Updated: Dec 1, 2020
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Each morning, I wake up and follow a generic routine of brushing my teeth, eating breakfast, and getting dressed… but I never actually think about where my clothes are coming from, and I’m assuming most people don’t either. As we go about our everyday lives, it can be hard to remember where we bought our clothes, let alone the conditions under which they were made. When we dig deeper and look beneath the fabric our clothes are made of, a world of poverty, dangerous working conditions, and disastrous environmental impacts are revealed, in the form of sweatshops.
A sweatshop is a factory, usually in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours of work under poor conditions. Employees of sweatshops work in dire conditions, battling both extreme heat and freezing temperature for usually over 100 hours a week, - averaging at fourteen-hour workdays, seven days a week. War or Want, an organization fighting global poverty finds, the average worker in a Bangladesh sweatshop earns just a little over 3,000 taka or 35 USD per month. This is far below the living wage monthly average of 5,000 takas, (about 58 USD), which is able to provide a family with the minimum necessities for life: shelter, food, and education.
Despite all this, sweatshops are not at all uncommon. Having workers' mass produce products for practically free, allows companies to be able to mass-produce products and keep up with the endless cycle of fast fashion. Household names such as Nike, Forever 21, Converse, and Walmart are just a few of the thousands of brands complacent in establishing sweatshops, gambling the lives of their employees just to increase profits.
Sweatshops deprive their employees of their humanity, treating them as just another part of the vast machine of a corporate world. And, it still gets worse…
Sweatshops and fast fashion have disastrous impacts on the environment. For most companies, quantity is much more important than quality. So naturally, if it means increased efficiency, brands will opt for harsh chemicals, and other unsustainable practices. During the process of manufacturing, chemicals often end up getting poured into the surrounding environments of the sweatshops, polluting local air, water, and land. We see an example of this in Bangladesh, where nearly-toxic pollution fills the air, and water supplies are polluted with dangerous chemicals and toxins.
Tomorrow morning, when you get dressed, think of the journey your clothes took to get to you in the first place. Look beneath the tag with a brand printed on it, and realize the millions of people that brand is oppressing just for profit. Then, think about the communities that shirt, pair of socks, or scarf was complacent in polluting. The next time you put on a jacket, remember where it came from, and thousands of people’s livelihoods that it took away.
The only way out of this vicious cycle of fast fashion and sweatshops is sustainability in business. Rather than tearing down communities, companies need to start rebuilding them. Companies need to own up to the wrongdoings of their actions and begin providing workers with safe conditions, adequate paycheck, and reasonable working hours. They need to make sure the materials they use are safe, and any by-products from production are disposed of responsibly. Not only is the clock on climate change ticking, but millions of oppressed people are also calling change, and it's about time the corporate world begins listening.