Fast Fashion: the danger of sweatshops

Since the 1990s, the popularity of fast fashion has grown significantly in first world countries. Consumers buy cheap fashionable clothes for a small fraction of the cost of high-end products. Clothing manufacturers have been able to build this business model by relying on cheap labor in developing countries, where workers are exploited and underpaid and often work in inhumane conditions. We explore what sweatshops are and how the trend has evolved in recent years.

What are sweatshops?

A sweatshop refers to a “generally tiny manufacturing establishment that employs workers under unfair and unhealthy working conditions”.

Many fast fashion retailers like H&M and Forever 21 receive new clothing shipments every day. These marks are able to sell a huge amount of clothes and at extremely low prices by contracting with suppliers from underdeveloped countries. These companies then outsource production to unregistered suppliers who are not subject to any laws. In other words, there is no obligation for these brands to provide safe working conditions for these workers.

Underpaid and Overworked: The Human Cost of Cheap Clothes

Sweatshops are not a recent phenomenon and have been covered in the media for decades. The fast fashion industry has long been complicit in a system that pays workers below the living wage in order to maximize profits. This business model, which focuses on selling mountains of clothing at unsustainable costs, brings increasingly less profit to those who directly create it.

From Bangladesh to Leicester, the fashion industry is built on mass exploitation. Credits: AM Ahad/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.

In order to make things quickly and cheaply, sweatshop workers – often women and children – endure grueling workdays and meager wages that don’t cover basic expenses, while providing them with working conditions. cruel work and life. In several manufacturing countries, including Bangladesh, China and India, the minimum wage covers half to one-fifth what a family needs to make ends meet. In Bangladesh, workers are paid around 33 cents per hourwhile the average salary in sweatshops in India is barely 58 cents.

Working conditions are poor, unsanitary and dangerous because many sweatshops are located in poor countries with weak labor laws and little government oversight; therefore, if workers attempt to challenge their rights or working conditions, they risk losing their jobs. Garment industry workers are obligatory working 14-16 hour days, seven days a week, and experiencing verbal and sometimes even physical abuse from managers. Often workers are exposed to harmful substances while working without sufficient ventilation. Accidents and injuries are also common. In 2013, more than 1,000 garment workers in Bangladesh lost their lives while working as results of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory.

sweatshops;  fast fashion

A garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013. Source: Business and Human Rights.

Although these companies depend on the poor, they particularly target disadvantaged children. According to a investigation in factories in India, 60% of employees were under 18 when they started work. These children are particularly vulnerable to being forced into sweatshop labor because they are caught in the cycle of poverty.

The serious impact of sweatshops and fast fashion on the environment

The continuous consumer demand for new clothes has a significant negative impact not only on humans but also on the environment. When you combine this with the planned obsolescence of fashion brands, which ensures that items wear out faster due to poor build quality, you have a business strategy that is inevitably wasteful.

Between 80 and 100 billion new coins clothes are made every year in the world, while a truckload of used clothes is burned or buried in landfills every second. The number of wears a garment receives before it is discarded has reduced by more than a third over the past 15 years, according to market experts Euromonitor International. Only British citizens would have thrown around one million tons of textiles per year.

fashion is class as the second plus polluting company in the world by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD), second only to the oil industry. This take 93 billion cubic meters of water per year, which is equivalent to 7,500 liters needed to create a single pair of pants. The amount of plastic microfiber that is abandoned in the oceans each year is close to 500,000 tons.

The toxic colors produced in the factories and the chemicals used in the cultivation of cotton are other aspects that greatly contribute to polluting the environment. Chemically contaminated water kills organisms in or near waterways, reducing ecological biodiversity in these areas. The chemicals used in the dye have also been linked to a number of malignancies, digestive problems and skin irritations, all of which have an effect adverse effect on human health. When crops are irrigated with dirty water, contaminated vegetables and fruits enter the food chain, posing a huge threat to human health.

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How do you know which brands rely on sweatshops?

A good rule of thumb is to check a brand’s level of transparency; if they don’t openly disclose information, that’s definitely a red flag. In May 2020, two reports of Global Labor Justice (GLJ) describe the mistreatment of Asian female garment workers in H&M and Gap supplier factories, including (but not limited to) physical abuse, sexual harassment, adverse working conditions and compulsory overtime.

The best way to learn more about a brand is to visit their website and read what they have to say. These days there are a number of websites such as Fashion Revolution that produce an annual Fashion Transparency Index reviewing 150 of the world’s top fashion brands. You can also use apps like Of course, you to find specific brands that have been rated based on factors such as how they treat their employees, the impact they have on the environment and animals, and more.

Featured Image: Flickr

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