Have you ever thought who is behind the cheap clothes you are wearing? And what is the “real price” some people in the manufacturing industry have to pay in order to have these cheap clothes produced? With this blog post, I would like to bring insight on what is happening in the fashion industry, as far as labor rights are concerned; more exactly what abuses employees working for companies such as H&M, ZARA and Nike face on a daily bases.
By having a look on H&M website, one can see their Vision and Mission statement, which states “To make sure our customers wear our products with pride we have to be conscious in all our actions”. However, It is highly questionable how much of what the company is promoting is true.
After checking articles related to the exploitation of workers in the above mentioned companies, I came to the conclusion that these companies have a long way to go until actually practicing what they are preaching.
Safety in the workplace
Taking into consideration the events that occurred in the past few years, it seems that companies turned a blind eye when it comes to the safety measurement in the workplace. For example, in 2010 21 workers died in a fire in a Bangladesh clothing factory and 50 more were injured; the high number of casualties could have been prevented if the building had proper fire exits and other critical safety elements. According to an article published in 2015 on the “Clean Clothing Campaign” website, even after this accident, employees who sew for H&M in Bangladesh continue to work in dangerous conditions, in most of the cases not having fast access to life saving measures.
Poor working conditions
Not only the environment where employees work is not safe in case of accidents, but also the conditions in which people working for these fashion brands need a serious change. According to articles published by The Sun and The Guardian, both H&M and Nike have witnessed mass fainting at the workplace due to the poor working conditions. As stated in an article published in The Guardian, over the past year more than 500 people working in factories supplying to PUMA, NIKE, Asics and VF corporations required immediate medical care. The employees who suffered the incidents reported working in extreme heat conditions, such as 37 degrees Celsius, with no air conditioning for more than 10 hours per day. Unlike Vietnam, where there are regulations for the temperatures to not exceed 32 degrees Celsius, Cambodia has no such thing, putting the life of employees in danger. Other factors contributing to the poor working conditions are the extreme long working hours and the short term contracts which contribute to the stress of the workers. According to a statement made by employees, “if you don’t work overtime, you won’t get a second contract when the first one ends”.
When it comes to the fashion industry, child labor is not something new. Along the years, the popular brands such as H&M and NIKE have employed children as young as 10 to work. Not only was child labor presents, but also it is stated in the article that these children were working up till 14 hours per day.
According to a 2016 article published in The Guardian, H&M’s factories which are located in Asia employed along the years “anyone who wanted to work”. It seems that in Myanmar children worked for more than 12 hours a day; however, H&M stated that the company was not aware of such practices and it will take action in this matter. Unfortunately, this is not a particular when talking about the fashion industry. NIKE has been pointed out several times for pursuing the same practices. According to China labor watch, Nike is known for producing its merchandise in underdeveloped countries which have very cheap labor and due to this fact It encourages and exploits this issue. What is more, ZARA is no stranger to these practices as well. In a 2011 article published in The Telegraph, immigrant workers were discovered working in Inditex factories in sweatshop conditions; among which children were working as well. Even though the company promised compensations towards the employees, shall we stop and wonder: has this really happened ? aren’t these companies going a bit too far by employing children in their workforce and encouraging child labor ?
So far I have covered the poor working conditions and the poor safety measures that employees of all ages go through on a daily basis. And you might wonder: “Can anything else surprise me when thinking about these fashion brands?”. I bet it can. In 2017 different sources have written about the issue concerning ZARA’s employees from Turkey. Several customers found notes in the pockets of the clothes bought from the Spanish brand. On there it was stated “I made this item that you are going to buy, but I did not get paid for it”. I think it is quite extreme when employees’ last resort towards getting their wages is making an appeal to the public. It is sad and outrageous seeing that a company worth 8.6 billion pounds refuses to pay its employees fair wages.
Other controversies faces are regarding copy rights; ZARA has been accused of using similar illustrations as the ones made by the LA artist Tuesday Bassen. The indie artist has been receiving numerous messages on the social websites from her followers who noticed the similarity between her designs and ZARA’s. According to one of her posts shared on Instagram she mentions that according to the Spanish company she has no evidence that the designs belong to her due to the fact that her name has not the same weight as ZARA’s.
Last, but not least, when it comes to advertising campaigns, nobody does it better that H&M. The companies’ latest advertising campaign features a black young boy wearing a hoodie which carries the message “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. By having a look at the violent response from South Africa, H&M might reconsider its advertising campaigns.
Can I do something to help …?
The answer is YES. Consider the independent artist. There are so many possibilities from where you can purchase your clothes and accessories. Nowadays, with the rise of technology these possibilities are closer to you than ever. If your bored, you’re just a click away from discovering all of these online. I believe that the best way to discover these artist though, is on Instagram.
And if you’re curious, check out my suggestions:
- This artist goes by the name of SarahThursday and she is selling her original illustrations attached to different pieces of merchandise, such as: hoodies, t-shirts, accessorize etc. You can find more about her and her work here: https://sarahthursday.co/
- If you’re the type that is more into vintage clothing, then these brands may be better for you: http://www.rokit.co.uk/
There are a lot of options and artists/ brands for all tastes and their creations range from affordable to expensive. What I am trying to say, it’s not necessary to like my suggestions; find the ones that suit you best. And, in this way you may not only discover something that you will like on the long run, but you will be indirectly supporting ethical business.