We Must Shop Better

Modern slavery in the fast fashion industry has once again come to light following the investigation into Boohoo’s treatment of workers in the factory in Leicester. But this is certainly not a new issue. This has been happening in supply chains all over the world, and the situation has only been exacerbated by Covid-19. It is estimated that half a million garment workers in Bangladesh are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of order cancellations, which is in addition to the one million workers who have already lost their jobs during the economic downturn.[1] Even prior to the pandemic, 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh were suffering from low wages and unsafe working conditions that contravened their human rights.[2] Millions of these workers are currently being pushed into poverty and are at risk of starvation. It is recognised that this is also happening in India, Cambodia, Myanmar and now the UK.

Devastatingly, It does not look as though the situation will improve anytime soon. Fast fashion companies will continue to implement exploitative practices for the purpose of reducing costs in the supply chain as long as demand persists. Boohoo, H&M, Zara, Fashion Nova and Gap are just some of the fast fashion giants that have been accused of wage and labour violations, with few companies conforming to safer labour practices. But insufficient progress has been made, as it is simply not profitable for fast-fashion companies to pay living wages and adhere to fundamental labour rights while achieving staggering profits.

This is a purely systemic problem that arises as a result of the fast fashion model. It is not possible to sell cheap items without unsustainable and exploitative practices occurring within the supply chain. We have extremely affordable and on-trend clothing available to us 24/7, but at what cost?

I recall first discovering fast-fashion during my early teens when I was cultivating my love for fashion. I remember finding a pair of trendy jeans for $30 and thinking about how wonderful it was to be able to afford stylish clothing with my pocket money. It felt like the doors to fashion heaven had opened for me, as there was just so much clothing out there at affordable prices. I never bought a bunch of clothes and then sent them to landfill a season later, but I flocked to those stores and relished the bargain hunting. The environmental and human costs associated with my newfound joy were unknown to me. I did not realise the true consequences of such affordable and low-quality fashion until some years later. But despite these injustices being widely acknowledged for a number of years, Boohoo has allegedly managed to get away with paying their factory workers as low as £3.50 per hour until now – £5.22 less than the country’s minimum wage for over 25s.[3]

Consumers have the power to make sustainable and socially-ethical purchasing decisions. I acknowledge that shopping with fast fashion brands is tempting when faced with comparatively cheap shoes and clothing. And as I touched on earlier, the affordability of fast fashion meant that I could covet trends and celebrity styles as soon as they popped up on social media. But we also have a responsibility to know where we are putting our money, and no designer knock-off is worth human exploitation. As consumers, we have the ability to pressure these companies to pay their garment workers a living wage, to provide them with proper working conditions that adhere to their rights, and to treat them the dignity that they deserve. We also have a choice as to what to buy, and I would certainly urge everyone to reduce or eradicate their consumption of fast fashion. For some it won’t be easy to boycott these massive brands, but the act of at least minimising our support for fast fashion brands will be an important step for social justice and environmental purposes.

I recommend learning more by following @remakeourworld, @whomade.yourclothes and the hashtags #payup and #whomademyclothes on Instagram.

[1] Taslima Akhter. (2020, June 22). Bangladesh’s Garment Workers Are Being Treated as Disposable. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/world/bangladesh-garment-workers-covid-19/

[2] Ibid

[3] Kansara, V. A. (2020, July 10). Why Fashion ‘Slavery’ Is Making Headlines. Retrieved from https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/professional/boohoo-leicester-factory-scandal-fast-fashion-slavery?source=bibblio