Unfair treatment of workers
Unfair treatment among workers has been occurring for decades. It happens all over the world but is most prominent in Asia. For example, Nike has strategically placed their factories in Indonesia. According to the European Parliament, the salaries of workers in Indonesia are much lower compared to other Asian countries. The workers’ minimum wage in Indonesia has increased dramatically since 1970; however, it is still not adequate enough to meet household necessities (European Parliament). A majority of the workers live in extreme poverty, “with wages around $2 per day” (Smith). Workers’ rights are not heavily regulated in Indonesia, so it is easy for global powerhouses like Nike to take advantage of their workers. Countries like China, India, Bangladesh, and many others face the same problems that Indonesia faces concerning the minimum wage representing between half to a fifth of the living wage (Charpail). It can be noticed that the payments that are provided are not enough to help a typical household cover their expenses. These wage issues just keep getting worse and worse. A 56-year-old Chinese immigrant recorded the mistreatment that occurred while she worked as a garment worker. “She earned $295 for a 60-hour week making shirts;” however, because of inflation, she now gets paid “$122 for the same amount” of hours worked (Natta). Imagine working a laborious job every single day but not getting paid enough to provide for one’s family. Along with insufficient wages, the workers are overworked.
Many workers are required to work countless hours in the factories. On average, garment workers are required to work around “14 to 16 hours a day” (Charpail). Since the workers’ wages are so low, they cannot refuse overtime. According to the statistics, an average working week for a garment worker is ninety-six hours (Charpail). These workers cannot afford to take a day off, and if they try to, they will get fired. In Indonesia, workers are supposedly entitled to leave when they really need to, but in reality, they are not allowed to take any leaves. Workers who are too sick to work are required to “spend the day resting in the factory’s mosque” (Working conditions in Indonesia). Companies are forcing workers to work countless hours without extra pay to make ends meet. Most people often take for granted the security of their jobs. The workers in the poorer countries have no other choice other than to work because their survival depends on it. The companies in the fashion industry only care for themselves. They are continually trying to find cheaper places to move to so they can minimize expenses and increase profit.
Human trafficking and forced labor
Relating to overworking and other labor issues, the fashion industry plays a significant role in human trafficking and forced labor. 50% of trafficked victims are sold into forced labor. A lot of the trafficking occurs in developing countries and parts of Europe (Suhrawardi). Innocent kids who are supposed to be playing outside and enjoying their childhood are forced to work against their will. These trafficked victims are invisible to the government and cannot be regulated. Therefore, none of these labor laws apply to them because the government is unaware of their presence in the country. Lack of government regulation is the reason these victims are taken advantage of so easily.
Children make up a significant percentage of workers in the fashion industry. This is because most of the labor does not require skill. 250,000 girls in South India work under the Sumangali scheme (Charpail). This scheme involves sending girls from low-income families to work in factories in exchange for a basic wage to help support the family (Charpail). Many poverty-stricken families use their children as an extra source of income and companies try to take advantage of that. Countries like Indonesia have tried to implement minimum wage and rules, but the companies have been able to find a loophole. For example, in Indonesia, the fines toward the employers are not that heavy, so the companies do not really fear punishments.
Unsafe labour conditions
In addition, labor conditions are also another problem that the fashion industry does not address. Workers are constantly in a state of danger. No ventilation, inhalation of harmful substances, and unsafe buildings are only a few of the hazards that employees are exposed to on a daily basis. In 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1134 workers (Figure 2) (Thapa).
Many innocent people who have families to take care passed away, because of the selfishness of the employers. On top of a dangerous working environment, workers are often verbally and physically abused. A worker talked about how she was working on the sewing machine, and she did not meet the target production. The supervisor pulled the worker out of the chair and proceeded to “hit [her]… on [her] breast” (Hodal). According to Hodal, whenever girls try to stand up to the abuse, the operators within the shop take their revenge by sabotaging their machines, so that they cannot meet the required production. Along with physically being abused, many of these awful labor conditions cause health issues. “The result is a myriad of occupational hazards, including respiratory hazards due to poor ventilation, such as cotton dust and synthetic air particulates, and musculoskeletal hazards from repetitive motion tasks” (Halsey, Erika, and Christine C. Ekenga). The European Parliament states that a majority of women who worked in garment shops developed hearing problems because the work environment was too loud. A majority of these workers are unaware of the health complications that their jobs cause. When they find out about the complications, it is too late.
Along with innocent people suffering, the environment is also suffering. According to “Sustainyourstyle,” the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. The environmental damage is not going to decrease because the fashion industry is rapidly increasing. Water pollution is one of the biggest problems when it comes to the fashion industry. In many of the countries where clothing production takes place, toxic wastewaters from factories are dumped straight into the rivers (Charpail). The wastewater contains a lot of harmful substances, such as lead and mercury (Figure 3). That same wastewater is used by many people to bathe and cook in.
Water consumption is another issue related to environmental damage. The production of clothes required requires a lot of water usage. For example, cotton requires around 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. This requirement of water is excessive since water is already a scarce resource. The production of cotton requires the usage of pesticides. According to the Environmental Impact, cotton production is responsible for “18% of worldwide pesticides and 25% of insecticide use” (Environmental Impact). Many of these pesticides are harmful to humans. They also contaminate the water source, which is another way people get sick. “Sustainyourstyle,” claims that the heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming causes diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, along with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and soil degradation.