Continuing my investigation into the Human cost of modern design and manufacturing, I watched the documentary, “The True Cost”.
To quote the documentary, “This is a story of greed and oppression, power and poverty.”.
“The True Cost”, looks at the disastrous and appalling effects of the fashion industry. I think we are all aware on one level or another that our clothes are not justly made. We, myself included, are guilty of turning a blind eye because it is more convenient and easier for us to simply not ask questions when it comes to our clothes. Why should we care who made our jeans when they’re an absolute bargain?
This documentary however revealed an extent of exploitation I was not aware of. It showed how we, in the west trap people in developing countries in terrible jobs and terrible conditions for the sake of profit and consumerism.
It is one horrible vicious circle caused, the documentary suggests, by the western system of striving for profit and living for stuff, and capitalism’s tendency to treat people as just one more commodity, reducing the thousands of individuals mistreated in factories worldwide to the commodity of labour.
The cycle starts with big business competition, with each big brand competing to have the cheapest clothing and to have the most new stock.
They ship out their manufacturing work to ‘low cost’ economies where they know they can get away with pretty much anything. The big companies don’t own the factories they use either as a way of absolving themselves of blame. If they don’t own the factories then they are not directly responsible for the wages, working conditions, pollution or safety failures inside.
As companies compete to reduce their prices, they offer the factories a lower price than before, threatening to take their business elsewhere if it can’t be done. The factory owner and the workers are desperate for the work and so agree. The workers are then paid even less, made to work even more over time and the factory owner quickly scraps anything that will eat into his profit margin, which is already very slim. Things such as safety checks and guidelines as well as environmental guidelines are the first to be scrapped.
This is one of the main factors which contributed to disasters such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza in which Bangladesh which led to the death of 1,135 workers. Here the factory owner forced his workers back into a building which he knew was structurally unsafe, threatening to fire them if they refused.
The workers in these factories often have no union and few workers rights and are often too desperate for a job to be able to put up much of a fight.
We then buy the clothes, and since they’re so cheap and new clothes come out so often we feel no shame in throwing them away after a few months. All these clothes then sit in a landfill for 200 years polluting the atmosphere, groundwater and soil.
And the story doesn’t end there! The clothes we then give away in an attempt to make ourselves feel better don’t all get sold, because as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there’s just too many! Instead we ship them back to countries like Haiti to be sold cheaply, yet again, or given away.
This then destroys their domestic clothing market making them dependent on export, and thus forces them to provide dirt cheap labour in order to attract the global brands.
Our greed, desire to affirm ourselves with fashion and make ourselves feel rich because of the amount we can buy forces people in other countries to work in conditions we would never agree to work in for a rate of pay we would never accept.
The question after considering the true cost of ‘fast fashion’ is; Who is really paying the price for our clothing? and; Is this a price we are happy to pay?
“The True Cost'”, can be found on Netflix if you fancy giving it a watch.