{eco news} solidarité féminine: empowering women workers in the garment industry

Friday, January 20, 2017


as we come together in a show of solidarity to advocate for women's empowerment, it is essential that we cast our eyes on the women we are connected to by way of the clothes we wear. in the global garment industry approximately 80% of garment workers are young women, a result of gender discrimination practices in the fast fashion industry, an export-oriented industry that takes advantage of cultural stereotypes in countries where apparel is currently produced.* 

clothes are a basic need + fundamental to our self-expression, but while the cost of food + housing, education + entertainment has increased over time, the cost of our clothes has decreased year after year. suspicious? indeed.

you see, the well-worn jeans + comfy sweaters in our wardrobes are a direct product of a labor-intensive industry, in which someone sits at a sewing machine to manufacture our clothes. and that someone is most often a woman. these women are not being paid fairly. they're not even being paid a living wage.

"the day i read about the [the rana plaza building collapse of april 24, 2013 which killed 1,138 garment workers in bangladesh], i looked down and realized i had never thought about where clothes come from," reflects andrew morgan, director of the true costa documentary exploring the impact of the fast fashion industry. "when you grow up looking only at a store window and only thinking about your side of the equation, it leads to a very dangerous set of effects."*

this is how apparel prices fell over the years and this is how we come together to effect change + empower women across the world: 



let's start here: 80 billion pieces of new clothing pieces are consumed each year. that is a staggering number. a seismic cultural shift has led consumers to believe that low prices are both fair + decent. we are aghast when confronted with a high ticket price, but in reality, it is the lowest ticket prices that should shock + unnerve us.

elizabeth cline, author of overdressed reminds consumers, "the wages paid to sewing machine operators and the money paid to garment factories enormously affects the prices we pay for fashion." as prices drop, consumers are buying more and more {consumption of clothes has quadrupled since the 1980s}. increased customer demand + a half century of competition based on low prices has led to an "unabated + unprecedented free fall in the average price of clothing," this is called fast fashion. for apparel + footwear to remain at budget prices + companies to meet demand, companies now outsource, which means the low prices consumers expect to pay are built around the cost of production in other developing countries {97% of clothes are now made overseas}.

the more we buy, the faster they must sew. as large fashion retailers outsource production, the worker's most basic rights are being denied. fashion revolution, an organization that campaigns for systemic change in the fashion industry, explains, "these companies take advantage of women's unequal position in society to form an even cheaper + docile work force." female workers only have access to the lowest paid jobs; they work excessive hours without overtime pay and without legal protection; their right to organize and bargain collectively is constantly denied or restricted; and the factories lack adequate safety precautions. 

john hilary of war on want explains, "women are employed in a highly exploitative context. women workers remain at the bottom of the supply chain, working long hours for poverty wages and denied basic maternity rights." often, women are refused employment if they are pregnant, and they must agree not to become pregnant while employed as a garment factory worker. they work under total lack of job security. 



i read that americans discard an average of 80 pounds of clothes per year. that's per person. that's 11 million tons of textile waste from the u.s.a. alone. with cheap clothing now readily available, apparel + shoes are viewed as disposable. we used to have a relationship with our clothes. we cared for them, mended them, passed them down even. and we can have that again. if we slow down; if we shop responsibly.  

at present, garment workers in bangladesh, sri lanka, cambodia, india, indonesia + china receive ¼-⅓ of a living wage needed to cover basic costs of food + shelter, clothing + education. currently, american garment workers being paid minimum wage earn four times as much as chinese garment workers and 38 times more than bangladeshi garment workers. women are subjected to verbal + physical abuse, as well as sexual harassment when they ask for an increase in wages or try to organize labor unions. 

paying a fair price for apparel ensures a living wage for which basic needs can be met, including clean water, food + transportation, as well as access to education {look for certification or ask the brand}. when these needs are met, positive changes start to occur, access to higher education, healthcare and equality for women and girls. rock-bottom prices can reflect forced labor, child labor and human rights abuse. 

"as long as we keep buying products that put our future at risk, others will continue to produce them.
however, an awareness of our genuine power as consumers can break this cycle. we can + must initiate change. whether we buy a garment or the materials from which it is made, each purchase has an impact on the world around us." offers bruno pieters, founder of ethical fashion label honest by.

garment workers are coming together to mobilize despite the many challenges; they are forming labor movements to fight systemic discrimination + inequality. you + i can help empower women worldwide by being a voice for those who are victims of violent intimidation by raising public awareness + putting pressure on large companies + firms to pay workers a living wage. and to do that, we must be willing to pay more + buy less. 

we must recognize the connection between the clothes we buy and the people who make them. the power of consumers and the media should not be underestimated. for conditions to change we must demand transparency in supply chains. emily young, eight storeys

{don't forget the tip} here are a few simple tips from social + environmental justice journalist and author of to die for, lucy siegle, on how to transition to ethical consumerism. higher price points don't guarantee ethical + fair trade standards are being met. in the absence of certifications or other overt information you'll need to find out as much as you can yourself {ask companies "who made my clothes?}. don't be intimidated by the idea of researching before you buy. this will slow down the pace of your clothes buying.

1/ it's ok to be inquisitve about the supply chain

2/ save up + spend more on fewer quality items

3/ patronize brands + designers doing something differently {for a list of ethical fashion brands + fair trade boutiques, skip to your right side bar here at finny+dill, or scroll down on your phone}

livia firth, slow fashion activist reminds consumers that "you can be an active citizen through your wardrobe" by asking yourself whether you would wear an item of clothing 30 times before purchasing it + by asking yourself if you need it or you want it.

learn more about how you can contribute to the garment worker's fight here.


until next time, stay green dear hearts!

{images via collective}

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