Clothing industry employees millions worldwide, from farmers producing cotton and other fabrics to garment makers in factories. Unfortunately, fast fashion is having an enormously negative effect on these workers; production often occurs in countries with lax labor laws or workplace regulations which lead to poor working conditions for employees as well as their exploitation. Furthermore, fast fashion contributes significantly to textile waste pollution which puts additional pressure on our environment.
At its core, fashion industry is unsustainable and it’s time for consumers to accept some hard truths. An average woman purchases an estimated 68 pieces of clothing annually from fast fashion stores; many consumers purchase fast fashion because it is affordable, trendy, and offers dopamine hits; consumers have become obsessed with keeping up with current styles and trends; in fact, some might say clothing may even define us more than our identities themselves! But that doesn’t mean neglecting appearances!
Garment manufacturers must keep pace with consumer preferences by cutting corners in safety and sustainability measures, often at the expense of garment workers’ rights and wellbeing. Low wages and hastened production often leads to exploitative conditions for garment workers including poverty wages, child labor and physical and sexual abuse.
Fashion brands may claim they care about worker welfare, yet there is much work left to be done. One key change would be for these businesses to provide more transparency about their supply chains – enabling customers to learn about conditions in garment factories and make more ethical purchasing decisions.
Garment producers must also take responsibility for their actions. In July, The Times published a story alleging cramped working conditions and below living wage pay at one of Boohoo’s factories; following this report the company cancelled stockist orders and launched an inquiry into modern slavery practices. Furthermore, toxic dyes and synthetic fabrics pollute water supplies and cause harm to garment workers.
Garment production’s use of chemicals generates hazardous wastewater that pollutes rivers and lakes in developing nations. Furthermore, garment factories employing these substances pollute the air inside them making breathing difficult – all these aspects combine to make garment production one of the largest global polluters.
Overall, fast fashion’s environmental injustices should be the priority for global environmental justice advocates. While donations and awareness campaigns are positive steps, they do not directly address its underlying causes – unfair production processes, disregard for environmental regulation and poor worker conditions which have an outsized effect in LMICs and need to be addressed within an holistic environmental justice strategy.