SweatShop? SweatStop.

Molly Hildebrand '19

Clothing has become so delightfully cheap in this age. Efficiency is booming. When things are cheap and easy, we get tunnel vision that allows us to ignore the cons. Within the fashion industry, the cons should not be allowed to be ignored anymore. People are dying as a result of our negligence as consumers. This raises an ethical question: can we really allow sweatshop labor to continue for the sake of affordable clothing?

Ethical Consumer has published a report of 29 fast fashion brands that scores each of them on how ethical they are based on various criteria. In the people category, all 29 of these brands do not score higher than a six out of twenty. Most of these brands are based in countries that would not usually come to mind when one thinks of sweatshop labor. How do these companies manage to get away with it? There is a loophole that most fast fashion brands utilize to their advantage: while these brands are not allowed to practice unethical employment in their own factories, they are allowed to contract factories in places where those regulations do not apply.

The fashion industry is notorious for its use of sweatshop labor. Long hours and poor working conditions, and what do these workers have to show for it? In some cases, wages go as low as one cent per hour. The next time you see that ten-dollar blouse hanging on a rack, consider what cuts were made during production so that the blouse could be sold for ten dollars. If this isn’t bad enough, the fashion industry is also guilty of employing child labor. About 170 million children work, according to the ILO, and most of them are garment or textile workers. So not only do these companies force people to work harder than they should for very little pay, they also put children through this massively stressful process.

In 2013, a building called Rana Plaza collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was a devastating tragedy that killed 1130 and injured 2500. The saddest part is that this collapse could have easily been prevented. According to the World Book Encyclopedia article on the crash, an engineer that inspected the building said it was “unsafe and should be evacuated,” The building was riddled with rule violations including illegally added floors and a lack of emergency exits. What is frightening is that this factory produced garments for very well-known American fashion brands, including Walmart and The Children’s Place. How can America, a nation that prides itself on its freedom, turn a blind eye to so many human lives?

Sadly, the trend continues to this day. In an article titled “To Die For? The Health and Safety of Fast Fashion” in Oxford Academic’s Occupational Medicine journal, John Hobson writes that “since 2005, at least 1800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh alone.” These factory workers not only have to work in terrible conditions, they have to fear every day for their own lives due to the negligence of their employers.

It is obvious the government must step in and change the operation of this industry. If we do not allow these practices in our own country, why should we benefit from the horrible conditions that other countries allow? It is hypocritical of our nation to let fast fashion companies utilize a loophole in our government’s policies against the unethical treatment of workers. We can only hope that our outcry is loud enough for the government to hear, and in the meantime, thrift stores make a great alternative. Until change is made, we must be conscious about the brands we shop from. Sites like Ethical Consumer are great tools that we can use to be more aware of the brands that we shop from.