Do You Know Where Your Clothes Are Made?
If the answer is no, don’t feel bad, because if it wasn’t for Megan doing a research project over sweatshops, we wouldn’t have had any idea either. The reality of how and where your clothing is made can be shocking, and it has made us more conscious about our buying decisions. Granted, we still have a lot to learn, but we’re hoping we can bring this issue to light and make others aware of what is really happening.
A sweatshop is where workers are employed for very low wages and work long hours to make clothing or accessories. Some factories pay as little as $3 an hour to even cents a day. These employees, mostly women, work terribly long hours – up to 14-16 per day, give or take. Women face sexual harassment and discrimination from their managers and are sometimes forced to take birth control and have routine pregnancy tests because factory managers do not want them to be on maternity leave, let alone provide them with appropriate health benefits. Child labor is also very common in sweatshops with some forced to work as young as 5 years old. Most of these sweatshops are in developing countries like Bangladesh or Sri Lanka which makes it difficult to find and stop sweatshop practices.
The Company’s Standpoint
We highly recommend researching a brand before making a purchase from them. Some brands that are accused of using sweatshops are Forever 21, Aeropostale, and surprisingly, GAP. These aren’t the only ones, either. Sweatshop use is common throughout the entire fashion industry because let’s face it, companies want to stay competitive with each other and having high prices isn’t the way to do that. It is very difficult to shop entirely sweatshop-free, but Green America says that a union label is “a good indicator that at minimum workers are free to organize and have a voice.”
Some companies worry that if they raise their prices to pay for their workers, they’ll have to raise the price of their products significantly. This isn’t true. John Miller, a professor of economics, says, “In Mexico’s apparel industry, economists from the Political Economy Research Institute found that doubling the pay of non-supervisory workers would add just $1.80 to the cost of a $100 men’s sports jacket.” They also found that people are willing to pay extra if they knew the garment did not come from a sweatshop.
What Can We Do?
Like we said, researching a brand can be useful. We tend to feel better about our purchases if we have some insight into what the company is about. An indicator that a brand is using sweatshops is unusually low prices, like Forever 21. If you can buy a dress for only $7, it’s very likely that it was made in a sweatshop, so steer clear of these brands. It is difficult to shop ethically 100% of the time, we’ll admit it. But we highly encourage you to be aware of where and how your clothing was made. If you have any further questions or even want to do some research on your own, there is a very useful site here that does a great job of explaining sweatshop practices along with this LA Times article.