When you wake up, are you ever aware how you usually finish your day? Perhaps you are ready to go to school to learn something new; perhaps you are enjoying your delicious meals. Perhaps you are going to go shopping or watch movies with your best friends. When you think what to do during your next few hours in life, remember that there is also a large group of children who are younger than your siblings or family friends, but they’re working overtime; up to 16 hours, seven days a week (Gentleman). In 2011, reporters even found out a case of Thai laborers that were imprisoned in El Monte, near Los Angeles.
The Labor Department admitted that the workers earned $1. 60 an hour. Also according to the Labor Department, more than half of the 22,000 garment contractors that exist in the United States, despite their policies that say otherwise, practice the abuse of human rights by paying their workers very little wage and forcing them to work in inhumane conditions (Ramishvili). These children laborers are scattered across the globe. Every day, they don’t see any hope when they get up; they only see their heavy workload. Some of them might think that they still could have a better life through these inhuman jobs.
But the truth is that a better future for them has never been farther away. When you are reading this, you might wonder which companies and people are abusing these child laborers. Surprisingly, many are your favorite brands, include Reebok, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, Wal-Mart, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Guess, and Gap, to name a few (Ramishvili). We always feel excited about their quality and price when we go shopping. However, the reality is that the value we receive is paid by for by these child laborers’ childhoods.
The price is absolutely unworthy. When I researched more about the fashion industry, I found that these poor child laborers aren’t the only one who pays a price, because we also are unintentionally involved with this hunger game. “Of all the factories we have been to over the past few years, we have never before seen such large-scale pollution. The samples of wastewater taken on site have proven to be some of the most toxic testing results we have seen,” said Yifang Li, toxicity campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, reading from his team’s statistical analysis.
Their report “Toxic Threads: Putting Pollution on Parade,” details how facilities are exploiting complex wastewater systems to hide scrutiny of their manufacturing processes. The pollution is coming from textile manufacturing plants in China that are part of the supply chain for Levi’s, GAP and Calvin Klein, among many others in the clothing industry. Water samples from the two largest communal wastewater treatment plants show that processed effluent contains toxic, cancer-causing chemicals, at least some of which are persistent and bio-accumulative.
People that live there are so concerned about their health that they rely on the local government to deliver drinking water (“Push for World’s Clothing Manufacturers to Clean Up Global Supply Chain. “). “Many international brands, such as Levi’s, source their products from facilities within such Industrial Zones, yet identifying whether individual suppliers are responsible for releasing hazardous substances in their effluent is almost impossible.
This provides a convenient smokescreen for unacceptable environmental practices at individual facilities, including the use and discharge of hazardous chemicals, by the global textile industry,” says Li. As those who advocated for organic cotton and sustainably produced textiles for years know, hazardous chemicals remain on conventional textiles even after being sold at the retail level. Chemical residues enter water systems when textiles are washed. “Along with setting short term timelines to eliminate the worst hazardous chemicals, brands must require their suppliers to publicly disclose releases of these chemicals.
Both are key steps to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and Greenpeace will continue to expose brands that do not take responsibility for every stage of their supply chain,” says Martin Hojsik, Greenpeace International Detox Campaign Coordinator (“Push for World’s Clothing Manufacturers to Clean Up Global Supply Chain. “). This isn’t the first report Greenpeace has issued on the subject. Last year, its report, “Dirty Laundry,” linked companies and suppliers to the release of hazardous and hormone-disrupting chemicals into Chinese rivers.
Companies also formed the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to take concerted action. Their Higgs Index, released this summer after two years of development, is meant to help clothing and shoe retailers assess the environmental impact of brands they sell. Yet another Greenpeace investigation, Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-up, shows there are plenty of hazardous substances used around the world in the textile industry. An April 2012 investigation in which Greenpeace bought 141 articles of clothing from 29 countries around the world found toxic materials in about two-thirds of the items.
Greenpeace is particularly focused on Levi Strauss at the moment because it found industrial wastewater dumping in Mexico by two of the country’s biggest textile manufacturing facilities, both of which are Levi’s suppliers. Other brands linked to the facility include Calvin Klein, LVMH, Guess, Gap and Walmart. The findings are published in Toxic Threads: Under Wraps. “This is some of the worst water pollution from the textile industry Greenpeace has found in Mexico,” says Pierre Terras, toxics campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Mexico. These facilities are so secretive that Greenpeace had to force the government to disclose even the most basic information about what sort of toxic cocktail was being dumped into our water and who was responsible. ” (“Push for World’s Clothing Manufacturers to Clean Up Global Supply Chain. “) As we read the statistics in the previous paragraphs, we find that our food, water and clothing we use everyday have been silently affecting our health and that of the next generation. Moreover, our government will also have to pay a high price to solve the pollution and pay for medical expenses in the future. We seem to enjoy the fun of shopping.
And we seem to make money and fulfill our passion as designers. But in fact, we actually pay more in costs than we earn, because we are also accomplices. Each design and purchase we make could create another child labor issue and cause serious pollution. As a result, is there any way that we could pursue our passion, have income and make the world better at the same time? The great news is that the answer is absolutely YES. I would like to share two amazing examples with you. The first comes from a British fashion brand called Beulah London, founded by Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs who is Duchess of Cambridge Catherine’s good friend.
She was just like one of the girls from the TV show Gossip Girl, who often spent time at parties of Prince William and Harry. About five years ago, she decided to change her life direction and started helping people in need. She first became a volunteer helping homeless people, and later flew to India for two months as a volunteer teacher with her best friends in 2009. However, she soon noticed that many of her students had suddenly dropped out of school and she never saw those students in class again. After she had been in India longer, she discovered that was a serious human trafficking problem in India.
Domestic traffickers tend to target women, children and poor people. And, the victims include men, women and children. They often sold their victims into hard labor or prostitution. NGOs estimate this has affected up to 65 million Indian people. In addition to the domestic population, many of the women in the sex industry in India have been trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh. For example, Nepalese children are sold to an Indian circus. There are Indian women sold into prostitution in Western Asia. After learning about human trafficking in India, Isaacs decided to start an ethical fashion brand.
Basically, ethical fashion means providing textile employees with proper treatment and working environments. Their products are also involved with environmental issues and animal rights (Vince). Moreover, Isaacs hires women who have escaped trafficking and the sex trade, including some who are HIV positive and widowed. She offers them a reasonable salary in order to avoid becoming the target of traffickers again. Currently, her ethical fashion brand already has won over many high-profile clients, such as Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Natalia Vodianova, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Pippa Middleton (Nieto).
Another example is the American brand Indigenous. Its founders Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds traveled to Ecuador 18 years ago. They noted that local women in Ecuador have great sewing and knitting skills. However, their knitting and sewing skills weren’t improving their financial situation. Therefore, Leonard and Reynolds began to plan an effective business strategy around their high quality materials, technical assistance and these ladies’ exquisite design. They should be able to improve their life greatly and save them from their economically disadvantaged situation. After his trip, he established a “Feel Good Fashion” brand Indigenous.
In addition to the implementation of fair-trade practices, Indigenous only uses natural, low impact dyes and materials such as organic cotton as clothing materials. Moreover, they encourage his employees to ride their bicycle to work. Their office uses solar sustainable power as well. Indigenous has even developed an app called the Fair Trade Tool, so that consumers can scan the QR code to find information about their clothing, including its manufacturer, provenance, materials, and how green the manufacturing processes was. This effort has also led Indigenous to become the first Fair Trade Certified apparel manufacturer in America.
In order to reach more business and consolidate their target consumers, one third of their employees are fashion designers. Therefore, Indigenous can keep track of fashion trends and always deliver the most updated fashion styles and best design to their customers. Because of their decent designs, organic materials, reasonable prices, and ethical consumption as an added value, Indigenous now is sold in over five hundred locations, including many top department stores, such as Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Nordstrom (“Green Clothing Maker Indigenous Designs Puts Fashion First. ). Perhaps you are a student who would like to become a fashion designer or fashion scientist in the future. Perhaps you are already a professional in the industry, like me. The reason I am writing this article is because I would like you pay attention to these issues in our industry. We should be aware of them and face them head on. Also, I would like to have you spend some time to see if your designs and products contain any chemical toxins that could affect your customers’ health, and making sure that your manufacturing partners do not run factories that employ child labor.
In the past, we might think that doing good comes from donations or volunteering to worthy causes. However, Indigenous and Beulah London successfully show us how to create a future and hope in our society while we are pursuing our passions and dreams. Your actions really can make a big difference to our world in a positive way. Let’s join together to do something for our society. I believe that we’ll be amazing together!