customers want. So if we write letters, make phone calls, spread the word, and let companies, stores, and boutiques what’s important to us, eventually they will come around.
The way we see it we have two options … we can take the easy way out and continue ignoring these issues or we can do our research and support companies that choose to treat their production line fairly. As consumers we play a large part of the supply and demand of these industries. If we stop purchasing items that are unethical then there will be no demand for them and will force companies to finally catch up to the times and change the way they do business for the better. It’s an extremely empowering feeling to know you are purchasing goods that did not harm anyone in the making of it. The choice is yours.
For today, we want you to be curious and ask yourself … ‘Is this important to me?’ If you answer yes start researching where your clothing is made and who made it. You may be surprised to know that this information is not readily available and there is a reason why. It’s not pretty but it’s the truth.
Everything we sell at day22 boutique is ethical. Let’s be concerned more with the stories of our clothing than its label. #StoryOverLabels