The Ethics of Global Fashion
Emma Wiggins is a Law & International Relations student, and aspiring diplomat with a passion for journalism. Emma will be contributing a column, ‘The Ethics in Global Fashion’, to Woroni this semester.
I dismount my bike and chain it to the nearest light post. I walk towards the tinted-glass automatic doors hearing the thud, thud of my shoes (a $29.95 dollar bargain I found last week) on the pavement. The doors open to the auditory and visual roar of the shopping complex. Bold signs of red and white scream ‘SALE!’ as I pass their windows – Cotton On jeans (“only $15 bucks!”); a Forever 21 Tee (“reduced to $8.90”); and a sweatshirt from Factorie for $29.95 (“get in quick, only while stocks last!”). It’s tempting, oh yes it’s tempting. I’ve always got my nose to the ground sniffing out a bargain. Don’t we all? I mean we’re uni students with rent to pay, food to buy, textbooks to purchase and an ever-increasing HECS debt. We’re always looking to soften the blow on our hip pocket nerve. So the jeans, tee and sweatshirt – I buy them. They’re a bargain!
In 2013, the Rana Plaza sweatshop in Bangladesh collapsed. 1129 sweatshop workers were killed and a further 2500 were injured. Many had their limbs amputated – they are unable to work again. In light of this incident it was brought to the public’s attention that transnational corporations (TNCs) including Nike, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Cotton On, Target, Kmart and Forever New use overseas sweatshops like Rana Plaza to produce clothing. In response, Oxfam released ‘The Accord’ document which resolved for signatory TNCs to have structurally sound sweatshops. The Accord, however, does not demand the end of the inhuman treatment towards sweatshop workers. No, this brutality still exists in 2016.
It’s scary to think that the same jeans, coats and tops that we find in sparking clean stores were made in a dark, humid sweatshop with bars across the windows to prevent the workers from jumping out and committing suicide. It’s scary to think that the same jeans, coats and tops I wear are made by workers who are beaten and work 12 hours a day for only $25 dollars a month. Of these workers, millions are children. Even Disney uses sweatshops. It’s sickening that children in developing countries are beaten, work 12 hours a day and forgo education simply to allow a child in a first world country to have the latest superhero PJs. I thought Disney made children’s “dreams come true”.
The Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia suggests 50-70% of all clothing sold in Australia is outsourced, usually from sweatshops. With up to 70% of all clothing made in sweatshops, it is clear that most stores use sweatshop laborers. Therefore, it largely doesn’t matter if I, in trying to do the right thing by the laborer, bought my $29.95 jeans at another store for $100 dollars. The sweatshop worker will still be paid $25 a month. The extra $70.05 will go towards the company in profit. So if we can’t buy cheap clothes without contributing to human rights violations, and we can’t buy more expensive clothes ethically either, what can we do?
Purchase from ECA (Ethical Clothing Australia)-certified companies. Many major brands such as Jeanswest, Cue and Veronika Maine are ECA-certified. The full list of these companies can be accessed by a quick Google search.
Boycott stores that are not a party to ‘The Accord’, and thus have not agreed to the most primitive of worker safety measures. These include Dotti, Just Jeans and Peter Alexander. Consumer boycott is the most powerful tool we have as it affects the store’s profit – hitting them where it hurts.
Keep the conversation going – raise awareness. Since Rana Plaza’s collapse in 2013 public conversation about sweatshops has hibernated. Share what you know. Don’t pretend this injustice doesn’t exist.
My new tee, jeans and sweatshirt aren’t looking like such a bargain anymore. Not now the real price of the tee is $8.90 + the beating of two children + a 12 hour work day at a rate of 7 cents an hour. The real price tag on my T-shirt is poverty. When you look at it like that, it is no bargain at all.