As human rights, workers’ rights and sustainability become more than just buzzwords, there’s growing discomfort surrounding the fashion industry.
We’ve all heard of child labour, low wages, and systemic exploitation of workers, but cost-cutting can also take lives. On the 23rd of April 2013, cracks were discovered in the Rana Plaza – a Bangladesh garment factory – and ignored. The next day, the building collapsed, killing 1,132 people.1
So, apart from fabric and stitching, what’s really in a t-shirt?
According to online ethical brand directory Good On You, most clothing brands have supply chains riddled with low paid workers, forced labour and high carbon footprints.
Here’s a few recent cases proving the underlying ethical problems within the fashion industry:
- Beyoncé collaboration (Ivy Park line) with a major British retailer came under fire in 2016, when allegations of Sri Lankan garment workers toiling under unfair conditions.2 The fashion line was accused of not only exploitation but also hypocrisy due to the line’s women empowerment message (most of the factory’s workers being women).
- A well-known Japanese brand was recently accused of owing Indonesian workers USD$5.5 million.3 More than 2,000 workers have been waiting five years for Uniqlo and its parent company, Fast Retailing to pay up.
- Another major British fashion brand hit the news in July 2020 with allegations of underpaying workers at their Leicester factory. British tabloid, The Sunday Times, completed an undercover investigation and revealed workers were being paid £3.50 an hour – £5 under the minimum wage of £8.72 (roughly AUD$8.95 under the minimum wage at the time of writing).4
International workers’ rights organisation, the Fair Labor Association, released a 2018 report asserting discrimination of female workers in south-east Asia, namely Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia.5
They found some female migrant workers were enduring mandatory pregnancy testing and deported if pregnant. It’s worth noting that garment factories or ‘sweatshops’ heavily rely upon migrant workers, most of whom are young and female.
Bronwyn King, CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios and ethical campaigner, said, ‘We’ve all been a part of a business model built on exploitation; t-shirts shouldn’t cost $5.’
‘It’s time for productive dialogue with brands. We need to urge them to take human rights and workers’ rights into consideration when they map out their supply chain.
‘We need to ask; how much do they pay their workers? Where do they source their materials from? And where do they pay their taxes?’