By Mariam Elshahawy
Like the term suggests, fast fashion is designed to be quickly manufactured and sold, simultaneously the rights of the workers are stripped just as fast. They’re forced to work in unsafe environments with wages barely enough to cover the cost of a single meal. When did humanity stoop so low to prioritize materialism and money over the health and safety of human beings? It is true that fast fashion is cheaper and is therefore more accessible, but at what expense?
Time has shown again and again that companies would rather protect their profits than their workers.
An example of this is the #PayUp campaign. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fashion brands canceled orders and changed contracts which resulted in the closure of factories in countries like Bangladesh, leaving workers jobless and unpaid for the clothing they had already produced. To expose companies and hold them accountable, the nonprofit organization Remake created the #PayUp hashtag on social media in March 2020 which ultimately led to multiple companies such as The Gap, Zara, and H&M to pay a total of more than $15 billion to their workers.
If anything, all this proved that companies did not consider the effect of their decision on their workers and were only willing to make up for their mistake to avoid tarnishing their reputation.
The exploitation of workers in the fashion industry is no secret, but unfortunately despite the wide attention this issue has gained, companies are still persistent on breaking the law and engaging in unethical practices to keep their costs low.
Long hours, poor pay, inaccess to healthcare barely scratch the surface on the challenges faced by workers to this day. Not only are children being exploited, women are being sexually abused, coerced into silence and forced to abort their pregnancy.
Overworked and Underpaid
The fast fashion industry takes advantage of underprivileged communities to manufacture low-cost clothing. Despite employing 300 million people globally it fails to pay wages sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living. Companies often target countries with poor labor laws and human rights protection where labor is shockingly cheap. 85% of textile workers earn below the minimum wage, receiving 2 to 6 cents for every piece of clothing.
In East Asian countries, workers are often forced to work up to 100 hours a week to meet the incredibly high customer demands, despite this, sometimes they’re even denied their wages.
This is not “employment”, this is nothing less of modern-day slavery.
As if preying on vulnerable poor individuals wasn’t enough, these fast fashion brands have also depended on children to operate their sweatshops.
Children are deprived of education and instead put to work on farms or factories, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and exploitation. As a result, their mental and physical well-being suffers, which is detrimental to their future development.
Abuse towards women
It is frustrating to come to terms with the fact that women worldwide endure gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. Intimidating and hostile working environments are all too common and female factory workers are not exempt from this reality. Systemic sexual harassment and violence at work are daily occurrences as the pressure to meet production targets is so high that garment supply chains incite violence.
Health and safety concerns
The refusal of companies to invest any money at all on their workers cannot be more evident than when you see the physical environment these workers are forced to spend 14-16 hours in per day.
They must indulge in chemical-intensive processes while working without ventilation in dangerously low or high temperatures. These processes include; textile washing and bleaching, fabric dyeing and treatment. The harmful chemicals involved in these processes have been linked to various health issues including burns, vomiting, reproductive disorders, immune-system disruption, endocrine disruption, impaired nervous system function, and cancer. Tragically many people have lost their lives because they could not afford to go to a private clinic or hospital. The lack of regard for human life tells you all you need to know about these vile companies.
To say this is unacceptable would be an understatement, slavery cannot be tolerated in a developed and civilized society.
Consumers have the power to drive change in the fast fashion industry by choosing to buy from ethical and sustainable brands, supporting legislation that protects workers' rights and the environment, and advocating for greater transparency and accountability in the fashion industry.