Recently, South Africa hosted the 21st international AIDS conference and one of the guest speakers-Charlize Theron-mentioned a powerful statement in her speech.
“…let’s ask ourselves… Why haven’t we beaten this epidemic?…The real reason we haven’t beaten the epidemic boils down to one simple fact: We value some lives more than others. We value men more than women. Straight love more than gay love. White skin more than black skin. The rich more than the poor. Adults more than adolescents…”
This is true. We value some lives more than others, it’s apparent not only when it comes to dealing with a stigmatic disease but also in the apparel manufacturing industry.
The infographic displayed above highlights the social and environmental costs required to create garments on a mass scale. It also points toward a direction of moving away from these costs, by being aware of 1) the materials used in our clothing and 2) the conditions that people need to work under in order to create the garments we so desire to wear. We could also make a significant difference by supporting brands that are eco-conscious and/or transparent in their dealings with supply chain partners.
Buying clothing that’s cheap (or even expensive in some instances) has a negative effect on employees at the bottom. These folk bear the brunt of our temporarily happy states brought about by the ‘bargain’ offered us as customers or the profits that accumulate for brands. Factory workers have little to no choice in accepting either mimimal pay and/or unreasonable demands of their time and energy in order to fulfill the orders put in by purchasers.
The goal of creating as many garments as possible within the shortest amount of time and at any cost seems more important than the well-being of the factory workers. If this means working in an environment that is unsafe for them, or it means they have to work overtime consistently, so be it. Their livelihood is less important than providing cute outfit options at the cheapest rate possible, or so it would seem.
The apparel manufacturing industry also negatively affects the environment and has been ranked as the second most polluting industry in the world. Chemical treatment is required to create synthetic fibre which has a consequent negative effect on the environment due to the use of raw materials that aren’t renewable, e.g. plastic and crude oil. Textile dyeing leads to pollution of our natural water resources and carbon dioxide emissions leads to a breakdown of our atmosphere.
This begs the question: why are we buying and selling clothes in this manner? Is it because of a true need or a set of wants created by us?
The stakeholders involved in this cycle, e.g. fashion retail brands wants their pockets filled regardless of the cost apparently and we as customers keep consuming without thinking beyond our immediate wants. Studies have shown that we consume 400% more clothing today than we did 20 years ago. Is this really necessary?
I’d like to think if more consumers were aware of the cost it takes to make our clothing, we’d think twice about our purchases and choose instead to support businesses that make a conscious effort in minimising social and environmental costs. If we exercise our buying power in a way that promotes the well-being of all stakeholders, including employees in the factory, it would be in the best interest for businesses to think of more innovative ideas for production and selling of clothing.
This way we would get one step closer towards valuing all life equally and not some lives more than others.
References and sources to read up for more info: