Fashion Revolution Week 2016: #WhoMadeMyClothes

Thinking about the people behind the clothes.

Pause for a moment and look for the tag on your clothes/shoes/accessory that tells you where it was made. Now think of the person who got up and went to work to make it for you. Think that that person is probably getting paid only cents per day to make something you will throw away in a year. Think that if a person in the West made it, it would be worth more. Not because the materials are different, but because they were paid fairly. Think if you went to work and put in all your hours, but were only given a fraction of what you deserved. How would you feel? Trapped? Upset? Desperate?

On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,100 people. This event sent shockwaves across the garment industry as Rana Plaza manufactured clothing for many North American brands including the Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Mango, Primark, and Walmart. The reason for the collapse? Dismal factory conditions that had been reported previously by workers, but were never fixed. This was the result. I have talked to people who believe that it is not the responsibility of companies or even consumers for these deaths as it is the countries they reside in that are to blame. I beg to differ. I believe that it is the lack of awareness in consumers and the drive for cheap labor in firms that have caused the West to support the underpaying and dismal circumstances of those around the world.

It astounds me how the West will raise funds for earthquakes and monsoons, but do not believe that standing for fair wages is a good enough cause. Many of us forget that the Industrial Revolution in the West was dismal and most lived in deep poverty. Fortunate for us, we did not have a group of nations that took advantage of us. Instead, we were able to create independent unions and stand for better standards for our society. This act of the West using cheap labor and not holding these factories accountable is a form of new colonialism that holds these countries down and does not allow them to create strong economic opportunities.

You may be thinking: Isn’t it better to get very little money than nothing at all? Academic Stephen Wilkinson states that unfair use is the act of a buyer giving a seller less than is deserved for their labor. When the buyer of a good knows the value of a good but still does not fairly compensate them, it is exploitation. Regardless is the person is getting some compensation, this compensation is still undervaluing the individual and is, therefore using them unfairly.

Not only are these people exploited, but they are manipulated into accepting dismal pay. This is called omissive coercion. This is when a seller sells their good below value because they are under threatening circumstances. In these cases, the buyer gains more from the transaction than the seller. In other words, big companies who have billions of dollars can tell their factories to pay their workers fairly, however, they do not because they know that the workers will take anything. This is the manipulation and exploitation that takes places in the garment industry today.

The West has the power to change the status quo in these countries. In places such as Bangladesh, the West controls much of their economy because they depend on us buying their exports for revenue. What if the companies made a stand for more transparency in every level of their supply chain? What if companies took a stand to remove business if these countries do not support fair wages? What if? I will admit, this is not the most profitable strategy but why must money overcome the lives of people. What makes someone in a developing country less than me or you? Do they not deserve the same opportunities? How are they to thrive when they can hardly survive? We claim to be global citizens yet we do not regard those in countries around us and that is wrong. If you want to give a hand up, petition companies and spread the word about the corruption the garment industry. It goes way farther than giving a couple bucks to a one-off disaster. It provides countries the ability to have citizens who are able to pay proper taxes. This then allows these countries to create programs and infrastructure for change. It allows them to stand on their own and not be burdened by other influences.

What can you do as a citizen?

  • Share this post with the hashtag #whomadeyourclothes.
  • Start a conversation with friends and family.
  • Shop less and look for companies, which ethically produce their clothing
  • Check out this great organization.
  • Watch this amazing documentary on Netflix and learn more.

I will be making another post on my favorite ethical clothing brands later this week, but until then please spread the word and start a conversation. Do not be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

Until next time,