The True Cost
We have been busy researching what the fast fashion industry actually is and how these clothes are made. Finding out more about the impact fast fashion has on the environment and people’s lives has been a real eye opener, and we want to share our findings with you in order to raise further awareness.
We recently watched a documentary on You Tube called “The True Cost”, which had various facts and realities in it about the fast fashion industry. Some of the countries where the clothes are made include China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and India, just to name a few.
It seems what is happening is that because a lot of these companies, such as H & M, Forever 21 and Boo Hoo, are trying to make as much profit as possible, but at the same time keep the prices down for the end user, the only way this can happen is by telling the factories they need to pay less for the garments. If the factory refuses to budge on the price then they will go to another factory who will do it for less. So more often than not, the factories don’t have the profit margins to be able to pay their workers fairly, as these companies insist on paying less and less for the garments. When I learnt about how this works, it got me thinking - where will this stop? Surely they can’t keep bringing the prices of these items down further and further?
Some of the facts from the documentary that stood out to us were:
- The average wage for garment workers is around $3 per day
Bearing in mind that a lot of the time these people are working 13 hours a day, this potentially works out at around 23 cents an hour. Just take a minute to think about how unfair this is. How can anyone be expected to survive on such a small wage?
The cost of living obviously does differ from country to country, but statistics show that these wages are 2-5 times less than the average person needs to live with dignity. After conducting further research, we also discovered that in some countries people are also being pulled out of their jobs to go and harvest cotton. What we found the most shocking is that children are pulled out of school, also to harvest cotton.
- There have been multiple factories that have collapsed causing many deaths and injuries to the garment workers, because there isn’t enough money to adhere to basic health and safety
In April 2013 the Dhaka garment factory collapsed because of structural failure. Over 1,000 people died and 2,500 were injured. Early warning signs of the construction failing were ignored and there were even reports of an engineer declaring the building unsafe, but the workers were told to continue as they were and carry on fulfilling the garment orders (he was then later arrested for helping the owner to illegally add three new floors). The decision by the managers to continue to send the workers into the building was partially due to the pressure to complete orders on time. Surely this puts partial responsibility for the disaster with the buyers, who insist on tight deadlines and low prices, which contribute to the company’s owners having to “ignore” health and safety standards?
- Garment workers have been beaten when asking for more money or safer working conditions
After a garment worker in Bangladesh presented her manager with a list of demands for better working conditions, she and other members were locked in a room and beaten with chairs, sticks and even scissors. They were kicked, punched and had their heads banged against the wall. Nothing about this is in any way acceptable, there is never an excuse to treat another living being this way.
- There are 40 million garment workers in the world. Roughly 85% of these are women.
It’s estimated that less than 2% of these people are paid the living wage, meaning they don’t earn enough to feed themselves or their families, pay for school fees for their children or pay for medical expenses. A lot of these women are forced to leave their children with neighbours or friends for weeks, months and even years at a time to go to work miles away just to earn a small amount of money to send home to them.
- Harmful chemicals are used in the process of growing cotton which are dangerous to the people living in the area. Soil and drinking water gets contaminated causing skin problems, boils, jaundice and cancers. This causes people to use their life savings, if they have any, on medical care.
There have been reports of symptoms of toxicity in adults and children which have been caused by harmful chemicals being used in the production of cotton. Cotton is the most sprayed crop in the world; cotton pesticides can prevent individual nerve cells from communicating with one another. Effects also include impaired memory, severe depression, disruption of the immune system, cancers and leukaemia, neurological diseases and reproductive problems including infertility, miscarriage and birth defects and death. Hundreds of people die every day from acute pesticide poisoning.
- Thousands of farmers have committed suicide, often by drinking pesticides, due to their inability to repay loans and various other reasons.
Farmers are duped into buying chemicals they can’t really afford, often having to borrow money to do so. The promise of higher yields often don’t materialise, so the income is less than expected, the farmers are then unable to repay the loans. They end up massively in debt, and feel trapped enough to take their own lives.
Farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides in India. There have been other reasons identified such as floods, droughts, use of genetically modified seeds, public health. There is no consensus on what the main causes might be, but studies show suicide victims are motivated by more than one cause, on average three or more.
- Most of the textiles sent to landfill spend 200 years there releasing harmful gasses. The fast fashion industry is the second biggest pollution source globally. There are 400% more textiles going to landfill than there was 2 decades ago.
This needs to stop. Just think, if things carry on the way they are what will this figure be in another 2 decades? Will there even be a planet left? As the world’s population increases, it’s hard to see how things will improve.
We have however discovered that some high street retailers have introduced recycling schemes where you can take your old clothes back to the shops to be recycled. Discount vouchers are issued against future purchase as an incentive and although there is still a long way to go, this is a great step in the right direction.
One of the worst parts of this whole situation is that so many people aren’t even aware that this is happening in the world. They have no idea what impact their weekly or monthly shopping habits have on the environment and other people in the world. Please share this article far and wide to help bring this to people’s attention so they can make an informed decision rather than rushing to buy. Let’s work together to make a difference in the world.