The Real Price of Cheap Clothes

By: Nicole Mclaren

In the U.S. we are lucky to have somewhat reasonable and protective labor laws. While there is room for improvement we have more protections as workers than people in other parts of the world. In the textile/cloth making industry, there has been a long fight for safe working conditions. Many of these textile factories are in developing countries like Bangladesh. In 2013 a factory collapsed and killed over 1000 factory workers. The factory was used to make clothing for Western companies including Walmart. This coupled with Bangladesh having some of the worst minimum wage laws in the world creates an unsafe and unsustainable work environment. This directly impacts many women in Bangladesh because they are the ones who hold these jobs.

The Fair Labor Association found that the wages that Bangladeshi factory workers make is below the world poverty line. In recentmonths workers have been organizing themselves and from December 11th to the 19th of 2016 they went on strike forhigher wages. The strike took place in 20 factories that produce clothing for global brands. The government immediately cracked down on labor organizers and activists in the country as a way to silence the factory workers. The companies that exploit this labor to produce clothes include H&M, Gap and other international brands. After the government crackdown against activists there has been a push from these companies to the government to address the low wages. While this seems like a step in the right direction it is also the responsibility of the companies to pay their workers a fair wage and to understand what their workers need.

As consumers we are also in a place of power to influence the companies and governments that make these decisions that impact people’s lives even across the globe. The market for cheap clothes is both out of necessity, because our wages do not allow us to make a different choice but also are value system. Being a more conscious consumer is an obligation we have to our fellow women and men. Pushing these companies and/or governments to respect the rights of these humans is easier said than done but there are ways to get involved. One organization to look into is United Students against Sweatshops http://usas.org/. You can become a member, start a chapter in your community or join a chapter near you.