NELLY CARRILLO WRITES — Earlier this year, the Borgen Project, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating poverty and hunger, published an article on the harmful effects of fast fashion. What is fast fashion and why is it a harmful way of thinking about garment manufacturing?
Fast Fashion is defined as “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Many notable brands create this type of clothing: H&M, Walmart, J.C. Penney, Gap and Zara. What’s more, they are made in Bangladesh, the second-largest textile exporting country in the world. In 2019, the garment manufacturing industry made up around 84% of export revenue for the country.
Fast Fashion may sound good to consumers, but it requires the exploitation of workers.
On average, the Bangladeshi worker makes around 8,000 takas ($95) a month, which is certainly not a livable wage. In addition, garment workers must deal with hazardous working conditions. Typically, employees clock in for 18 hours a day. In 2014, when Human Rights Watch interviewed several workers, some were threatened and told to leave their unions while some factory managers allegedly hired individuals to intimidate workers.
In Bangladesh, there have been multiple instances of buildings collapsing. Typically, these are garment factories. One of the most notable instances was the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which killed approximately 300 garment workers. Other factories have caught fire.
In addition, while Fast Fashion is popular, especially as societies welcome disposable products, the environment pays a price, as cheap clothes take a long time to degrade and often end up in landfills.
Currently, then, Bangladesh garment factories plan to use a more environmentally friendly approach to mass-producing clothes. The U.N., which founded the Green Climate Fund, will distribute a 250 million dollar loan to multiple Bangladesh factories that will be used to upgrade machinery. These upgrades will decrease the amount of carbon dioxide and water required to create garments.
Still, such ecological steps do not address human rights violations in the factories. While there have been improvements, police officers continue to punish garment workers for protesting to gain increased wages. Menstruation taboos force women to use dirty towels to replace pads. Typically, too, these factories have no clean water.
What can the average consumer do? Be aware of the clothes you buy and the status of the individuals who worked to craft them. Ask yourself, do you need that new sweater on sale at H&M? Can you afford something made by a small business instead? You might also consider calling your local representative to advocate for workers’ rights. It is difficult to stimulate large-scale change, but such choices can make a difference, one person at a time.