As a group that has been labeled the “green generation,” we are, according to various articles on media outlets like CNBC, willing to pay a substantial amount of money for products that are produced ethically and sustainably. What can I say; we’re green in all aspects. For instance, our “green” passions lie in global warming, recycling, and conserving our natural resources. In essence, we care about all things that support long-term ecological balance, except for the clothes we wear and where they come from. We seem to habitually ignore how our clothes are manufactured, who directly produces them, and how those people who produce our products are treated before trendy clothes hit our favorite fast fashion retail stores.
Fast-fashion is mega cheap clothing that mimics high end fashion, and is produced within a week and in retail stores that same week. Think Zara, H&M, Forever21, and Primark. These retailers churn out $5 t-shirts for their target markets—Americans who demand cheap apparel and most likely aren’t making conscious decisions about where their disposable incomes go.
This is what we pay for when we buy into fast fashion:
Ali Enterprises Factory Fire
The outburst of flames that engulfed Ali Enterprises in Pakistan on September 2012, forced employees to jump 20ft to their impending deaths out of a window. Those who took the leap suffered broken bones, while the other workers trapped inside were crushed by the cascading debris, suffocated to death or were boiled alive as posted in BBC. This incident remains one of the worst factory fires in the world. In total, approximately 250 people died as a result of the fire. Nearly 55 workers were injured. Managers of the building helped increase the death toll when they forced workers to stay inside and rescue the left over stock.
Now, we can debate over the whys of this incident, but when I stumbled over this fire online and read the details thoroughly, my initial question was: how can we ensure that this doesn’t happen again? And to be quite frank, we can’t, since factory inspections usually happen through third parties who almost always ignore the retailer’s ideal workshop requirements and regulations. However, incidences like this occur because of the numerous loopholes factory owners and retailers hurdle through to keep their buildings running and making million dollar profits. Working
concerns regarding sweatshop monitoring appeared in factories across Cambodia when employees complained that they were told by management to avoid communicating with visitors about their working conditions. According to HRW, workers faced threats about losing their jobs when run-ins with factory monitors could not be avoided. In the case of Ali Enterprises, Kik, a garment retailer supplied by Ali, checked the building through a private social auditing firm. It passed the inspection according to the firm just weeks prior to the structure’s collapse. The workshop with its low-ceiling halls had doors that were locked from the outside, windows with metal bars, and locked emergency exits. Before the fire, workers toiled away in this sweatshop to bring us ready-to-wear garments.
Today, the victims still await compensation for their injuries and the loss of loved ones. Kik paid one million dollars, but has refused to pay long-term compensation.
Beyoncé’s Sweat Shop
Beyoncé launched her fitness line called Ivy Park in 2016. However, backlash surfaced when conditions endured by workers at an Indian factory who helped bring Beyoncé’s collection to life were exposed. According to a report by The Sun, female garment workers who worked at a Sri Lankan sweatshop where Beyoncé’s clothing line was produced earned a meager $8.74 a day. An anonymous source tipped the British tabloid further proving the detrimental working conditions there. The source declared that her monthly stipend of $380 was barely enough to live off of. She was confined to sew pieces in congested work areas for approximately ten hours a day, worked Monday through Fridays, and was rewarded with half hour lunch breaks.
Look, I understand that unlike the people who hold corporate jobs, and aren’t dependent on monthly budgets that we’re college students. Believe me, I know. But, take into consideration that your fast fashion purchase’s life cycle is ten washes until that piece of clothing completely degrades. What use is buying a cheaply made shirt that isn’t going to last you a year, and ultimately cost you more in the long run to continuously replace?
Perhaps the most detrimental questions that should be posed here are: At what costs are we willing to pay the lowest price for clothing produced by our favorite fast fashion brands, someone’s life? Can you really put a price on that? As Americans, I don’t think we completely comprehend or remotely care about events that occur that don’t affect us directly, but we really
need to, because humans are finite like our natural resources.