Piya, a 25-year-old garment worker in Bangladesh is only one of 215 workers employed in GAPs 21 studied factories who have reported workplace mistreatment. As a sewing machine operator, Pia watched her co-worker, Apa, receive special treatment in the factory they both worked at.
Pia shared that Apa was given flexible hours and the ability to take leave, which is something garment workers are not typically given. Apa shared with Pia that “she was a lucky one”, as the Sample manager of the Factory found her attractive and wanted to go out with her. Doing so, Apa stated, would result in Pia receiving a promotion.
Five months later, after recurrent harassment to go out with her manager, Pia reported her situation with the Ashulia police. Even with proof and witnesses of the harassment she endured, the police department refused to formally file her case.
This is only one example of how there is little advocation or assistance for women abused in the fashion industry. Demographics of these female garment workers show that they are extremely poor, with most being illiterate.
Additionally, a majority of the violence and mistreatment that takes place in these factories is gender-based. Gender-based violence is described as “violence which is directed against a woman, specifically because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately, and as in such a violation of their human rights” (CEDAW).
When we think of fast fashion, it is second nature to think about the climate. Knowing of the waste produced by the industry allows our brains to easily connect fast fashion to the climate crisis because it simply makes sense. When conversations about ethical clothing take place, we highlight the environmental impact, and maybe we imagine what a sweatshop looks like. While we know what climate change can look like, abuse doesn’t have as clear an image.
We are exposed to photos of a dying earth, but rarely are we exposed to images that show the abuse of women in the clothing production industry. While the environment is an extremely important issue, it sometimes overshadows another very important issue.
Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue.
When discussing sustainability, it is important that we are thinking about workers as well. The reason fast fashion thrives is that major companies like H&M, Zara, or Fashion Nova take advantage of the cheap labor, often in developing countries. These workers though have a similarity in common, almost all of them are women. Young women are responsible for manufacturing 80% of our clothing. Nonprofit group Remake, stated that these women are aged 18 to 24. That statistic is just a global average. In specific countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, 80-95% of workers are female.
While the fast fashion industry is a huge cash machine for the CEOs and upper management in this industry, the wealth is not shared with the laborers. The CEO of ZARA, Amancio Ortega is known for his place in the Forbes Richest People in the world. With an estimated net worth of $68.3 billion, Ortega was the second richest person in all of Europe. This is clearly disproportionate to the incomes of female garment workers around. 80% of the people making our clothing are young women, ages 18 to 24, most of whom earn less than $3 a day, according to the nonprofit group Remake.
Wage isn’t the only issue.
On top of being immensely underpaid, female garment workers are exposed to unsafe working conditions, commonly in the factories, they work in. The term “Sweat Shop” is a term the US Department of Labor uses to identify factories that violate two or more labor laws. These “sweatshops” are not only in developing countries, as the United States has factories that fit the criteria of being a sweatshop. Various types of abuse occur in sweatshops around the world. Sexual abuse, harassment, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, no breaks, excessive hours, etc.
There is hope.
Dealing with this issue may be difficult, yet the benefits are endless. Beyond the obvious benefit that women would no longer endure abuse and mistreatment in the workplace, the economy would benefit from equality in the workforce. It is estimated that if by 2025 the world reaches a point of gender employment equality, the global GDP would grow by 26%. An increase in global GDP is an important factor in measuring how well the global economy is doing. GAP, an organization focusing on Gender-Based Violence in Garment Supply Chains has a 50-page detailed report of how this crisis can be addressed.