The rush I feel when a customer sales representative swipes my card and fills big shiny plastic bags with my new clothes is like no other. Like many other Americans, shopping is my favorite past time.
I love to feel the different fabrics, stitching and patterns that it takes to make a beautiful garment. However, until recently I gave no thought to the labor that goes into making all my favorite pieces in my closet.
According to KQED news, the average American household spends less than 3.5 percent of its budget on clothing and shoes – under $1,800. Yet, we buy more clothing than ever before: nearly 20 billion garments a year, close to 70 pieces of clothing per person, or more than one clothing purchase per week. Oh, and guess how much of that is made in the U.S.: about 2 percent.
That means 98 percent of America’s favorite brands are not even made here. It leaves you to ponder: Which country is responsible for making my #OOTD, a trending topic on twitter?
The answer is: Many countries. China and Bangladesh are the leading countries in which American companies can hire cheap labor. Many Americans in retail jobs complain about the work wage, which ranges from $8 to $10 an hour. However, many people overseas don’t make that much in a day. In addition to dangerous work conditions, the manufacturing world has turned into modern day slavery.
Harvard.edu reported that
…“an estimated 200 children, some 11 years old or even younger, are sewing clothing for Hanes, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, and Puma at the Harvest Rich factory in Bangladesh.The children report being routinely slapped and beaten, sometimes falling down from exhaustion, forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, even some all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts, often seven days a week, for wages as low as 6 ½ cents an hour. The wages are so wretchedly low that many of the child workers get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning to brush their teeth using just their finger and ashes from the fire, since they cannot afford a toothbrush or toothpaste.”
Read more here.
So why are these people being forced to work such long hours and receive such little pay? American brands realized that they could create clothes for a smaller cost than they would if they hired American workers. They go to third world countries where the people are desperate for work and strike a deal that seems appealing to people in desperate need but to a westerner would immediately feel like robbery.
“For many brands and suppliers, it’s often a question of cost. Many brands are, after all, operating in foreign countries in order to save money. The process of direct hiring—forgoing the labor brokers—would likely take longer and cost more, especially since the staff doing the hiring would need to be able to speak multiple languages…The only thing they have substantial control over is labor.”
Read more of this article here on how your clothes are being made with exploited labor.
How can we do our part to stop unfair labor in the fashion industry? You may think you have no control over the situation. But you do. The next time you’re in a store, try to think about where the clothes were made and if the people who made the clothes were working in safe conditions. If that seems too much to think about because you just want to get your shop on, try supporting brands that are made fairly. Click this link to see how you can be a part of the change in the fashion industry.
Here’s a list of 35 fair trade and ethical clothing brands where you can shop.
Click here to find out who makes the clothes on your back.