The fashion industry has managed to make stratospheric profits by producing affordable trendy clothes and lots of them. These profits are made possible by thousands of workers who labor in sweatshops for pennies an hour. “Fast fashion” as it is called, is made largely overseas where human rights take a back seat to production and profit.
What social responsibility do companies like the Gap and Wal-Mart owe to their workers? One of the top documentary films of 2015, The True Cost, will inform you and inspire you to write your next research paper.
The True Cost film
The fashion industry works to drive the desire for the new and chic. Each runway event is a glittering show of pomp where designers are revered for their artistic expressions. But behind the curtain is a world of poverty and exploitation, waste and greed. This is the message at the heart of the film, The True Cost.
Todd Plummer described the film in a June 17, 2015, article for Style.com, “‘The True Cost’ Explores the Global Impact of Fast Fashion.”
According to Plummer, the film opened with several stunning facts including:
- One in six people on earth are somehow involved in the fashion industry
- Today 97% of America’s clothes are made abroad
- The fashion industry sector is the second most polluting industry on earth
Today, because of affordable fashion, we buy and discard our clothing on a regular basis. The clothes are cheaper but that very fact makes us buy and toss them faster. No wonder two of the richest men in the world own Fast Fashion clothing producers, Zara and H&M.
You can watch The True Cost on Netflix, Amazon Instant, iTunes or VHX.
The fashion industry
You’ll find plenty of resources on fashion design and more at Questia. Moreover, you’ll find in-depth analysis of the theory and practice of the fashion business.
One example is the article, “Sneakers and Sweatshops: Holding Corporations Accountable,” by David M. Schilling. This article was originally published in the October 9, 1996, issue of The Christian Century.
The article described the scandal that erupted when child labor violations were associated with brands sold under the Kathie Lee Gifford label. At that time Gifford was on a successful run as co-host of the television show, “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee.” She was also publicly involved as a children’s advocate working with the Department of Labor to end sweatshop conditions in the U.S. and abroad.
That Gifford could unwittingly support oppressive work practices illustrates how pervasive the problem is. Schilling explained the disconnect between retailers and the exploitation behind their products.
“Companies typically distance themselves from responsibility for workplace conditions and low wages by contending they do not own or operate these facilities. Yet their orders enable these facilities to operate,” Schilling said.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Fashion designers often fail to take into consideration the impact of their decisions. Every step from growing and processing the fiber to completing a finished garment, packaging, shipping and selling it to the consumer has environmental and social implications.
Ever since the Gifford scandal in 1996, corporations have attempted to practice more social responsibility. Yet, in 2013 a clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 700. Why does the suffering continue?
Christine Bader looked for answers in her May 7, 2013, article for TheGuardian.com, “The Bangladesh factory collapse: why CSR is more important than ever.”
Reasons for lack of success in CSR included:
- Customers who say they’ll pay more for sustainable goods but don’t
- Corrupt inspectors who fail to report abuses
Suggestions for improvements to CSR practices included:
- Elevate human rights decisions to the boardroom
- Vigilance by the media
According to Bader, “We need to hear from the people promoting safer, more responsible practices inside companies, why they fail and what they need to succeed. It is a matter of life and death.”
Do you think there should be more regulation of the fashion industry? Tell us what you think in the comments.