Fashion Revolution Week (FRW) is an important week for those of us in the ethical/sustainable fashion space. I want to highlight why it is significant to you, the consumer. For those who may not be aware, FRW is a movement that was born after a garment factory called Rana Plaza collapsed killing over 1,100 people. To provide more information around the significance of the issue, I’ve decided to share an excerpt from my Master’s thesis – don’t worry, it’s only a few paragraphs.
“On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza, a clothing factory in Dahka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring thousands more. Days prior to the collapse, workers filed complaints and expressed concerns to management about large cracks in the building, yet they were ordered to report to work in spite of their apprehensions (Wallace, 2015). At the time of the collapse, Rana Plaza was manufacturing clothing for Western retailers and was under strict deadlines to complete production orders (Clean Clothes, n.d.). Many of the victims on that day were women. One female survivor, Rozina Begum, recounted the moment before the building collapsed, stating she heard a loud rumble and saw the cracks in the building widening. She then glanced to see her sister working nearby; that would be the last time she would see her sister alive (Wallace, 2015). After the collapse, Begum was trapped under the rubble for three days before rescuers found her. Upon being found, rescuers realized Begum’s arm had been crushed underneath a large beam and they were unable to move her. She was then handed a hacksaw and told she would need to saw off her arm before rescuers could remove her. Over several hours, she moved in and out of consciousness as she slowly cut off her arm. Today, Begum is still struggling to provide for her family.
The Rana Plaza tragedy is not an isolated incident, but rather a symptom of a systemic problem within the fashion industry. These problems have grown at the same rapid pace as the industry itself (Remy et al., 2016). In the past 20 years, the overall production and consumption of fashion has increased dramatically (Ditty, 2015). Presently, the global fashion industry (clothing, textiles, footwear, and luxury goods) is worth approximately $3 trillion and generates more profit than the technology sector (Ditty, 2015). The significant increase in global demand for fashion merchandise has led to a myriad of issues, with some of the most significant being poor working conditions, negative environmental impact, and the disempowerment of women (Lambert, 2014).
The textile and garment industry is one of the oldest, largest, and most globalized industries in the world (Keane & Velde, 2008). An estimated 60 million people around the world are directly employed by the fashion industry, and more than double that are indirectly dependent on the fashion sector (Ditty, 2015). Many of these workers are forced by their employers to work long hours while being paid less than a living wage. While there is a movement for more governmental legislation to address these human rights issues, exploitation is pervasive. Human rights violations include child labor, discrimination, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions (Ditty, 2015). Workers can also be denied trade union rights by their employer or forced to resign if they join a union.
As the fashion industry has grown, it has also had a negative impact on the environment. This negative impact often begins in the production process; according to Water Use It Wisely (2009), it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans and 400 gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt. This environmental impact continues through the distribution process all the way to the discarding of used articles of clothing. For example, in the United States alone, consumers throw away approximately 80 pounds of clothing (per household) each year, which equates to 26 billion pounds of textiles ending up in landfills (Value Village, n.d.).
The garment and textile industry is also one of the largest employers of women in the developing world (Mustafa, 2014). In Bangladesh and Cambodia, nearly 90% of the garment industry’s workforce is female (Keane & Velde, 2008). For many women in the developing world, the opportunity to work is a step toward moving out of poverty and the ability to provide their children with an education. However, research suggests that many women working in the garment industry are being heavily exploited. The average pay for a female garment worker in Bangladesh is 5,300 taka, or roughly $65 per month, which does not come close to providing a living wage (Shultz, 2015). In comparison to their male counterparts, women are routinely discriminated against by employers in terms of salary earnings, promotions, and hours worked. Verbal and physical abuse as well as sexual harassment in the garment industry are more often aimed at women rather than men (Ditty, 2015).”
As you can see, the significance of these issues is severe, and they require a global effort by both consumers and the fashion industry. Tomorrow we’ll discuss specific ways in which you can get involved, but for now, I encourage each of us to take inventory of our own shopping habits.