Your Fashion Could Feed Families; Make It Fair To Make It Count

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 years ago | Features

Image: Fair is one of our 8 Well Made Clothes Values.

Respecting the people who make our clothes is paramount. But, unfortunately, it’s a gratitude we so often forget to express. Because this is just how removed we are from the creation of our clothing. For us, a blouse’s lifecycle might begin on the clothing rack but, in reality, it has already passed through many hands. According to a 2015 study, 71 per cent of leading UK brands believed there was a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some point in their supply chains. In other words, the time for a fashion revolution is well overdue.

Unfortunately, despite efforts to the contrary — including the introduction of regulatory standards and government legislation — working conditions for garment factory workers all over the world remain sub-standard. According to Fashion Revolution’s 2015 White Paper, systematic exploitation throughout the garment industry is still a major issue. The human rights violations taking place in this sector would shock many — including, but not limited to, forced and child labour, repression and discrimination, and unsafe, dirty and unfair working conditions. “Producers and garment workers might face excessive hours, forced overtime, lack of job security, denial of trade union rights, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment, discrimination and denial of other basic human rights when on the job,” the paper points out. And many people assume these issues are unique to developing nations like Bangladesh, when in fact it’s a tragedy experienced globally.

In the Los Angeles clothing industry, for example, exploitation is pervasive. A study conducted last year demonstrated that wage theft, unpaid overtime and unclean working environments were all commonplace throughout the LA garment industry — which employs an estimated 45,000 people. This research gave pause to many shoppers who had previously found comfort in buying clothes based on their ‘Made in the USA’ labels. Because what it demonstrated was that exploitation of workers is not only restricted to foreign sweatshops. In fact, this study found that 21% of the textiles workers in LA had “experienced physical or verbal violence on the job and 6 percent reported sexual harassment in the workplace. Half complained of poor ventilation, and eye and nose irritation from chemicals. A third of the workers surveyed reported a lack of clean drinking water at work and almost a third said they are not allowed to take rest breaks.”

It’s important to remember that, behind each item of clothing is the person who made it and, by wearing that clothing, their wellbeing, safety and empowerment becomes our business. Fortunately, we can have a major impact on improving working conditions for these people through the simple power of consumer choice. Organisations like the Fair Trade Association work tirelessly help to inform consumers about the true power of their choices. And in 2015 alone, $300 million dollars was spent on fair trade products in Australia and New Zealand. But there’s still a long way to go. By shopping Fairtrade, or supporting brands that support their workers, we can all make a big difference to the futures of those that quite literally made the shirts on our backs. It doesn’t take a great deal to make a difference, either. In fact, according to Baptist World Aid’s Australian Fashion Report, the production cost of a T-shirt in Bangladesh would only need to increase from about 50c to 80c in order for workers to be paid a living wage. The minimum wage in Bangladesh is currently US$68 ($88) a month.

Part of the problem is accountability. To see that, we only have to look so far as Bangaldesh’s garment industry in the wake of 2013’s catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, which killed 1,100 workers. According to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, “if Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal.” These laws are simply meaningless unless enforced correctly. “If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions,” Robertson says, “the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.”

When you think about the fact that, for making a $100 pair of trainers, the individual factory worker will receive just 50 cents, there is clearly much more to be done. Not just in terms of wage, either, but also the provision of clean, safe working environments and a regulated system in terms of who is working and when. According to the International Labour Organization, there are as many as 246 million child-workers —between the ages of 5 and 14 — in the world today. And seven of the top eight global cotton producers have been documented as having widespread child labour in their production. Then there are the multitude ways in which garment industry workers are taken advantage of. For example, War on Want’s Stitched Up Report found that wages in Bangladesh Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry were often dependent upon meeting production targets. However, “64% of the women workers interviewed stated that targets are unrealistic within the legal working time, while 75% of workers interviewed themselves fail to meet their targets within the time allotted.” So what can we do about these issues? To begin with, we can commit to shopping more responsibly wherever possible.

Well Made Clothes is passionate about ensuring fair working conditions for all people, because this has the power to uplift individuals, communities, and countries. The trap of cheap labour and human rights violations in modern day slavery is far from being over, but the brands that fall under our Fair value are committed to empowering their workers by guaranteeing a living wage, labour rights and the decency to conduct regular audits that protect workers from potentially unsafe conditions. Human rights need not be secondary when it comes to the production of our clothes. Just because we might not be able to see the young woman who worked tirelessly to produce our blouse, doesn’t mean that we should ignore her existence altogether. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We should be doing everything in our power to show our gratitude to her by supporting the brands that support their workers. It really is as simple as making informed consumer decisions for a better, more fair future — with the wardrobe to match.

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