This post was originally published on HuffPost Canada
By: Maryam Rehman | Toronto, Canada
We as consumers can change the conversation on fast fashion and everyone's right to decent work.
As stated by Lucy Siegle, "Fast fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying." In my last blog on the 8th Sustainable Development Goal, I talked about the importance of giving those in need, the "right kind of aid." In this blog, I will provide an analysis of the "decent work" aspect of the goal.
Global Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, is designed to "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all."
To begin, globalization has allowed companies to outsource a lot of their product development and manufacturing. Therefore, companies can get their clothing made from factory workers in Bangladesh, for example, for wages lower than $1 a day and in conditions that would have never been allowed in the countries they sell their clothing in. Unfortunately, as people buy clothing from these companies, they put in their vote telling the companies to continue. Therefore, we directly impact the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs.
As we have developed into a consumer-based society, we have come to the age of "fast fashion." Fast fashion refers to a phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible. This means that new designs of clothes do not come out just four times in a year, they come out every week. We get trapped in this consumerism cycle, which begins with seeing ads, buying the clothes or products advertised, and working to be able to afford those products. This goes on, in an effort to satisfy our desire to fit into the norms that society has set. After making the purchase, the new products arrive and we have to make more purchases, hence continuing the cycle.
There are problems with this behaviour. On the ethical side, we face a debate about decent work and the contemporary slave trade. According to the Guardian's lab on child labour (sponsored by Unicef), the International Labour Organization estimates that, "170 million children are engaged in child labour, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the U.S. and beyond."
Apart from that, many workers work in completely unsafe conditions, with wages way below a dollar a day. An example of this was seen in the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed 1,135 people. The argument is that those that are making these clothes, in job positions they cannot leave with tough working conditions, especially children trapped in child labour, make up a part of today's population of contemporary slaves.
Unfortunately, our decisions impact that, and even allow it to continue. If you are interested in learning more about the ethics of fast fashion, please visit the website of the documentary "The True Cost," which explores this issue in depth. There is also an app, called Good On You, which "makes checking a brand for its impact on people, the planet and animals incredibly easy." You can scan a product's barcode and the app will give the item a rating based on its impact, allowing you to make conscious choices while you shop.
In addition, this consumerism behaviour makes us lose our own happiness. When we buy things just to fit in, to fulfill our desire to get the latest gadget or follow the latest trend, we often have to work twice as hard to afford those products. This takes away time we could have spent doing things we actually like and are more fulfilling, like spending time with our families, or doing a hobby. Evidently, "things" are "thieves" of our time. It seems simple, but consumerism has completely changed our lifestyles.
So, I encourage you to stop and think, are you really getting the most out of your life? We are always chasing something, raising money so that we can get these products in an effort to add comfort to our lives. Then, when we do get them, we go after the next product, or work even harder to afford what we have (like a bigger house that we've gotten a mortgage for). In the end, we never really get to have that comfort that we strived to achieve from the purchase — it's a constant chase. I suggest that we try to stop and enjoy we have once in awhile. That is where true comfort, fulfillment and happiness lie.
Apart from small things that I have suggested throughout the blog, there are ways that we as consumers can change the conversation on fast fashion and everyone's right to decent work. I'd like to share some useful resources that really helped my understanding of this issue, and I'm sure will help you as well.
Here are my top five:
The Story of Stuff Project - A movie and movement on the problem with making, using, and throwing away the "stuff" in our lives.
Why Fast Fashion is Slow Death for the Planet - Article by the Guardian
Non-standard employment around the world: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects - A report by the International Labour Organization. "The report analyses the incidence and trends of non-standard forms of employment globally and explores the reasons behind this phenomenon, including changes in the world of work brought about by globalization and social change."
The Fashion Revolution - A movement that provides the resources, tools and methods you need to change how you impact the Fast Fashion industry.
Sustainable Development Goal 8 - Information on Global Goal 8, with additional resources and progress, provided by the United Nations.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Remember that your choices can not only change the fast-fashion industry, but they can also change your own life as well. Please feel free to comment below about your thoughts on this topic, or any questions you may have. And finally, as William James said: "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."