Anyone who’s ever turned on the TV or swiped through a social media feed knows there’s been an ongoing debate over a need to pay fair wages to factory workers, particularly those who specialize in manufacturing garments. On the one hand, consumers have access to what the industry refers to as “fast fashion,” otherwise known as inexpensive (sometimes downright cheap) clothing that’s at-the-ready within days of a style hitting the runway.
This accessibility comes at a high cost to labourers, though, who aren’t always paid a livable wage and who are often subjected to working in sub par factory conditions.
Cheap Clothes, High Cost
One notable example includes Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory, where workers made garments and accessories for a handful of popular Western brands, including Walmart, Zara, and Benetton. The factory — which had obvious cracks in the walls — crumbled to the ground five years ago this year, killing 1,100 and injuring thousands more.
This is only one example, of course. It’s no secret that other well-known brands, including Nike, Ivanka Trump, and H&M, also source cheap labour from Bangladesh and elsewhere. The Rana Plaza incident, along with other incidents and ongoing subpar conditions, have lit a fire within the industry to do something about low wages and unsafe conditions.
Just 20 Cents
In an effort to increase awareness of exploited labourers — specifically in India — the Fashion Law conducted a study to see just how much more consumers would need to spend in order to improve wages working conditions.
“Our research shows that this only requires a 20-cent increase in the retail price for a T-shirt made in India,” they report. “This small increase can lift wages by up to 225 percent in India, closing the living wage gap for the most vulnerable workers in the supply chain, such as cotton farmers.”
The research is further corroborated by an October 2017 study conducted by Deloitte for Oxfam Australia, which found “a 1 percent increase of retail prices could provide workers with a living wage,” The Cut reported.
In short, this microscopic increase in cost — literally chump change for so many — could make the difference between living below the poverty threshold and being able to support a family for these workers.
A Need for More Transparency
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as slightly increasing the cost of a garment. Many retailers use a complicated supply chain, making it difficult to track how and where materials are sourced to produce garments. The issue, ultimately, is transparency.
After the Rana Plaza event, the NGO Fashion Revolution created the Fashion Transparency Index, which reviews 150 retailers and scores them across five key areas: policy and commitments, governance, traceability, “know, show, and fix,” and spotlight issues. The goal is to shed light onto each company’s policies and practices to see how transparent they are with their customers about materials and labour. In 2018, the average score across retailers was 21% which points to the tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done.
So what can you do? Shop smart. Shop fair. Use your dollars to support retailers that are transparent and who pay labourers — wherever they fall in the supply chain — a living wage and provide them with safe working conditions.