Today marks 111 years since the first celebration of International Women’s Day in the US in 1909. It was initially observed as “National Women’s Day” to mark the strikes occurring the previous year when thousands of women garment workers took to the streets in protest against their unsafe working conditions and low wages.
While it might be over a century later garment workers across the world are still facing the same issues with 50,000 people going on strike last year in Bangladesh to demand higher wages. With the unfair conditions behind the clothes being as relevant today as it was all those years ago, here are 3 things to consider about the impact of Fast Fashion this International Women’s Day.
1. overconsumption disproportionately affects women
The fashion industry is the Goliath in the world with an estimated one out of every six people are employed by it. Within this women account for approximately 80% of the garment workers. According to Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas, American shoppers are buying up to five times more than they were in the 1980s. A staggering 80 billion items of clothing are now bought across the planet annually. Those who are physically making the latest trend-driven pieces, that we rush to scoop up at low prices, are those who are squeezed the most with low wages and unsafe conditions. The Clean Clothes Campaign reports that a maximum of 3% of the retail price goes to the person who made the item, so it’s easy to work out how questionable a €5 price tag on a dress is.
2. unsafe working conditions
Since the tragic disaster of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, in which over 1,000 people died, there have been improvements across the supply chain as the world demanded more responsibility from brands. However, there is still a long way to go. The nonprofit campaign, Labour Behind the Label reports that still hundreds of lives of garment factory workers are lost annually in unsafe working environments. Many others face the myriad health consequences from having to use hazardous chemicals or dangerous production techniques such as sandblasting or working long, tiring shifts.
3. garment workers' wages do not equal the living wage
While the fashion industry is a multi-trillion dollar business the average garment worker can earn as little as $21 per month. According to Labour Behind the Label, it is estimated that factory employees in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, amongst other countries, are paid considerably less than they need, just to make ends meet and provide for their families. A study by the Fair Labour Association reported that the average worker in Bangladesh would need to have an 80% wage increase to get close to the living wage. It's clear when we see an 'empowering slogan t-shirt' for a cheap retail price, there’s no way the worker who sewed the garment together was equally empowered.
With such a lack of transparency regarding factories and wages, it can be difficult to find out how ethical a brand really is. We need to read between the lines to spot for greenwashing and support the labels that have a real commitment to the garment workers on the production line. At thegreenlabels we take the ethical standards of the labels we stock seriously. We want to be sure that the people working in the supply chain of the products we sell are paid fairly and treated with respect. For example our new womenswear brand, J-Lab3L, and accessories brand, O My Bag Amsterdam, work only with factories with a SA 8000 certification. This ensures that their products are made in fair working conditions and workers are paid a living wage. Also, the underwear brand, The Nude Label, works closely with a small factory in their local community where they are able to monitor the production process. Check out our labels page for more detail on the production practises of the brands we stock.
You can also help to call for change by getting involved with Fashion Revolution's International Women's Day 2020 campaign, putting the spotlight squarely on demanding change and equality in the fashion supply chain. Take a look at their website for further details.
Written by Lynne Grey
Fashionopolis By Dana Thomas,