Tag Archives: Fair Labor

Learning from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

“The Triangle Shirtwaist incident is remembered for its shocking brutality: On March 25, 1911, a ferocious fire broke out at a factory on the ninth floor of a building in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Some of the exits and stairwells had been locked to prevent workers from taking breaks or stealing, leaving many unable to get out. As a result, 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, died within 20 minutes. They were burned alive, asphyxiated by smoke or died trying to escape out of the windows and balcony.” -Huffington Post

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The anniversary of this tradegy reminds us how important it is to protect the fair labor of factory workers. Even though we are not even close to where we should be when it comes to fair labor practices (especially 103 years post Triangle Shirtwaist Fire incident), there are a few commendable organizations who fight to promote fair labor in the fashion industry:

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is an independent labor rights monitoring organization, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. Our purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products.

The WRC conducts independent, in-depth investigations; issues public reports on factories producing for major brands; and aids workers at these factories in their efforts to end labor abuses and defend their workplace rights. The WRC is proud to have the support of over 175 college and university affiliates and our primary focus is the labor practices of factories that make university-related apparel.

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)* to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor. The administrator for OSHA is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA’s administrator answers to the Secretary of Labor, who is a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States.

Labour Behind the Label supports garment workers’ efforts worldwide to improve their working conditions, through awareness raising, information provision and encouraging international solidarity between workers and consumers.

Members include trade unions and their local branches, consumer organisations, campaign groups, and charities.

These organisations work together, through Labour Behind the Label, to achieve four aims:

1. Raise public awareness and mobilise consumers.
2. Pressure companies to take responsibility for workers’ rights in the entirety of their supply chains.
3. Support workers in their struggles for decent working conditions, including speaker tours and urgent appeals.
4. Lobby governments and policy makers to bring about change.

Eco Fashion World’s GUIDE is your essential resource to sustainable designer brands and online eco fashion stores. Click on any search button above to help you find what you’re looking for. Being a green shopper and a sustainable fashionista has never been so easy.

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Black Friday Fury

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As the majority of Americans desperately search for the best post-Thanksgiving bargain, trampling fellow frugal fiends to be the first to grab branded merchandise at offensively discounted prices like 80% off, the UK celebrates “Buy Nothing Day.” This anti-spending movement combats the gluttony spill over from Thursday’s calorie intake to Friday’s credit card limits that has become “tradition” in so many American households. While in reality this is not expected to take hold in the US, at least there is the gaining movement of Small Business Saturday, encouraging consumers to support their local community if they are going to participate in Black Friday douchebaggery, I mean, debauchery.

Despite these efforts, the fact remains that consumer demand for cheap is causing mass destruction. The current Black Friday Death Count reports 7 deaths and 90 injuries to date, including instances of people being trampled to death, stabbed, and even shot. Devastating…disgusting…dismal, but it doesn’t even breach the surface of the monumental devastation that is derived from this insane demand. As retailers are forced to keep up with competitors, slashing prices to accommodate the insatiable consumer drive for cheap and available goods, the true cost is in the livelihood of the workers who actually make the products.

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“The downward spiral of cheap clothing has led to a situation where the people who make our clothes are paid starvation wages and can’t afford to eat or to feed their children. This has to end.” said Anna McMullen, author of “Shop ‘Til They Drop,” a report studying the widespread factory faintings that have been plaguing the Cambodian factory industry in recent years. The report is an in-depth study of the factors contributing to these widespread faintings (up to 300 workers collapsing at one time on factory floors), with findings reporting extreme malnutrition of workers and an analysis as to why this is so. It’s no surprise the variety of factors triggering these faintings include poor working conditions such as overheating, exhaustion from working overtime with no breaks, no access to water, chemical exposure, etc., but the underlying nutritional deficit was the fundamental cause.

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The report gathered data that showed Cambodian factory workers consume less than half the recommended amount for a diet suitable for their 10 hour day of industrial work. The reason why lies in the incredibly low wages they are forced to accept as payment for their tireless work:

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You aren’t doing it directly, but if you play into the buy-cheap-buy-more milieu, you are just as bad as the unremorseful woman who stabbed innocent strangers for the last Xbox. Every time you decide to buy a cheap trend from a chain retailer, you are showing that a cheap find is more important than a human’s well being, like these Cambodian garment workers.

Don’t let the %off sale signs blindside you, be cognizant of your actions – if a price seems “too good to be true,” it most likely is. Don’t buy superfluous objects just to fill a stocking, make something from the heart or go downtown and support your local artists. Don’t buy into the Black Friday Fury.

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I can get 5 shirts at Forever 21 for the same price as 1 shirt from an independent designer, why bother buying indie?

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Yes, it’s true that trendy looks can be found for super cheap at fast fashion stores and large chain retailers like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M. However, it is important to think about what is being perpetuated when people choose to give their money to these types of retailers over supporting more small time, independent designers. Fast fashion and large chain store retailers are focused on one thing and one thing only: the bottom line. Getting fads out as quickly as possible at the cheapest price is their main business agenda, and in doing so they promote a destructive shopping culture and seriously hurt the success of independent designers who promote innovative design and positive business practices.

– Forging Authenticity –

Forever 21 has been sued over 50 times for copyright infringement; the fast fashion retailer has blatantly knocked off designs from big name brands like Diane Von Furstenburg and Betsey Johnson to smaller, independent designers like Trovata and Foley + Corinna. This is one of the many unethically sound ways these types of retailers are able to keep their prices super cheap. Knocking off from other designer’s work allows these companies to avoid having to pay a creative team of designers, thereby allowing them to charge less for their products. What’s worse is that the courts almost always side with the copycat. Since copyright laws are so complicated when it comes to fashion, the stealing of designs is really hard to nail down. By buying into these cheap knockoffs, design integrity is compromised. What was once a gorgeous, highly detailed design with amazing drape and feel becomes a low quality look-a-like with shotty craftsmanship, void of almost all stylistic detailing. The originality and innovation that went into the design is diluted when cheap knock-offs become representative of the original look – hurting the success of the designer who exerted time, energy, and dedication to creating the concept. The mentality of, “If I can get the same look for $100 less, why buy the real thing?” is detrimental to an independent label.

– Lacking in Longevity –

Fast fashion retailers and chain stores make products from the lowest quality materials they can get away with, resulting in a super short lifespan of the product. Ingenious from a strictly business perspective: the cheap products last just about as long as the trend and when they fall apart, consumers simply throw them away and replace them with next weeks cheap fad… a never ending cycle of robotic (ergo thoughtless) consumption.

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Purchasing from an indie brand, however, you can be sure that true thought, time, and energy went into every aspect of the design. Materials are hand chosen and each stitch is placed with precision. Independent brands are focused on creating products that last. Yes, they will be more expensive, but that is because they are made from quality materials that will not fall apart after a few wears and washes. So, even though it may feel like you are spending less by opting to buy cheaper items, in the long run you save more by investing in more expensive, higher quality items that last.

– Humanitarianism –

It is no secret that big chain retailers use large factories, usually overseas (even though Forever 21’s factories are actually in LA), where workers are paid practically nothing for their labor and forced to work long hours in horrible working conditions. This is another major way they are able to keep prices so low, and so long as people’s buying choices revolve around the price tag, these retailers will continue to get away with exploitive practices.

Smaller, independent designers are much more in tune with the consequences of their business practices. Because the designer plays multiple roles in the business, they have a hand in each step of production from design, to manufacturing, to the end sale. Independent designers have a focus that is lost in large retail corporations – they make it a point to be responsible with their business. Many even take it a step further by using their business to give back.

– Voting With Your Dollar –

The next time you are choosing where to shop, remember that you are really voting with your dollar. Do you want to promote mass-produced, low quality fashion fads that rely on the exploitation of workers, or do you want to support original designers who use their business for good? The choice is yours.

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Two Months Later: A Look at the Bangladesh Catastrophe

126692804_01_407688bSince 24th April this year Bangladesh has been at the forefront of fashion and business news. The tragedy of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, which killed over 1,000 people and injured more than 2,000, has meant that garment factories have been a big issue for retailers and fashion businesses.

The Rana Plaza disaster happened at a pivotal time in social history. Many people around the world have been hit by a tough economy, and they’re thinking more carefully before buying anything, both of their own need, and the value of their products. Longevity of items, and where they have come from, are very important factors to a lot of consumers.

Additionally, social media is at its peak, and instant news has had a profound affect on the way information is digested. Just looking at the global response to the tragic events at the Boston Marathon this year, makes you realise that everybody feels connected, and reacts together.

When you combine these two things, consumer awareness and instant news, it shows that when something goes wrong in the production chain, it has huge consequences. Consumers are asking more questions, and making big businesses feel uneasy. With personal budgets tighter than they’ve been for years, it’s easier for people to change their shopping habits, to turn away from companies and brands because of how they operate.

If something like the Rana Plaza catastrophe had happened 15 or 20 years ago, would we even have heard about it? More than likely, the major corporations would have hidden it away, subduing any reports. Now that we have the ability to be connected with the other side of the world in moments, these companies have nowhere to hide.

This isn’t to say that all big businesses are corrupt, and forcing people to work at a rate barely above slave labour. With the cost of living being more tightly monitored by individuals, there have been more ethical and responsible companies emerging. They understand that the attitudes towards instant and throwaway fashion are changing, albeit slowly and in very small increments. These companies might be charging more for their wares, but that’s because the materials were bought for a fair price, and the people who made them were paid more than $60 a month. We now have the opportunity to learn what fashion is worth to each of us.

Sadly, for a lot of people, the cost of these ethical products is prohibitive. One of the positive things to come from the Rana Plaza collapse is that politicians and governments are now seeing the responses from social medias, and understand that these are things their people feel strongly about. It would be nice if we lived in a world where governments were governed by their own morals, but unfortunately, they rely on the morals of their voters. Right now, their voters want change and help for the garment workers, so they are acting.

In the months since the collapse, the government in Bangladesh has voted to increase the minimum wage for factory workers, and to allow them to form unions without the prior consent of the factory owners. BEGMA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) have announced that the factories within it’s association must sign up to a worker database, to give security to casual workers and keep a real time track of the employment levels.

As recently as within the last week, the US President announced that they will be ending duty-free trade privileges over their concerns into dangerous working conditions and worker rights. This is a bold move for the US, and one that has caused anger in Bangladesh, which feels that America is ignoring the recent changes instigated by the Bangladesh government, which is working hard to protect its citizens.

Feelings are that the EU will soon follow suit with this change in commerce, as they often do after the US makes a change of this magnitude. It often takes one definitive stand before change can start, but we can only hope that the garment industry in Bangladesh can survive long enough to repair itself.

With all of these changes and work from a high level, its clear to see that everybody felt the pain and loss from April, and want to help make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s only been two months since the Rana Plaza disaster so it’s too soon to tell if any of these changes are working. We might not know for some time if they will work, but it cannot continue as it is, and at least in the mean time every one who can do, is doing something.

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It’s Not Always Super Being a Model

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As part of the 6-point ‘Health Pact’ initiated by Vogue magazine, models under the age of 16 and those who appear to have an eating disorder will no longer be used in their publications, “in an attempt to encourage a healthier attitude to body image within the fashion industry and amongtheir readers”.

The editors of all 19 editions of Vogue are spearheading the movement in order to address the criticisms the fashion industry has received for promoting ill-health with the use of too many I-can-see-every-bone-in-your-body-skinny models.

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A recent survey conducted by the Model Alliance, a group advocating the rights of models, found that about 87% have been asked to pose nude at a casting or job without advance notice. This statistic becomes even more sickening when combined with the fact that most models start their career before the age of 16.

The survey also found that only 29% felt they could tell their agency if they were experiencing sexual harassment and more than two thirds (68%) suffer from anxiety or depression.

As part of their health pact initiative, Vogue also is asking modeling agencies not to “knowingly” send them underage girls and are requesting that casting directors check models’ ages when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.

It’s a little startling that this “health pact”, where it seems the magazine is simply requiring agencies and directors to treat the models to their basic human rights as workers, is just coming into effect now. Vogue says they are also requiring healthier backstage working conditions at shows and shoots, including providing models with healthy food options and respecting their privacy.

Respecting their privacy? Addressing this problem indicates some major oppression and objectification when it comes to how the models are viewed and treated by those who are supposed to be their peers.

It makes you wonder what goes on behind the facade of glitz and glamour that makes the life of a model look so desirable and tantalizing.

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