- Ella Hartley
The Truth Behind Worker Exploitation Within Fast Fashion
Have you ever logged onto a brands website and been hit with thousands of sales, various banners telling you about free shipping, and thought to yourself how great those deals sound? You may be a culprit of fast fashion; “inexpensive fashion made rapidly by mass-marketers retailers in response to the latest trends.” This term has had an uprise in use in the recent uproar about climate change and environmentalist activism. Maybe you’ve seen an instagram story on how bad fast fashion is for the planet, which is true! Fast fashion is detrimental to the planet and we are constantly wasting water on brand new yet low-quality t-shirts. But who else pays for the 70% sales that seem to constantly be in effect on almost every clothing rack at the mall?
Forced labour and unfair work environments is a harsh but true reality for workers hired by fashion companies. Due to many nations inadequate labour laws, it’s a lot easier and cheaper for companies to have production exported overseas to countries like India, China, Taiwan, etc. These workers are underpaid, overworked, and faced with unjust work environments just to support their families. These workers often face gender-based inequality as women make up the vast majority of the garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri-Lanka. What’s the issue with this? The majority of the management positions are dominated by men, resulting in a hierarchical power issue in which this male-dominated management controls a woman-driven workforce. This causes issues within any disciplinary measures taken in these workplaces, often resulting in physical, mental, and sexual harm on these women. Coupled with the fact that the higher-up positions are filled with these men, this abuse is often swept under the rug and never reported on. Due to these companies trying to produce garments that meet the ever-changing trends, clothing is being made and consumed at a rapid rate. It drives production targets that can’t physically be met, this chain reaction of demand and consumption puts these women at risk for severe physical, emotional, and mental abuse.
Most of us know that child labour has been a constant for garment workers in countries overseas and a lot of brands publicly frown upon it yet continue to exploit these children for their gain in private. In one specific case, children under the age of 18 were allegedly forced through a government program to work in the Longfa Shoe Factory in a southeastern chinese province, the company that owns this factory is a supplier of footwear to Nike, Inc. Both Nike and Longfa Shoe Factory denied these allegations and said that this would violate company rules and regulations. But parents of these underage children said that officials forced them to participate in the program, making the children use fake or swapped identification cards to justify that they were old enough to endure extreme exploitation. How are brands trying to speak out against racism and social injustice but exploiting these children of colour everyday? Nike is a brand who has continued to speak out about “fighting global discrimination worldwide.” and trying to create social justice. Hopefully you have been informed about the Chinese communists locking up Uyghur men and women in concentration camps. Nike has not only been using child labour for their gain, they’re also exploiting these same Uyghurs by forcing them to work in these factories, sowing those famous swooshes on your favourite shoes. This news makes these statements feel not only performative, but backhanded and plain gross, but it’s not only Nike. Major brands like Apple, GM, Gap, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, and countless more have been indirectly or directly benefiting from these abusive transfer programs.
So what do we do with this information? A lot of times when we become informed of injustice we don’t speak out because we don’t know how, we can’t immediately take down these mass-retailers and force everyone to stop shopping from brands who profit off of unjust labour laws, fast fashion, and core racism. Progress begins with knowledge, sharing what you’ve learned and knowing the roots of the clothes on your back. Make sure instead of shaming yourself for falling fast fashion, you understand your place in the problem, only then can we move forward and create change as consumers. We’ve included links and resources to petitions based in America on stopping these countries from exploiting their garment workers as well as resources regarding justice for the Uyghurs in Chinese concentration camps. We as consumers must demand justice for these workers, you can do so by turning to ethically sourced goods and show companies that we demand ethical sourcing and transparency. By slowing our own consumption of fashion and becoming educated, it forces these companies to listen and change.
Links to fast fashion education & resources:
Links to demand justice for Uyghurs in China: