Pennies on the Dollar
The death of more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment workers and the conviction of 41 people for murder has sent tremors through the fashion industry. Here’s what you can do to shop responsibly.
By Julia Dixon, Texas State University
Most products sold in America today are imported.
Nearly 90 percent of those imports come from China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Mexico, according to Celia Stall-Meadows, author of Fashion Now: A Global Perspective.
The reason that America chooses to import most of its goods has a lot to do with cost. It’s much cheaper to have a product made in a sweatshop in a foreign country rather than in a country where regulations favor the worker, especially in regards to working conditions and compensation.
Most major brands aren’t necessarily “aware” of where their clothes are being made, says Michael Hobbes, the author of The Myth of the Ethical Shopper. They often hire contractors who then hire subcontractors that outsource their production rather than doing it themselves.
By doing so, companies turn their back to the realities of production methods and wash their hands of accountability. This way, they can continue to do what’s financially in their favor, rather than what is humane. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
Look at the Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh of 2013. This internationally headlining tragedy finally shed a light on the various unethical actions of fast fashion and what’s really happening throughout the fashion supply chain.
According to the Fashion Law—a leading source for fashion law and the business of fashion—forty-one people involved in running the Rana Plaza factory were convicted for murder on Monday, December 21st, 2015.
The Rana Plaza was a building eight stories high that held five different factories producing materials for over 28 brands. When it collapsed, the building was demolished in a matter of seconds.
The collapse killed— murdered is the term the victims’ families use—over 1,134 people (mostly women and children) and injured over 2,500 people, making it the highest death toll in garment history.
H&M, Joe Fresh, Primark and Mango are among the many recognizable brands that were involved in production at this particular sweatshop.
Although the crisis has pressured companies to reevaluate their production lines and opened many people’s eyes to where their clothes come from, there’s still a long way to go to achieve fair business practices. The tragedy lies in the fact that it took thousands of people dying for businesses around the world to question where they stand on the grounds of ethical fashion.
But how can you as an individual help change the ways of fast fashion to make it favorable for all parties involved? There are a few simple changes you can make that go a long way in improving labor conditions for garment workers.
First, you can start shopping less at fast fashion retailers and more at resale shops. By doing so, you depreciate the idea of mass consumption and waste.
Although you may buy clothes from thrift stores that were once sweatshop-made, at least you aren’t continuing to invest in the companies that are still involved in unlawful practices.
Instead you are giving back to a charity (i.e. Goodwill, Family Thrift, Salvation Army) by shopping thrifty, and you are shying away from the calamitous U.S. mentality toward consumerism.
You can also shop local rather than buy from corporations to avoid sweatshop-ridden clothing. By shopping at vintage boutiques or even resale shops such as Buffalo Exchange, you support the re-use of quality clothing rather than contributing to habitual wastefulness.
Being aware of how much clothing is thrown into landfills when new seasonal clothing is introduced is also important.
Clothing in landfills is a huge environmental no-no because many clothes are made of synthetic material. Non-natural materials don’t decompose or deteriorate organically and are left to pollute the landfills they’re sitting in.
Plus, when you shop locally you’re giving back to your economy rather than paying taxes on clothing and goods from a corporation. Profits for chains leave the local economy and fail to benefit your community.
And if shopping at a resale shop like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, a vintage boutique or even your average thrift store isn’t really your forte, then start being more consciousness of who really made the shirt on your back.
Buying from companies that only make their products in America (i.e. American Apparel) or small designer brands that provide information on their manufacturing (i.e. Toms) help you avoid purchasing inhumanely produced materials.
We also have to keep in mind that as a society, we can’t just stop purchasing from these unethical retailers cold turkey. It seems impossible, yes, but imagine if we stopped immediately. Companies that outsource production to third world countries would no longer help their economies by creating millions of jobs.
Instead, we have to be mindful of where we buy clothes. Hold your favorite companies accountable for production transparency.
Consumers have the power over these companies because we vote with our dollar. Ultimately, one of the great things about capitalism is that it will always strive to produce what the consumer wants. We just have to change what we want.
What would change for consumers if we held companies accountable and they changed their production methods? Yes, we would see prices increase on products, but the cost increase would be miniscule.
According to GreenAmerica.org, “In Mexico’s apparel industry, economists from the Political Economy Research Institute found that doubling the pay of nonsupervisory workers would add just $1.80 to the cost of a $100 men’s sports jacket.”
And a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research Found that U.S. consumers “would be willing to pay $115 for the same jacket if they knew it had not been made under sweatshop conditions.”
As a consumer, paying a few cents more is entirely worth reinforcing better working conditions, safer environments and wage increases in the foreign countries making your products. Live by the golden rule when you shop.
Treat others the way you would like to be treated and we will see a life changing difference in how we do business as a society and we will stop allowing for innocent people to pay the price for our “must have next best thing now” idealism.
It’s 2016! Start asking questions, start being aware of what goes on around you, and start holding people accountable.
Companies That Avoid Sweatshops