April 24th marks the 3rd anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, which killed over 1,000 apparel factory workers in Bangladesh. Although this was an especially dramatic and tragic reminder of the risk involved in apparel production, it is not the only tragedy, and unfortunately hundreds of workers have been killed in tragic incidents, especially fires, in factories both before and since Rana Plaza. Apparel workers are at high risk for accidents, injury from both equipment accidents and repetitive strain, and illness, such as respiratory disease from breathing in dust or health problems from exposure to toxic dyes. All of this in exchange for notoriously low wages, long hours, and few social benefits.
In the apparel industry, labor abuse and low wage are the norm. Even in countries that have decent labor laws, enforcement is often poor and workers still suffer. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a report confirming widespread labor rights violations in Peru.
It doesn’t have to be this way. An increasing number of people are joining the movement to demand an apparel sector based on transparency and dignity. A coalition of movement leaders have designated April 18-24, 2016 Fashion Revolution Week. During this week, consumers around the world will ask apparel brands “Who Made My Clothes” (follow on social media using #whomademyclothes). This simple question let’s brands know we care who made our clothes and demand transparency and respect.
The apparel sector is in need of complete upheaval, as the Fashion Revolution platform indicates, nothing short of a revolution. This will include changes in government regulations and enforcement, better international cooperation including better trade deals, brands that can trace their supply chains and support workers and independent worker organizations, and cultural shifts so that we value how our clothes are made and by who.
Though this may seem daunting, we can all dive in and join the movement. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Learn more about the apparel industry. A good place to start is the documentary The True Cost. The International Labor Rights Forum and Clean Clothes Campaign are also great sources of information as well as action alerts.
- Ask your favorite brand who made your clothes and demand transparency and fair treatment of workers. The Fashion Revolution platform has templates and talking points, or you can go to your favorite brand’s website directly, hit the contact button, and speak your mind. Brands need to know how many consumers want better from all of our clothes.
- Make your clothes last longer; buy fewer articles of clothing. Fast fashion and the throwaway mentality require a system of cheap clothing made quickly, supporting low wages and dangerous factory conditions. Step out of the cycle by making your clothes last longer and buying fewer clothes. Some ways to do this include mending clothes instead of throwing them away, washing clothes less often so that they last longer, developing your own unique style so you are less reliant on keeping up with the season’s fashion, participating in clothing exchanges, and shopping at thrift stores. See Green America for some tips.
- When you do need to purchase new clothes, shift your purchases to brands that are making an impact. See our list to get you started.
- Get involved in policy activism. One current pressing issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement that would drive the race to the bottom, threatening ethical brands’ viability and shifting apparel work to the countries with the lowest wages and human rights protection. Currently Congress does not have enough support to pass the TPP, but we need to keep it that way. Tell Congress no TPP until it is a fair deal for all, including the most vulnerable workers in the apparel sector.
Now that you have some ideas about how to engage in the movement for a fashion revolution, visit our action page and tell us what you are already doing or what you can commit to do now. If we all join together, we can create a just apparel sector!