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Business and Ethics of Fashion

ESSAY

Question 5. Discuss the ethical issues surrounding pollution and/or labour exploitation in
relation to the manufacturing/production of mass fashion.

There has been an ample amount of ethical issues surrounding pollution/and or labour
exploitation in relation to the manufacturing/production of mass fashion, a lot of which has
evidently evolved since the introduction of fast fashion.

In this essay, I will be focusing on labour exploitation in the textile industry and also be
discussing the environmental and social impact that surround the ethicality of garment factories
in developing countries particularly in Bangladesh since it is second largest ready-made and
sixth largest exporter of apparel in the world.

The apparel industry has been the main advocate for sweatshops a business that regularly
violates both wage or child labour and safety of health laws. Due to the extremely high demand
of fashion and the constant evolution of such a subject, more and more pressure is added for the
fashion market to produce clothing that will keep up with the trends and the styles. Instead of
two seasons a year, we practically have 52 seasons a year. So we have something new coming in
every week. (The True Cost, 2015) The introduction of fast fashion essentially shifts to create
more room for more products in the fashion market.

Fashion consumerism is the result of unethical issues rising in the textile industry and highlights
labour exploitation. Poverty and abuse in the new sweatshops are not uncommon. If anything, it
is almost encouraged in order for the workers to work faster and harder in order to provide for
the fashion consuming society of the Euro-American culture. Responsibility walks hand in hand
with capacity and power. (Armbruster-Sandoval, 2005, p3) and that is the perfectly summarised
relation between resources and morality. Businesses have more responsibility to produce more
clothing and so they use their capacity and power in a prejudiced manner in order to assert
dominance.

Obtaining cheaper prices for items of clothing are done by procuring the goods in a cheaper
location. Developing nations are the breeding ground for garment factories due to cheap labour
and very little workplace regulations. For example, in Bangladeshs export factories the hours are
long, workers toil in bleak compounds and union rights are pretty much non-existent. Ross and
Trachte (1990) adopted the concept of global scanning when they wrote The global firm is a
design for survival under competitive conditions of the new era. Its ability to scan the globe for
investment possibilities makes possible a rational assignment of resources and a ruthless pursuit
of the exact combination of local policies, labour conditions, transport considerations and so
forth for any commodity or part.

As global free trade increasingly takes centre stage, the income gap between the worlds rich and
poor has accelerated. The wealth of the world is unjustly distributed. The staggering economic
inequality is just this 20% of the worlds population are in possession of 80% of the worlds
wealth. The statistics about the unjust distribution of wealth and the international division of
labour is due to the unequitable mechanisms in terms of operating businesses in third world
countries. Many politicians, corporate executives and academics have praised this global shift
for generating economic growth and creating sorely needed jobs within the developing world.
(Armbruster-Sandoval, 2005, p3)
The Pyramid of Power and Profit (Sweatshop Watch, 2013) illustrates the unfair disadvantages
to garment workers. At the top of the pyramid are the retailers who profit from selling billions of
clothes every year. Below them are the manufacturers who are responsible for selling and
Business and Ethics of Fashion
ESSAY
distributing the finished garments. The contractors and subcontractors perform the most labour
intensive of garment production which is sewing together parts of the garment cut from the
textile. At the bottom of the pyramid are the garment workers who work 14-16 hour days,
receive no minimum wage or paid overtime and face dangerous and unsanitary working
conditions.
Corporations have the ability to transport their business wherever and whenever they feel suits
them. They have organised the capitalist world-system in a manner that gains them the advantage
and generates more and more profit for them. So exploitation in third world countries by big
corporations is ordinary In the West, theyre using everyday low price. So every day theyre
hampering me and Im hampering my workers. This is how it is. (The True Cost, 2015). If
factories fail to meet demands, the big corporations can literally pit vendor against vendor,
country against country (Armbruster-Sandoval, 2005).
It is estimated that a total number of 3.5 million people in Bangladesh are all working in the
4,825 factories that produce garment goods to export in the global market. The vast majority of
workers in the garment industry earn the minimum wage of around 3,000 taka a month which is
approximately 25. But this is far below what is considered the living wage required to provide
the minimum required for a family to shelter, food and education which is calculated to be
around 5,000 taka a month which is approximately 45 (War on Want, 2015).

The manufacturing and production of mass fashion accounted for 45% of all industrial
employment in the country yet only contributed to 5% of Bangladeshs total national income.
There is no national wage. Instead, the wage commissions which convenes every several years,
set wages and benefits industry by industry. In most cases, private sector employers ignore this
wage structure. (US Department of State, 1999). The garment industry of Bangladesh is
responsible of 80% of the countrys total export but despite this insane amount of percentage,
very little is done by the wealth generated by this sector the lack of a concrete wage structure
propels the exploitation has led to few improvements in the lives of garment workers.

Another ethical issue to be discussed is the one surrounding females and their place in the
garment factories. Female labour accounted for 90% of the work force (an estimated 3 million)
in the Bangladesh textile industry. Sexual harassment and discrimination is widespread and many
women workers who have reported and expressed their right to maternity leave is not upheld by
the employers and are badly treated. Seabrook describes the treatment of young women in the
garment factories in this account in the book Children of Other Worlds, The young women
walk on the main road if they are late, moving in groups so there is less danger of being
molested. The factory owner treats them roughly. (Seabrook, 2001, p77)

Not only are the wages a pittance but Bangladeshis factory workers also face horrendous
working conditions. Garment workers in developing nations suffer from conditions that are akin
to slavery. From deafening noises, the intolerable heat, dust and lint, rarely provided safety
equipment the work place is relentless and terrifying, to say the very least. There is no place to
eat, no place for prayers, insufficient toilets for the 200 workers. Water is available sometimes.
When there is an order to be completed, they may work through the night until five oclock in
the morning. (Seabrook, 2001, p77).

The International Labour Organisation are turning a blind eye to the treatment of garment
workers that so clearly violates their human rights. Their health is something to seriously
consider as many of the workers can suffer from mental, emotional as well as physical abuse.
They seem dead, their limbs animated by an unearthly force. (Ross, 1997)
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As well as the state of the workers, another ethical issue discerning labour exploitation is the
utter disregard of health and safety regulations in the workplace. Lack of monitored checks
endangers the life of the garments workers. Certain factories in certain areas, Dhaka for example,
are at a serious risk of health issues due to the chemical pollutions from tanneries, which are
leather tanning factories, near their homes. There were about one hundred workers in the
factory. It was cramped, hot and dusty. The workers were always suffering from chest and
respiratory ailments. (Seabrook, 2001, p124) The unsafe, cramped and hazardous working
conditions often lead to work injuries and factory fires the women, the men and the children
are all affected by this.

One of the most notable events concerning the unethical nature of labour exploitation surrounds
the story of the Rana Plaza Incident which entails of the horrifying collapse of the Savar building
in Bangladesh. The incident stemmed from a structural failure and is considered as the deadliest
garment factory incident in history (The True Cost, 2015). The occurrence of such a notable
disaster in the apparel industry took place on April 24th 2013. 8 floors of the building in the
Dhaka District collapsed and of the 5,000 people employed, more than 2,500 were injured, 1,133
people were killed and a survey of 1,432 survivors found out that 202 of those were under the
age of 18.

The aftermath of such a tragic incident shook the world and it made everyone pay attention. The
people who create our everyday clothes face the hard labour and harsh working environment yet
we were blissfully unaware of it. It is selfish for us to consume consistently yet we still do it. We
are entering a vicious cycle that doesnt seem to be ending any time soon but we are not the ones
being punished. In the West, theyre using everyday low price. So every day theyre hampering
me and Im hampering my workers. This is how it is. (The True Cost, 2015)

An argument for sweatshop workers is that it provides jobs for those who need it in the third
world country. This might be the case, however, workers are paid so little it is hardly minimum
wage let alone the living wage. It is an endless cycle of exploitation and sometimes the garment
workers have no complete control over this and work in garment factories because they see no
other way out. Peshgi is the curse of entire families in South Asia. Most bonded children
throughout the world are hander over their employers as a means to pay off longstanding family
debts, by parents who are desperately poor, illiterate and often indentured themselves. (Ross,
1997)

The majority of garment workers in the apparel industry work as a means to an end. It is not
necessarily a lifestyle that they chose but instead a lifestyle that they have to put up with. The
lives of poor families are a race against time: the children are there to help them with domestic
work in the home, caring for younger children; by paid labour and ultimately forming a shelter
for the old when they are sick or too old for work. (Seabrook, 2001, p36) Children are given a
responsibility for their families. Workers are being overworked and getting paid less and working
in a very dangerous environment. They dream of lives that are entirely out of their reach. They
do not live for themselves but for the families that they have to provide for. And they do not
even earn enough. They earn just enough to get by, not to make a living for themselves. It makes
us question the morality and the ethical nature of fashion and the big companies that do this to
third world countries. That they are willing to risk the dangers and the lives of tens of thousands
other people.

Another concern about the ethical issues in sweatshop factories are the examination of
international exploitation of child labour. There is a moral blindness that have informed debate
in the West on the rights of a child. The children workers do not think about the future.
Business and Ethics of Fashion
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Survival is always in the present tense. The work of children is a response to immediate need.
Education is a promise for the future but the future is a luxury for the poor because if they dont
earn then theyll never get there. (Seabrook, 2001, p124) This is the sad reality of it, all of which
are embedded in the structural abuses of humanity that are part of the global system with factors
of culture, tradition and climate coming to play.

The industrial system provided opportunity for systematic exploitation of children and the
employment of underage children which is similar to that of slavery. Children are deprived of
their childhood. Not only that but they are also deprived of their physical, emotional and mental
wellbeing. An account from Children of the Worlds of a young boy named Rubel states, He
said he was happy to be working because this would give him a skill which would one day
guarantee him good money Rubel did not go to school. He said, What am I doing if not
learning here? This is my school. (Seabrook, 2001, p124).

In conclusion, there are a lot of ethical issues concerning labour exploitation in relation to
production and manufacturing of mass fashion. The recent movement of fashion consumerism
and consumer culture in general over the last two decades has given birth to the exploitation of
workers in third world countries. Stories about garment workers and the harsh conditions they
work in are not uncommon but many western countries bypass this and many sweep it under the
rug. Big corporations keep the majority of the profit in the western world whilst third world
country workers receive the bare minimum and suffer from the result of this. It raises the
question of the unethical nature of garment factories and how their lives are easily regarded and
taken advantage of for the sake of fashion.
Business and Ethics of Fashion
ESSAY
References

Armbruster-Sandoval, R. 2005. Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Sokidairty in the Americas: The
Anti Sweatshop Movement and the Struggle for Social Justice. New York: London: Routledge.

Ross, A. 1997. No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade and the Rights of Garment Workers. London: Verso.

Ross, Robert J.S. 2004. Slaves to Fashion: Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops. Ann Arbor: The
University of Michigan Press.

Seabrook, J. 2001. Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market. London: Pluto Press.

Timmerman, K. 2009. Where am I wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People that
make our clothes. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley.

The True Cost, 2015 [documentary]. Directed by Andrew MORGAN. Life Is My Movie
Entertainment: Untold Creatives: Bullfrog Films.
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Bibliography

Labour Exploitations in Third World Countries


http://www.globalissues.org/article/57/corporations-and-workers-rights
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-
matters/2013/may/16/bangladesh-garment-workers-exploitation-slavery
http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/318/the-equivocal-nature-of-exploitation-how-poor-
workers-in-developing-nations-exploit-capitalist-greed-for-a-profit
http://www.uncommonthought.com/mtblog/archives/2011/06/12/exploitation-or.php
https://www.ukessays.com/essays/economics/labour-exploitation-and-child-labour-in-
developing-countries-economics-essay.php
http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-2-number-5/multinational-corporations-
third-world-predators-o

Sweatshop Workers
http://www.waronwant.org/sweatshops-bangladesh
https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2456412/My-life-sweatshop-worker-Undercover-
reporter-tells-crushing-work-terrible-pay-girl-boss-aged-just-NINE.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3339578/Crammed-squalid-factories-produce-clothes-
West-just-20p-day-children-forced-work-horrific-unregulated-workshops-Bangladesh.html
http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/economics-business-and-
labor/labor/sweatshops
http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/modern_day_slavery_facts/sweatshops_conditions
http://www.veganpeace.com/sweatshops/sweatshops_and_child_labor.htm
https://www.thestar.com/news/world/clothesonyourback/2013/10/11/i_got_hired_at_a_ban
gladesh_sweatshop_meet_my_9yearold_boss.html

The Rana Plaza Collapse


http://truecostmovie.com/ The True Cost Documentary Film by Livia Firth

News Articles
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1851851/hm-in-factory-horror-as-workers-endure-
outrageous-sweatshop-conditions-making-clothes-which-include-beyonces-own-line/
https://newint.org/blog/2016/10/21/students-solidarity-and-sweatshops/
http://qz.com/800707/new-research-finds-sweatshops-may-be-a-necessary-evil-in-the-
development-of-economies/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3865520/M-S-Zara-Syria-refugee-sweatshop-storm-
Suppliers-accused-exploiting-children-make-cheap-clothes-chains.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/beyonces-ivy-park-sportswear-line-denies-claims-
its-clothes-were-produced-by-sweatshop-workers-a7035926.html