Ethical instalment: Key take aways from the true cost - Part one - Systems.

"On the clothes we wear, the people who make these clothes, and the impact it is having on our world. It is a story about greed and fear, power and poverty. 

It is complex, because it extends throughout the world. But it is also simple, revealing how connected we are to the many hearts and hands behind our clothes."

I started watching this documentary with a preconceived set of ideas and values in relation to the topic.
I was pleased and pleasantly surprised that the film concurred with what I had previously believed to be the facts. The documentary brilliantly demonstrates the true cost of cheap labour and studies problems beyond the sweatshops and focuses the mind on issues such as chemical pollution which has helped me realise that the rise of fast fashion correlates with so many of the worlds other big issues, including the rise in mental health diagnosis', austerity and the importance of people power.

The film is around an hour and a half long and really does pack a lot in. For my own research purposes I have watched it 3 times and believe the film raises many important issues that I felt compelled to share them.

To make it easier to navigate the post I've added in some of my own titles and divided the information - 

Identifying the change in the fashion system:

We used to have a clockwork system of fashion where people bought clothing for certain events and seasons only.
But that has been forgotten now and discarded.
Today's fashion industry has been reinvented.
Instead of two or four seasons per year, we have something akin to 52 seasons a year, so we have something new every week.
This is part of a revolution in trade to sell more products, and this is the birth of Fast Fashion.

Looking at the bigger picture: 

The change to fast fashion signifies a move to a mode of production which is explicitly geared to enhance the interests of big business.

"As recently as the '60s, the US still made 95% of their garments in the US.
Today, they only make about 3% and the other 97% is outsourced in developing countries worldwide. This is equals = one of every six shirts sold in the US is made in the US."

Globalized production basically means that all manufacturing of goods has been outsourced to low-cost economies, particularly where wages are very low and remain low.
What this also means is that those at the top of the value chain, can choose where products are made, and have the freedom to change their minds if for example the price is deemed too high.

In the West we say: "everyday low prices".
So, every day, prices are cut, causing businesses, bosses and employees in developing countries many difficulties.
The competitive market drives businesses to cut costs, often regardless of the consequences and ethics.
Because the businesses in developing countries desperately rely on the income from these mainly western companies they need to find a way to continually cut costs – they know that these western fast fashion businesses are unwilling to pay a ‘fair price’ and continually seek to pay less for their goods.
Companies are forced to seek new ways of cutting costs, some measures have included ignoring safety measures, age restrictions for work and minimum wage laws.

But, it is important to remember that businesses, bosses and employees in developing countries are always trying to do what is best for themselves - in not cutting costs they lose business and often end up closing. Competition is tougher for them because someone is always willing to adopt these dangerous practices in the hope that they will secure a large order from these large conglomerates.

A prime example of this is Rana Plaza, where 1,129 people were killed making it the worst disaster in textile history. One of the scariest lessons we have to learn from this disaster is that workers had already pointed to the serious cracks in the building. They had already noted that the building was structurally unsafe, and yet they were forced to re-enter. Many survivors wonder how they could be forced to return to work when management knew about the cracks in the building, and concerns of workers on the day of the collapse.

More disaster stories in garment factories monopolized the news from 2013 onwards, now three of the four worst tragedies in fashion history occurred in 2013 to 2014.

Yet, while the growing death toll increased profits continued to grow!
The following year after the Rana Plaza disaster, profits hit an all time high for the fashion industry. 

Listening to alternative opinions (however un-ethical they are):

The most obvious questions surrounding ethical fashion include: Why can the industry not support their workers properly? Why is it not able to ensure their safety? Why is it unable to ensure that while it is generating these huge profits they don’t feel compelled to safeguard their most valuable asset, their workers? Surely we are talking about basic human rights.

People constantly justify the ethical cost by economic benefits generated.

One argument is that "sweatshops" are not only the least bad option for the workers and that it is part of a process that raises living standards and leads to higher wages and better working conditions.

It is also argued that in the fashion industry "there is nothing inherently dangerous in sewing clothes", it's not like coal mining or other industries that are much more dangerous.

Some people believe that sweatshops and their employee’s lifestyles only seem so bad in comparison to our day-to-day life and that actually, for them it is the best alternative.

"The immediate causes of development are physical capital, technology and human capital and worker skills. When they workshops to those countries, the three elements bring these workers and begin to put that process in motion."

In conclusion, low wages, unsafe conditions and disasters in factories appear to be justified by the need to create jobs for people without alternatives.

Identifying the problems, one at a time:

One of the main problems we have in the current fashion model is that the only thing that matters to these fashion companies is profit - not taking into account the bigger picture, like the price of polluting the water and the unethical use of the labour force.
The fashion industry uses (abuses) a wealth of natural resources that are difficult to measure, they assume that they will be around forever.
This is the reason that the fashion industry today is the second most polluting industry on earth, second only to the oil industry.

We must realise that our lives depend on the economy of nature first. It is the most enormous economy we have but we appear to be the most blind to its value.
Also another factor we appear to ignore is the issue of GDP (gross domestic product) that only measures trade and it has become a commodity.

Many of the resources we use to make our clothes cannot be justified when weighing it against the huge cost to our planet.
If you factor in the water used to produce clothing, land used to grow the fibre, chemicals used for dyeing, the harmful chemicals, or the dangerous levels of emissions from greenhouse gases, it is evident that all these components come at a huge environmental cost to the planet.

A good example of the disastrous exploitation of our natural resources can be seen in Kanpur, India and the Ganges River, which is the most sacred river for 800 million Hindus.
The growing demand for inexpensive materials such as leather has made Kanpur the capital of leather exports from India, also meaning that Leather factories in Kanpur are polluting this river everyday - more than 50 million litres of toxic wastewater leaving local tanneries and entering the Ganges River. Chemical complexes used to treat leather, such as chromium-6, flow into local agriculture and even drinking water.

In places like Kanpur, hidden from the rest of the world, the bigger picture costs cannot be equated with money, these practices are ruining all the surrounding life - human, animal the environmental.

"As companies in the global fashion industries grow to an enormous size and gain unprecedented global power. This term profit at all costs, is beginning to be opposed openly to the values we share."

Questioning capitalism (it’s an environmental documentary, it has to be done):

Economist Richard Wolff , graduated from Harvard, Stanford and Yale and became convinced that the real problem it is within the system itself.

"So the United States became a peculiar country. You could criticize the educational system to improve schools. You could criticize the transport system to work best. But you could not fault the economic system. That had free pass. You could not criticize ... And if not critical thing for 50 years, it rots, it decomposes.

One of the ways that a healthy society works It is subjected to criticism of its component systems, to discuss it and hopefully fix it, or improve it or make it better.

You could not question capitalism. Capitalism is the reason whereby the fashion industry is as today. It is the reason why so little is paid to workers in Bangladesh. Because if you're operating in a capitalist system, the most important thing to do is to create benefits and you need to create more profits than its competitors. And this is what drives companies to keep wages low and getting lower."

Before you can solve a problem, you first of all have to acknowledge that the problem exists.

We should at least have a national or international debate on the subject, I think we have to think long and hard on alternative systems that might work better. For the environment, the big threat is that capital believes it should continue to expand infinitely to survive. You cannot have any limit to its expansion and growth. The natural world clearly has limits. There are definite limits on how it can support the world in terms of production, in terms of trade, in terms of transport and distribution. And it is clear that we have already exceeded many of these limits that is why we are seeing so much tension in the natural world right now.

Most people do not want to live in a system like this. I think it's a system that makes most people very unhappy, and I do not think people want to live on a planet that is dying slowly or to be exploiting their neighbours. I think we need a huge systemic change. If the system does not change, it will be left to these companies to continue to exploit the world’s natural resources at the cost to the environment, this means that a small group of executives and shareholders will continue unchallenged in their pursuit of profit ‘at all costs’ without any consideration to the destruction of the natural world.

To conclude: 

We may just be at the beginning of a turning point, not only for the fashion industry, but for a new set of systems and a new economy.

We need to allow benefits to be shared globally, in an orderly fashion, reasonably and carefully.

We must recognise that capital is only money. But that money is a means, and people should be accountable for how it is used.

We have to look at the earth as more than just a planet, but as the very basis of our life, as Mother Earth.

The fashion industry is too important in our everyday lives for it to be dismissed. It has too much impact on millions of people around the world with common resources for us to forget about its problems.

Despite all the problems that seem to excel and beyond our control, maybe we could start here, opening a conversation about our clothing that goes beyond the colours and the pretty details and dives in to the long-lasting consequences and devastating impacts.

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth... these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women's empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”

Ban Ki-moon


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