Inflammation and stories on Workplace Conditions

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

workers in BangladeshBangladesh’s economy is mostly dependent on the textile/garment industry. Garments account for around 80% of the country’s exports. Some 3.5 million workers in Bangladesh, 85% of which are women, work long hours with pay too low to support themselves and their families. Not only is the pay low but they also work in cramped, dangerous conditions without any financial protection. Majority-female workers are also subject to sexual harassment and other forms of sexism in the workplace.

Moreover, in the recent global climate, many factories have shut down resulting in layoffs, pay cuts and a struggling economy (not to mention workforce). Many of these factory workers are struggling to make ends meet; forced to figure out just how to survive. Here are three ways that the garment workers of Bangladesh are struggling.

3 Ways Garment Workers in Bangladesh Are Struggling

  1. Working conditions in sweatshops are hazardous and violate workers’ rights. These workers often work long hours and have little time between shifts. They have very little workspace as it is typically cramped with other workers. This makes for quite a dangerous working environment. Making matters worse, factory owners have taken strides to limit and prevent labor unions from forming, even though they are legal. These factory owners are suppressing their workers and taking advantage of the situation.
  2. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected these laborers. Workers in the factories were struggling to get by — even before the pandemic closed many factories and lowered the level of garment exports. Many Western brands have canceled their orders from the factories due to decreased sales resulting from the pandemic. Western companies canceled their orders — a large percentage of them. This hurt both the factories and the workers. Factory owners are no longer able to pay their workers and 58% of factory owners reported having to shut down their factories because of such low demand. Management then consequently lays off many of these struggling workers. Without jobs, they have no way to support themselves and certainly not a family.
  3. Even though women account for 85% of the textile workforce in Bangladesh — they are still given neither the rights nor conditions they deserve. Women face sexual harassment and improper maternity leave. While the government guarantees maternity leave for at least 100 days for their first two children — one report noted that around 50% of all women interviewed in said report never enjoyed the proper break. Many of the women who do get maternity leave have to return to a lower position, regardless of the fact that it is illegal for companies to demote a woman simply because of maternity leave.

Organizations Making an Effort

Global Giving is a non-government organization that aims to educate women working in sweatshops and lift them out of poverty. The hope is that in turn, they would also encourage others to do the same by fighting for their rights. Global Giving is a great organization to support because not only does it directly improve the lives of individual women, it also helps women as a whole become more equal and independent. This may help women stray away from sweatshops.

Workers’ Rights

Bangladesh is facing widespread hardship within its working-class because of inadequate and unfair treatment. Adding to the already unsustainable pay — the global pandemic has caused even more layoffs and pay cuts than pre-outbreak outbreak times. The problem that existed before the pandemic was simply highlighted in these recent months. Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are of course worthy of fair treatment and should receive the rights they deserve.

Samira Akbary
Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh Factory Workers
Modern slavery tightly weaves into the fabric of agricultural labor and fast fashion factories all over the world. Globally, three out of every 1,000 people enter involuntary servitude. A disproportionate amount of these workers are women and children who experience multiple counts of abuse and workplace violations ranging from sexual harassment to wage extortion and rape. Many of these workers also do not receive the right or ability to form unions and ensure that their rights obtain protection: but some organizations are working to change this. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers emerged in 1993 in Immokalee, Florida by farmworkers who implemented community-based organizations to prevent agricultural workers from experiencing gender-based violence and human trafficking by their superiors. Their national consumer network, which started in 2000, boosts this organization, and it operates many programs, including the Fair Food Program and the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, which has particularly aided Bangladesh factory workers.

The Fair Food Program

The Fair Food Program is a result of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers partnering with farmworkers, farmers, food distribution companies and supply chains to ensure that the rights of agricultural workers who grow the food that companies sell are protected and guaranteed sustainable living wages and humane working conditions. Founded in 2001, the Fair Food Program is a consumer-driven grassroots effort: farmworkers boycott companies that obtain their products from suppliers perpetuating inhumane agricultural working conditions until they agree to abide by the Fair Food Act, which has companies such as Walmart, Whole Foods, Chipotle, Burger King, McDonalds, Trader Joe’s and several other food and retail companies have signed.

Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network

The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network formed as a response to the Corporate Social Responsibility Program (CSR). CSR emerged to monitor the effectiveness of ethical business practices, the protection of workers and oversight. However, the majority of corporations still view human rights violations and poor working conditions that their suppliers enforce as a public relations issue, rather than a violation of rights and safety. Thus, the Corporate Social Responsibility Program has failed to implement as it should, creating the need for an alternative program.

The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network has been implemented in locations housing unethical labor practices, including agricultural fields in Florida and sweatshops in Bangladesh. Their mission statement states that protections for human rights must be “worker-driven, enforcement-focused, and based on legally binding commitments that assign responsibility for improving working conditions to the global corporations at the top of [the] supply chains.” The most important policies that distinguish this program from the Corporate Social Responsibility Program are that the workers must be the driving force in voicing concerns and effecting change, not the companies or corporate leaders. Participating brands and companies must sign legally-binding agreements with worker organizations and agree to provide appropriate compensation to agricultural workers, and stop doing business with companies that do not adhere to ethical standards of labor.

Bangladesh Factory Workers

Bangladesh is the second-largest clothing manufacturer after China. Textile factory workers in Bangladesh have benefited a great deal from the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility program by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding agreement between IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and several Bangladeshi textile unions. The catalyst for this change was the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, which killed over 1,100 Bangladesh factory workers. The factory produced clothing for retail companies like Walmart, JCPenney, the Children’s Place and many other brands.

Over 190 brands and retailers have signed the Bangladesh Accord including Primark, Adidas, Arcadia Group, Deltex, Hugo Boss, Killtec Sport and H&M. The agreement requires safety training programs, protection of the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, independent safety inspections, promoting Freedom of Association (FoA) and getting workers to utilize the Safety and Health Complaints mechanism.

Protecting Workers in the Face of COVID-19

COVID-19 has also been a serious hazard and roadblock for factory workers in Bangladesh. NPR reported in April 2020, that the pandemic has caused 1 million factory workers to lose their jobs, while a quarter of Bangladeshi citizens are already living below the poverty line.

Reuters reported in June 2020 that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has recently opened a laboratory for garment workers to be tested for COVID-19 after the re-opening of factories, and is also being forced by the Accord to adhere by social distancing regulations while operating.

These regulations to protect the human rights of workers across the world are steps in the right direction. Through further implementation, the corporate supply chain could become a much more ethical place.

Isabel Corp
Photo: Unsplash

Garment Industry in Bangladesh
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the number one business in the country, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. Four out of five of the 4.4 million workers employed in the garment industry in Bangladesh are women, so one can often consider issues facing this industry to be feminist issues. Here are five facts about the garment industry in Bangladesh including how they relate to feminism.

5 Facts About the Garment Industry in Bangladesh

  1. The garment industry in Bangladesh is huge. As previously stated, the garment industry is the number one business in the country. Bangladesh is the second-largest individual country in the world for apparel manufacturing, second only to China. H&M, Target and Marks and Spencer are among the global brands that contract with garment factories in Bangladesh for clothing production.
  2. The minimum wage is not a living wage. The average garment industry worker will work for 12 hours a day and make about $95 a month. The majority of these workers are women who support several relatives and live paycheck to paycheck. According to an international aid group Oxfam, only 2% of the price of an article of clothing that a person purchases in Australia go to the worker who made it. By contrast, a top fashion industry CEO will make in four days what a Bangladeshi garment factory worker will make in a lifetime.
  3. The garment industry in Bangladesh has a history of disaster. Two garment factory disasters, one in 2012 and one in 2013, left almost 1,200 garment factory workers dead. Following these incidents, many changes occurred to improve labor regulations and safety conditions in the garment factories. Many companies contracting with these factories also stepped up, paying full wages to workers unable to return, as well as providing compensation to injured workers and families of those who had died.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the garment industry in Bangladesh hard. Millions of workers are unemployed due to the global pandemic. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer’s Export Association (BGMEA) reported that 1,025 factories experienced cancellations of export orders totaling 864.17 million items worth $2.81 billion. The BGMEA president also reported a 50% decrease in orders and does not expect the sales to bounce back for at least another year. Although Bangladeshi law requires employers to pay severance, few actually do. There are no unemployment benefits in Bangladesh. Many displaced garment workers fear that they will die of starvation if they do not die of COVID-19 first.
  5. Pre-existing shortcomings of the Bangladeshi garment industry are being highlighted. Longstanding issues of the industry include a lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by industry owners and big brands, loopholes in the country’s labor laws and a disconnect between a practical living wage and the legal minimum wage. After most factories shut down because of COVID-19, the Bangladeshi government issued a $600 million bailout for all manufacturing industries in Bangladesh. The garment sector received the majority of this, but the amount barely covered about a month’s salary for all the workers in the garment industry.

Despite the seemingly dire state of the garment industry in Bangladesh in the face of constant poverty coupled with a global pandemic, some are making many efforts and are continuing to implement them in order to better the industry. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched many efforts to better the garment industry in Bangladesh since the disasters of 2012 and 2013. One of these efforts is called the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program which offers career progression opportunities for female sewing operators. They receive training in the soft and technical skills necessary for them to assume supervisory positions. The program also trains managers on how to select, promote and support female workers in the industry. Since the launch of this program, IFC has trained over 140 female sewing operators in 28 factories, 60% of whom received promotion weeks after completing the training. Remake, a nonprofit in San Francisco that aims to make the global fashion industry more humane and environmentally sustainable, has launched another effort. Recently, Remake has pressured big brands to pay back contractors in Bangladesh for whatever they ordered before the pandemic. Of these brands, 16 have already agreed to do so.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Flickr

Shipbreaking Practices
The world transports roughly 90 percent of its goods by sea. Shipping is vital to the global economy — it enables trade among people, nations and companies, but rarely does one sit back and think about what happens to these mammoth-sized ships once they reach the end of their operational life. How does one manage the waste that a 100,000-ton cargo ship creates? The answer is shipbreaking practices.

Shipbreaking Practices 101

Shipbreaking, the process of recycling old ships so others may use them as piecemeal, is dangerous for workers and the environment. However, innovations in the field are paving a path for more sustainable and just shipping practices. Shipbreaking involves dismantling ships and selling them off in parts. The process occurs 25-30 years into a ship’s life at which point the costs of maintaining an old ship exceed those of building a new ship.

Shipbreaking is a dangerous industry for workers and the environment alike. Europe and the United States have placed heavy restrictions on the practice due to regard for social and environmental protection laws, but instead of addressing the industry’s problems, the crackdown has merely moved shipbreaking to the east. Today, an estimated 85 percent of the world’s ship recycling occurs in just four countries: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. 

The Human Cost of Shipbreaking Practices

 The International Labor Organization considers shipbreaking to be one of the world’s most dangerous industries. Most of the time, workers take apart ships by hand without protective gear or equipment. They do this in 40-degree heat on beaches far away from hospitals or emergency rooms in case things go awry. Most injuries and deaths occur due to general accidents like falling material and fires or exposure to toxic materials like radiation, mercury and asbestos.

It is difficult to estimate the number of fatalities since many shipyard workers are migrants. However, evaluations indicate that the accident rate lies at two in 1,000 people. Further, 16 percent of workers suffer from asbestos-related diseases. 

The Environmental Cost of Shipbreaking Practices

In addition to the cost to human lives, shipbreaking is detrimental to the environment. Much of shipbreaking occurs via beaching which is a method of ramming vessels into tidal flats, typically on a beach and stripping them of all usable materials by hammer and blowtorch. Beaching tends to be the most environmentally and socially damaging approach to ship recycling. Steel waste, oil from vessels and persistent organic pollutants enter waterways and pollute the air, killing valuable species and ecosystems in the process.

For instance, the Bay of Bengal, located in Bangladesh, is the world’s largest bay and boasts diverse marine life ranging from coral reefs and mangroves to fish spawning of vulnerable species. The Bay of Bengal is also in close proximity to one of the world’s biggest ship recycling sites: Chittagong. Metal waste that is not resellable often stays on shores, washing into the Bay at alarming rates, and thereby increasing the cadmium and copper levels in the water. This increases fish mortality and affects hatching around the port city. Waste and other pollutants put especially rare marine species at the risk of extinction.

A Better Future: Alternatives to Current Shipbreaking Practices 

Currently, the best alternative to beaching is dry-dock stand recycling. Using this method, workers safely recycle ships on a stable platform with the necessary toxic waste management systems and lifting equipment. Most ships are already built on dry-dock platforms so this method is simply giving existing docks a secondary purpose. It is a non-invasive approach to fixing a big problem. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a 10-year-old coalition of environmental, human and labor rights organizations, is making significant strides in advocating for dry-dock platform recycling methods. It has pushed through progressive E.U. laws on ship recycling standards and publishes annual data on ships dismantled globally. The publication allows investors to divest from shipping companies that engage in harmful shipbreaking practices. One such example is Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund divestment decision. Based on data that the NGO Shipbreaking Platform published, the fund decided to divest from two shipowners for poor ship recycling management in 2018.

Another potential solution to addressing shipbreaking is changing the manufacturing of vessels altogether. With an approach that is a more transformative approach, there are accompanying complications. Currently, ship transport generates 3 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions per year. Making ship design more environmental can tackle this larger issue in addition to greenifying ship recycling.

According to a 2020 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, hydrogen could power 99 percent of container vessels traversing the Pacific ocean. More than half of those vessels would require minimal changes to make this transition happen. Government-funded organizations like Sandia National Laboratories and private companies like Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine are currently researching hydrogen-based solutions in shipping. 

Hydrogen-powered ships are likely still 10 years out in the future but investment in these ideas will fundamentally change the way we approach the manufacturing and recycling of ships globally.

Current end-of-life ship recycling practices damage the environment and harm workers in developing countries who must work under life-threatening conditions within the industry. The good news is that an alternative exists. Dry-dock shipping yards provide a safe and environmentally sound alternative to current shipbreaking practices. Changing shipbreaking practices now depend on individuals and coalitions like the NGO Shipbreaking Platform to advocate for widespread adoption.

Kate McGinn
Photo: Wikimedia

Women in the Garment Industry
Breaking the ceiling of the minimum living cost per day remains a challenge for millions of the poorest people on the earth, especially women. Amongst the causes of poverty, the fact that women are often not part of the labor force is one of the biggest quagmires that keeps them struggling. However, one area that women in the developing world often work in is the garment industry. In fact, there are many women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh today.

Bangladesh’s garment industry’s products make up the majority of what it exports. The expansion of the garment industry is quickly pulling people out of poverty in Bangladesh. Women are the major source of labor, where they make up 80 percent of workers. One might ask whether the garment and textile industry could be a gateway for women in the rest of the world to escape poverty.

Demand for Growth

Despite the fact that international trade has recently encountered uncertainty, a report from Mckinsey pointed out that the demand for growth from major populated countries, such as India and Indonesia, will continually saturate the market. With the demand continually persisting, many expect that the supply will continue to expand as well.

Beyond Asia, many in Africa see opportunities in the rising garment industry. Case studies from the African Development Bank Group indicate that women make up a significant part of the garment industry in Africa. In Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire, the two major cotton cultivators in the world, 80 percent of garment workers are women. Moreover, these countries’ start-up entrepreneurs are largely women.

Lifting Women Out of Poverty

The rising figures of women in the garment industry excite people’s outlook on the economy, but this is not the final answer to lifting women out of poverty. The problems of delayed or no and low payment, forced labor, dangerous working environments and other exploitation of women pull the world’s attention and push for reform. From a global perspective, the campaign for humanitarian improvement is one major goal of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond economic growth, acquiring decent work conditions, gender equality and opportunity for education matter when it comes to empowering women workers.

In Bangladesh, the international garment industry used to benefit from cheap labor because of loose legislative regulations and awful working conditions. More recently, the situation of underpayment has received challenges. For example, garment workers in Bangladesh raised their issues of low wages and poor working conditions, causing unrest and subsequently leading to Bangladesh increasing the minimum wage by 5 percent. This may seem minor, but it greatly impacted the garment industry in Bangladesh and started the process of reform. Consequential bills, including the signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, constantly forge the formal framework to ensure the well-being of women in the garment industry.

The development of the global garment industry is a good hammer for women to smash the wall of poverty, but they still require more. The problems rooted in the most impoverished countries are not only “money concerned.” Social injustice and gender bias also influence the liberation of women. Luckily, the action of women and their social power is opening another window for reforms and improvement.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Poultry Workers
Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in America. According to the USDA, estimates determine that the per capita American consumption of chicken will rise from 28 pounds per person in 1960 to 94 pounds per person in 2020. This is in contrast to the per capita consumption of beef in America, which projections determine will fall from 94.1 pounds in 1976 to 57.5 pounds per person in 2020. This certainly reflects the rising demand for broiler meat, or commercial chicken farmers breed and raise for meat production in the U.S. However, not many Americans wish to work in poultry processing factories. In response to this shortage of workers, many poultry companies use migrant workers to fill their processing lines. Recent reports suggest that these migrant poultry workers are in danger of harsh working conditions and labor exploitation.

Issues with Poultry Processing Plants in the U.S.

Although poultry processing plants use machinery, much of killing, deboning and packaging of chicken still depend on human hands. The processing rooms’ temperature is usually at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to reduce microbial growth. However, this cold temperature makes it harder for the line workers to safely use their sharp cutting tools since their hands get stiff from the cold temperature. The factories’ demand to process chicken at a faster pace further compounds this hardship. The U.S. Department of Agriculture caps the speed of these processing lines at 140 chickens per minute. However, reports suggest that many processing plants increase their line speed in order to meet their company’s quota. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data further reflects these dangerous conditions. In addition, line workers repeat the same motion while performing their job of disassembling a chicken. Some reports suggest that 86 percent of line workers suffer from wrist pains, swollen joints and chronic pain in their hands and arms.

Migrant Poultry Workers in the U.S.

Migrant poultry workers fill the labor demand of the poultry industry. The EB-3 visa allows poultry companies to hire migrant workers. As long as a company places two want ads seeking American workers in a local newspaper and a notice on the state jobs board, poultry companies can justify hiring an immigrant instead of an American. Many migrant poultry workers, if documented, agree to what might be less-than-ideal working conditions for a promise of green-sponsorship by their employers.  Responding to this high demand, there are migration consultants outside of the U.S. who charge between $20,000 and $130,000 to help a migrant worker immigrate to America. This high fee can be a cause of poverty for many migrant poultry workers since the majority of them will make less than $20,000 a year.

According to the Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report, nearly 30 percent of meat and poultry workers were foreign-born non-citizens in 2015. Among this number, an estimated one-fourth of the migrant workers were undocumented. This visa sponsorship by poultry companies makes it harder for the migrant workers to protest against the harsh working conditions of poultry processing factories. Whether a migrant worker is documented or undocumented, the recent rhetoric of the U.S. government toward migrants is making many workers in the poultry industry nervous. In 2019, for example, accusations emerged that multiple poultry companies conspired to keep the wages down for their immigrant workforce.

Improving the Poultry Industry in the U.S.

There are many people and organizations that are striving to improve the working conditions in the poultry industry. Many human rights groups encourage the consumers to voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of working conditions in poultry processing plants. By voicing their dissatisfaction, humanitarian groups believe that this will give more power to the migrant poultry workers to voice their plights.

Tyson, one of the biggest poultry meat suppliers in the U.S., made a pledge in 2017 that it will improve the working conditions in its factories. In the pledge, Tyson stated its commitment to reduce worker injury rate by 15 percent until it reaches zero, increase employee retention by 10 percent each year and improve the transparency between the public and its factories. In 2020, the Humane Society of the U.S. and other groups sued the USDA for increasing the line speed at U.S. poultry processing plants. In its 2019 report, The Human Rights Watch encouraged the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take charge of improving the work conditions.

The harsh working conditions and treatment of migrant poultry workers in the poultry industry certainly presents a complicated picture. Chicken is becoming America’s favorite choice of protein as it is surpassing beef in terms of per capita consumption. However, behind every piece of chicken, there are migrant workers who must face constant hardships on a daily basis. The cold temperature of the factories causes numerous physical ailments for the workers, while many forego voicing their plight in fear of deportation. The solution is not to stop eating chicken. Instead, as many human rights organizations have demonstrated, consumers must voice their dissatisfaction with the poultry industry. With the recent surge in the public interest for the working conditions of the poultry industry, many hope that better and more fulfilling working conditions are coming for the poultry workers of the U.S.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.

Sweatshops

People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Why people should shop fair tradeOver three years ago, Cathy Marks was hired for the managing position at the fair trade store, Ten Thousand Villages, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When the previous company she worked for, a franchising company, was sold, Marks was temporarily unemployed. During this time, she decided to look for a career in “something more meaningful.”

Having shopped at Ten Thousand Villages in the past, Marks said she was “intrigued as a customer” from the positive impact Ten Thousand Villages makes in preventing global poverty. It didn’t take long before she applied for the position. Since then, Marks is enjoying her job in the fair trade industry. She says her favorite part is telling stories about the artists to customers because the stories allow customers to make connections between specific artisans and their culture with their products.

Marks believes fair trade is necessary because it helps people in developing countries have higher standards for their communities, their homes and their educational systems. Here are 10 reasons why people should shop fair trade.

10 Reasons Why People Should Shop Fair Trade

  1. Fights Global Poverty and Hunger – Fair trade guarantees workers are paid at least a “minimum floor price,” or the amount it costs for them to produce their product. This standard ensures workers are not living in poverty, resulting in them being able to live comfortably with an income that fulfills their basic household needs such as food and clothing. On top of that, it also ensures workers have a surplus sum of money which they are able to save for future needs.
  2. Empowers Workers – Because fair trade ensures workers are living above the poverty line, workers are able to spend less time worrying about where their next meal is coming from, and more time planning for their future. Instead of depending on others for help, they have control over their own lives. They have the ability, time and resources to make choices for the good of themselves and their community.
  3. Positively Impacts Communities – On top of their wages, workers in the fair trade industry are also given premiums. Premiums are funds that workers can put toward whatever they feel will best benefit their community. For instance, workers can use premiums to better their community’s educational system, healthcare system, environment, recreational facilities or water access. This ensures better conditions and futures for workers’ communities.
  4. Ensures Safe Working Conditions – Fair trade protects workers’ basic human rights. It ensures they work reasonable hours and work in an environment that is free of harmful chemicals and substances. Marginalized and vulnerable populations are equally protected under fair trade standards. Workers are paid a wage that allows them better health and better nutrition.
  5. Prohibits Child Labor – Fair trade standards ensure no forms of child labor and child slavery are used on farms. Children under the age of 18 are then able to attend school and lead healthier lives. The fair wage gives workers the resources they need to ensure their children receive proper nutrition.
  6. Protects Women’s and Minorities’ Rights – Fair trade ensures that women and minority workers are not discriminated against. No matter the workers’ age, race, religion, gender or ethnicity, all are treated equally. All are guaranteed fair wages and ethical working conditions.
  7. Promotes Environment Sustainability – Fair trade products are created using limited amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. They are not genetically engineered and utilize the most efficient amount of waste, water and energy as possible. In addition, many fair trade products are made from recycled materials. This helps preserve our planet’s natural resources.
  8. Keeps Indigenous Cultures Alive – When people shop fair trade, they get to experience multiple cultures from across the globe without having to go overseas. Each product, whether it be clothing, coffee beans, baskets or jewelry, comes from an artisan who spent their time and talent crafting the product. Through fair trade, artisans are able to keep their culture alive, share it with others and pass it down to the younger generations.
  9. Supports Ethicality – When shopping fair trade, people make a statement about how they think employees in developing countries should be treated– with fairness and equality. They are saying they believe all farmers and artisans should be paid at least minimum wage for the products they produce and that all farmers and artisans deserve to live a comfortable, healthy life. Buying fair trade raises awareness of the issue of unethical labor tactics.
  10. Meaningful Impact – Every time someone consumes a fair trade product, they are fulfilled, since they know their purchase is helping someone across the globe live a life free from poverty.

Like Marks encourages her customers, these 10 reasons show why people should shop fair trade. By shopping fair trade, workers’ rights are protected. They are treated equally and paid fairly. They are able to attend school and live in a comfortable, healthy environment. Their cultures are kept alive. When someone shops fair trade, they are helping keep the industry alive. Through a simple Google search, people can find a fair trade store near them to shop at and join the fight.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Fair Trade Product by Emily Turner

Poverty Among Workers in the Cashew IndustryWithin the past few decades, diet culture has no doubt become a fad in the United States. From weight loss pills and body slimmers to obsessive calorie counting, diet fads are everywhere. For many, dieting means consuming foods that are high in protein and low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A popular type of food that fits this category is cashews. Convenient when it comes to on-the-go snacks, these moon-shaped nuts are full of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats that make them an ideal snack for dieters.

The top importer of cashews for the past decade, the U.S. imported over 147,000 tons of cashews in 2016, a 32 percent increase from the past four years. Of these imports, 92 percent came from Brazil, India and Vietnam. While the high demand for cashews makes them easily accessible to first-world consumers, these tasty treats come with a price: the poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Problem: Hazardous & Unethical Working Conditions

Tamil Nadu, a state in India, is home to a vast amount of cashew farms. Around 500,000 Indian citizens work on these farms, the majority of whom are women, some as young as 13. Because these employees are hired without contracts, their employers have no obligation to provide steady incomes, pensions or holiday pay. On top of that, cashew harvesting is physically dangerous.

When harvesting cashews, one must break through two layers of shells to get to the nut. In between those two layers of shells are two chemicals, known as cardol and anacardic acid. Upon coming into contact with the skin, these chemicals leave painful burns. While a simple pair of gloves could protect the hands and flesh of cashew harvesters, employers refuse to permit or provide gloves because they slow down the harvesting process.

The average cashew harvester in India earns around 160 rupees per 10-hour day. This equates to $1.90 per 10-hour day. This amount is not just below the poverty line but below the extreme poverty line. In 2015, around 70,000 cashew harvesters in India went on strike, demanding an increase of 70 cents per day. However, with or without this raise, this wage remains below the poverty line.

Multiple supermarkets that import cashews from Tamil Nadu have voluntarily signed up to be members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). However, they have not taken action to prevent the unethical conditions of the cashew plantations contributing to the overall poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Solution: Combating Unethicality

In 2013, upon acknowledging the poverty among workers in the cashew industry, a company in India called Acceso Cashew Enterprise Private Limited (ACE) was formed. Partnering with U.S. nonprofit Technoserve, ACE works to address inefficiencies in farming practices and conditions of the cashew industry. ACE created an agriculture program to increase the number of cashew crops grown in India utilizing the least amount of resources. This program also improves farmers’ incomes by teaching them sustainability techniques and strengthening their market linkages. In 2014, over 1,000 farmers participated in the program.

Aatmaram Yashvant Agre, a farmer who participated in ACE’s agricultural program, successfully implemented the sustainability techniques to improve his farming. As a result, Agre’s overall cashew production grew by 30 percent. ACE, which works to end global poverty through business solutions, encourages advocacy on the issue of poverty and always accepts donations. By ensuring cashew harvesters are utilizing more efficient farming practices, their profits increase. Thus, poverty among workers in the cashew industry decreases. More efficient farming practices also ensure cashew harvesters avoid practices that cause them physical harm. And ultimately, this enables cashew harvesters to live humanely and lead healthier lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Flickr