I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a while, ever since I started following Fashion Revolution on Instagram. Not many of us know where our clothes actually come from. After finding out that sweatshops exist, I decided to do some research on them.
It took less than two minutes for the deadliest garment-factory incident to occur. An eight-story factory complex named Rana Plaza, located in Bangladesh, collapsed on the 24th of April, 2013. Despite the sizable cracks appearing on the walls the previous days, the garment factory owners argued with their workers and forced them to continue their work. Not only were some of Rana Plaza’s floors illegally built, but many were even built with substandard materials. When sweatshop workers piled into the building to start work on the sewing machines that day, they had no idea of the tragedy that was awaiting them. The death of over 1000 people was what stirred the world awake with the stories of how sweatshop workers are mistreated.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “sweatshop” as “a shop or a factory in which employees work for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions.” Many people had never heard of this word, let alone knew what it meant, before the Rana Plaza building took the lives of so many sweatshop workers. Sweatshops are most commonly found in Central and South America, Asia and certain regions of Europe. A lot of them create that trendy t-shirt that was “only $10” and people feel the need to buy it in several different colours. The factories were created as an easy way for companies to gain profit by making the cost of production lower. But, by doing that, sweatshops are filled with workers that are exposed to major exploitation. Numerous men, women and even children end up taking the job to make clothes for big brands like H&M, Gap, and Joe Fresh. It’s crazy to think that clothing at my local mall could be produced in an environment of exploitation.
Sweatshop workers suffer from the dangers and consequences that are found in their workplace. There are so many ways one could be harmed; working overtime, not getting paid enough, loose wires on electrical panel boards. These might not seem like major problems, but they are the start to them. In 2015, Business Of Fashion published an article, which within it said that “following the [Rana Plaza] tragedy, the minimum wage for ready-made garment industry workers in Bangladesh increased from just over $38 per month to $68, an increase of 77 percent. But a 2013 study published by the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies concluded that to cover basic necessities, workers needed to earn at least $100 a month.” Secondly, working overtime is common. Not only is that breaking the law, but working long hours is harmful towards the human body and causes stress. Finally, even loose wiring could cause problems, such as fires or explosions. It’s shocking to me to see that even after the incident, working environments haven’t improved much.
As consumers, there are many ways we can help improve the life conditions of sweatshop workers. An important action to take is to spread the word about what is going on in sweatshops around the world. In my opinion, raising awareness to the exploitation that is going on lets people see how and who their clothing is made by. Another important step for us is to be aware of where we shop. By looking at the tags and knowing that the piece of clothing has a high possibility of being made in a country where sweatshops are popular, we won’t be supporting them. Buying locally made products, buying from ethical companies, and shopping second-hand are also great ways for us to take a stand for human rights. Lastly, something simple that anyone can do, is to write letters to stores to let them know we’re paying attention to where their clothing is coming from. As customers, we can tell shops that we want to see human rights be met. Next time we see those $15 jeans, we’ll reconsider buying them.