You may have heard the term ‘fast fashion’. It’s a recent term used to describe clothing that moves from catwalk to shops (and in and out of our wardrobes) quickly in order to capture current trends. Usually, this clothing is affordable, mass produced and available at well-known chain stores such as Rivers, Cotton On, Topshop, Zara and H&M. Win, win, you might think.
But there’s a hidden cost to fast fashion that many people don’t realise – or at least try not to think about.
At the H&M factories in India and Cambodia, for example, workers are receiving a pittance, working long hours in poor conditions, with almost no benefits. In fact, research from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) has found that H&M is guilty of routinely exploiting employees.
A report from AFWA pulled information from interviews with 251 H&M factory workers (almost all women) and found that life inside these factories is very grim.
Workers have reported unsafe conditions inside factories, exploitation and unfair dismissal. All 50 workers at Indian supplier factories who were interviewed told AFWA investigators that women who become pregnant were fired from their jobs during their pregnancies. And sexual harassment is rife, with workers from nine out of 12 Cambodian factories reporting having experienced it at work.
Across the garment manufacturing industry, workers who demand better work conditions and pay risk losing their jobs, a risk many cannot afford to make as they may be supporting their families on this single small income. In the Cambodian factories employees earn around $140 per month.
Despite chains such as H&M, David Jones and countless others claiming to be committed to improving supply chain conditions, the exploitation and corruption within manufacturing companies runs deep. Often, any formal policy changes are slow to be implemented and difficult to enforce day-to-day.
What are the options for consumers?
If the exploitation of workers in garment factories matters to you, here are a few ways you can help:
- buy locally-made products that are accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia
- download the Shop Ethical app or buy the booklet for $9 (great for fashion and groceries)
- be aware of which labels and companies are committed to ethical manufacturing conditions, and which are not.
Read more at broadly.vice.com.