Garment Workers - The Unheard Voices of Fast Fashion

Last month we talked about the impact of Fast Fashion on our environment and its participation in modern day slavery. In this post, we further explore those who are most effected by our consumption of major retailers’ clothing. Today, we talk about the most important voice in Fast Fashion – the voice of garment workers. The people working in sweatshops and factories around the world are the most affected by Fast Fashion, yet their voices are the last to be heard.

To get a better idea of how garment workers are affected, we need to know who they are. The workforce of this industry is 80% female (The Guardian). The International Labor Organization estimates that “170 million children are engaged in Child Labor, or 11% of the global population of children.” Many of these children are recruited from rural, impoverished areas with the promise of fair wages, regular meals and an opportunity for education, but this promised reality does not exist (The Guardian & Unicef). This trillion dollar industry does not pay workers enough money to supply for basic human needs; in other words, workers are not paid a living wage (Huffington Post UK). Girls as young as 14 work 10-14 hour days to support their families, yet they are not able to live on the sum they earn (Conscious Living). 

Photo Credit: Siim Lukka

Low wages and long hours are two of many formidable issues garment workers face daily. Unsafe working environments are all too common in Fast Fashion. Instead of leaving home for opportunity, these young people are put to work where their stature and small hands are utilized to pick cotton, transfer pollen between plants, sew and trim garments, and many other dangerous tasks (The Guardian). Children are often exposed to harmful pesticides, extreme work hours, sometimes under a brutal, unrelenting sun, and worst of all, factory accidents. Garment factories and work mills often ignore building codes in an effort to fit in as many workers as possible and export more products to major companies for retail. In addition to overcrowding, the work itself is not monitored. Rena Mehta of Jaipur University published her research on illnesses and injuries among garment workers in The Journal of Ergonomics. She found that severe cuts on hands commonly occur while using cutting machinery and that workers in the ironing section often suffer from burns on uncovered skin. They also discovered that workers have higher rates of respiratory issues because of dust and air pollution, musculoskeletal disorders due to the length and nature of the work, and headaches from the stressful work environment. Many of these issues could be prevented with safety precautions such as gloves, goggles, and safer machinery, but changes have yet to be made.

Garment workers have tried to form unions and peacefully protest for fair wages and better working environments, but they are met with violence and sometimes lose their jobs in this pursuit for equality. This leads us to the most defining issue that people in this vulnerable position face; the lack of value placed on human life. 

Photo Credit: Igor Ovsyannykov

There is no value of human life in Fast Fashion, and as a result, garment workers lose their lives to the industry. Overcrowding, ignoring of safety concerns, and failure to bring buildings up to code have led to the tragic deaths of garment workers. In 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in Bangladesh, collapsed on workers and 1,130 people were killed (The Atlantic). NPR reports that since 2012, 900 people have been killed in factory fires. Some people who have survived such accidents are now disabled and no longer able to work (Conscious Living).

No piece of clothing is worth more than a life. Fast Fashion treats is workers like its product - disposable. This is why Slow Fashion, mindfully purchasing clothing made by people who are paid a fair wage in a safe environment, is so necessary. We have an opportunity to listen to garment workers, to become allies and advocates, and starting out is as easy as choosing to buy our clothes from brands that value people. It’s a simple step that has and will continue to save lives.

Wondering where to start? Huaywasi artisans are paid a fair wage for their products, and they make their own schedules working from home. Check out all of our new collections here



Author: Sherie James 

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