Ethics in Fashion: Labor and Environmental Concerns

The True Cost of Labor:

In the past few years, we’ve heard of several buildings collapsing in India, as well as stories of workers being burned alive after having been locked inside factories that caught fire.  Underpaid, beaten, and forced to work in terrible conditions within dilapidated or unstructurally sound buildings, factory workers toil away to construct the clothing we buy at a low price, but a high cost- that of their lives.

We don’t like to hear of, read about, or face the realities of our actions, purchases, or those of the brands we love and wear.  When skinning animals alive is discussed of the fur trade, people scoff it off, put it out of their minds- perhaps if you watched the graphic video in which those animals are left alive and piled up in flatbeds, skinless, you’d feel more guilty in your fur vests and jackets Cruella.

What about the human lives lost?  It’s easy to focus on the fun, the good, the light hearted, and the #Trending topics, but we must acknowledge that our purchases, our dollar, are what contributes to and allow for such mistreatment, abuse, slaughter, and supports its continuation.

“It’s estimated that one in every six people alive in the world today work in some part of the  global fashion industry, making it the most labor-dependent industry on earth.”

Environmental Effects:

The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, following the oil industry.

GMO’s are being used more increasingly, Pesticides and chemicals are being sprayed on millions of acres, nitrogen fertilizers have been used since the 50’s…the environmental effects are evident in the disease, deformities, and cancer affecting people and children in surrounding areas.

BT Cotton is a GMO modified with bacteria in order to ward off pests, says environmental activist Vandana Shiva, who goes on to explain that the profitability of patenting of the seed is further motivation.  “By patenting these genetically modified plants, Monsanto has become the largest seed and chemical corporation in history.”  The idea is monopolizing the seeds within the farming industry, forcing them to repurchase seeds each time they harvest; furthermore, the GMO’s don’t truly ward off pests, and farmers are forced to use pesticides after purchasing the astronomically more expensive seeds.

This process is not only of environmental concern, but it comes full circle back to the abuse of people and laborers, including “birth defects, cancers, and mental illness.”   But that’s not all, those companies that patent the seeds and chemicals patent the medications used to treat the cancer and illness they’ve caused, profiting further off of those they’ve abused.Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 3.07.03 AM.png

(Screenshot from The True Cost, showing a child using a walker)

Disposable fashion, the effect of the fashion cycle being reduced from six months down to a week or two, with innovative companies like Zara and its just in time (J.I.T.) strategy revolutionizing the industry, is actually causing for land-fills to be strewn with massive quantities of clothing that does not biodegrade for over 200 years. Water sources and soil are polluted with chemicals used to treat and dye fabrics and tan leather.

See my previous post on Ethics in Beauty and Fashion

(For more information, watch The True Cost on Netflix/Amazon/iTunes, and visit

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