The fashion industry is not so glamorous as one may think at first. There are deeply rooted issues within it that need urgent addressing. Tempted by enormous profits, the leading corporations have allowed themselves to disregard the basic human rights of their workers, have become one of the leading industries exploiting child labour, and have caused serious damage to the environment.
By far the most concerning consequence of worker exploitation is child labour. Even though child labour is outlawed in most countries, the management of major corporations still chooses to turn a blind eye and use children in their production facilities. Just like regular workers, child fashion workers are exposed to the same treatment as their colleagues. This includes poor working conditions, sexual harassment, abuse and workplace bullying. In addition, these children are stripped of their basic right for education.
The disregard for human rights
One of the most concerning issues in the fashion industry is the violation of the basic human rights of those who are essential for the industry – the workers. Big corporations have relocated their production facilities to Second or Third World countries, where they exploit millions and millions of workers for cheap labour. These countries often have loose health and safety laws and regulations, and the companies’ production units are built cheaply, with no regard to the workers’ safety. In addition, the workers are exposed to harmful chemicals and pesticides, especially in cotton production. Despite the increased public attention given to these issues and numerous protests and actions taken against the fashion industry’s conduct, the issue still remains a pressing matter world-wide.
Animal cruelty and suffering
Apart from having their natural habitats turned into plantations or destroyed by harmful chemicals, millions of wild and domestic animals are suffering by being used solely for the sake of their skin, hide, fur or feathers. It takes dozens of silver foxes to create one fur coat, and the extraction of that fur is beyond torture. The animals are either trapped in the wild or raised in captivity specifically for their fur or hide. Technology has improved so much that often vegan products, like faux fur and leather, look even better and feel softer than the non-vegan equivalents. You can get gorgeous and ethical vegan leather handbags and shoes, that look even better than real leather, and faux fur that is much warmer and lighter.
Increased consumerism and waste production
It has been determined that on average we are buying 10% more garments than we used to in 2012. Whether this is the consequence of social media, an increased number of fast fashion companies that make cheap clothes, our landfills are slowly becoming packed full of discarded textile. Instead of buying cheap, poor-quality clothes made in sweatshops, we as consumers can choose to buy ethically-produced clothes, that are high-quality and will last much longer. Textile can be recycled and reused, and there are brands that use recycled materials in the production of their pieces. We have the power to support them and choose where our money goes.
Lower than minimum wages
Besides substandard and inhumane working conditions, workers are forced to work long hours for less than the minimum living wage. The industry’s main argument in their defence against the human rights violation accusations was that they are creating new job opportunities in developing countries. Well, that is far from the truth, as we can see. On top of working for pennies, workers are very often not given any health insurance, maternity leave, and sometimes they are not even granted bathroom breaks.
Luckily, not all is lost. We as consumers have enough influence to bring this to an end. By choosing clothes made out of ethically sourced materials, and vegan equivalents to leather and fur, we can change the production process and bring the unethical conduct of the fashion industry to a halt.