Finding a new shirt or dress that you love can be a great feeling, we use clothing to express our interests, our clique, our personalities – and clothing is especially great if it is a bargain. Clothing is cheaper than ever in this era of fast fashion, however there may be hidden costs behind the clothes you love.
In order to educate young Australian, BWA (Baptist World Aid) have launched the 2017 edition of their Ethical Fashion Guide. The launch conference involved a panel talk with Mark Purser the state representative for BWA, and several entrepreneurs that are seeking to change the fashion industry. The Ethical Fashion Guide rates clothing companies from A to F on their “labour rights management” with higher grades given to companies that “reduce the risk of modern slavery, child labour and exploitation.”
Mark Purser began the conference by prompting the audience to ask themselves, “Whose hands have created my clothing, are they the hands of the exploited?”
95% of the clothes we wear are produced in developing nations by garment workers, who are roughly 85% women and are some of the poorest paid people in the world. Since the clothing is so cheap, most people don’t feel bad if they only wear it once. The effect this consumer industry trend has had on garment factories has been horrific, as clothing companies squeeze workers for more profit, corners are cut in safety measures. The tragic consequences of this was seen in 2013 when Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed and killed 1,134 workers, and injured over 2,500. The building was known to have structural faults and visible cracks which were intentionally ignored by management. The Rana Plaza collapse was herald as a wake-up call for the fashion industry, but four years have passed and the situation is still dire for garment workers.
Attempting to form worker unions or raise the minimum wage is usually met with violence. When Cambodian garment workers protested in Phnom Penh to raise the minimum wage the government responded in full force, with the protest being subdued after four protesters were beaten to death by police and dozens more injured by live ammunition being fired into the crowd.
Many well-known companies such as Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, and Abercrombie & Fitch – just to name a few – rate poorly, which is a fact that would surprise many Australians. Not to say we are ignorant of the sweatshop industries, it is a well-known issue, but we are ignorant of companies that are doing the right thing. One of the more well-known brand Cotton-On recently responded to prompting by BWA and have responded by altering their fabric sources.
“The consumers have all the power,” said Mr Purser, “The power to turn the industry from slavery into an ethical fair industry that will ultimately help these countries develop.”
The fashion industry is the second most pollutant industry, second only to the oil industry. From cotton farming to textile processing, companies such as Monsanto openly exploit disenfranchised people for profit. Monsanto sells GMO altered cotton that produces more cotton but requires specific pesticides which Monsanto also sell. As well as being ecologically disastrous these pesticides can cause cancer such as in Kanpur, India, were skin disorders and cancer is rampant. Luckily, Monsanto also sells medicine to treat the illnesses they caused.
“The fight for justice is slow,” said Koky Saly, founder of Beekeeper Parade, a social enterprise that is recycling fashion waste into backpacks and bags. “The industry is turning, though slowly.”
As more people become educated on the clothes they buy garment workers will gain more rights and have a fairer chance to work and feed their families without risking life and limb.
To access the Ethical Fashion Guide or to find more information, please visit: https://baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/2017-ethical-fashion-guide/