Who doesn’t love being on trend? The evolution and rapid growth of the textile and apparel industry is proof that fashion is an important part of people’s lives. Clothing and apparel trends off and on the runway change with seasons and people along the whole value chain, from cotton growers, sheep farmers and silk farmers, to textile millers, shippers, wholesalers and retailers, have to make and sell more clothes to keep feed this demand.
But in order to produce the garments we wear and satisfy our need to keep up with trends, there are those who pay a very steep price. Most garment production is done in developing countries, which do not have strict rules for worker safety, wage regulations or child protection.
Workers in these countries operate under the sweatshop model, which is characterised by low cost of production and unethical practices such as child labour, working long hours for low pay and poor and unhygienic working conditions.
According to a 2011 report on India, 3 million people, majority of whom are women, work in the textile production industry under inhumane conditions such as:
The story is the same in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Morocco, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia among other countries.
In Indonesia for instance, job security is not guaranteed. An investigation carried out by the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) uncovered that workers in Indonesia were hired and laid off based on changes in production demands.
In another report on Cambodia, workers have professed to being demoted, fired or criticised for getting pregnant, joining labour unions or even getting sick.
Statistics by the government in Cambodia also suggest that around 2000 factory workers faint yearly at work as a result of exhaustion.
Female workers in Vietnam, Brazil and Morocco are denied maternity benefits. In Vietnam for instance, women workers have to sign a contract not to become pregnant.
According to a report by the United Nations Research Institute, the patriarchal system of management practiced by most factories puts women in a position where they have to practice total obedience.
One of the major factors that characterises fashion as unethical is the use of child labour in textile manufacture and garment production.
Countries in Asia, south America and Africa are worst affected by child labour. Statistics from Ethiopia for instance, show that 27% of minors aged between 5- and 17 work in textile weaving.
Child labour is also prevalent in cotton harvesting as it provides a cheap alternative to mechanisation. It is a practice common in countries like Kenya, India, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other cotton producing countries in Africa, South America and Asia. In Uzbekistan for instance, children are forced out of class to go and harvest cotton in the summer.
A report by the U.S. Bureau of International Labour affairs maintains that children who are forced to work in the textile and clothing production sector face conditions such as: Working for long hours, operating dangerous equipment, working with harmful chemicals, being cooped up in sweatshops that have poor hygiene, lighting and ventilation, and carrying loads that are too heavy.
Some of the children have to drop out of school as families get accustomed to or need the additional income.
Any person or entity that is involved in the production, manufacture, logistics, sale or purchase of products made under sweatshop conditions, promotes unethical fashion. Even policy makers who fail to make or enforce rules for protecting workers are guilty.
It will take the effort of all these individuals and entities to stop unethical fashion; they can do so in the following ways: