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Fair Fashion Industry
In 2019, an Oxfam report exposed the conditions of workers who were making clothes for the Australian fashion industry. The report showed that these workers, predominantly women in Bangladesh and Vietnam, were making wages as little as 51 cents per hour. Oxfam is taking action to spread awareness, create a fair fashion industry and ensure that these women receive a living wage.

Poor Wages for Workers

The 2019 report interviewed nearly 500 women making clothes for the Australian fashion industry. It concluded that they often do not make enough money to meet their basic needs. Nine of 10 workers in Bangladesh cannot afford to feed themselves and three quarters cannot afford medical treatment.

In Vietnam, more than half of workers cannot afford medical treatment and three-quarters of workers cannot afford to make ends meet in general. The report found that the workers are making clothing for major brands that Australians enjoy wearing.

Oxfam’s Initiatives

As a result, Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry. The nonprofit’s campaign, What She Makes, has taken several steps to secure appropriate living wages for those workers making some of the continent’s most beloved brands.

Oxfam Australia spreads awareness by publishing reports detailing the relationship between major brands and their underpaid workers overseas. There have been four reports since 2017. The most recent one is Shopping for a Bargain, which anyone can download for free. It outlines price negotiation, poor management of orders and other practices to help keep wages low.

Another way Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry is by publishing its Naughty or Nice List. The list shows how different brands have fared in regards to paying workers. It ranks companies in order, using a sliding scale ranging from being transparent, making a commitment, separating labor costs and ultimately paying a living wage.

The Naughty or Nice List did not list any companies as paying a living wage. However, a number of companies, including fashion giant H&M, have separated labor costs. Even more brands such as Target, Kmart and Cotton On have made commitments to fair pay while others such as Zara have yet to make a commitment.

Oxfam is campaigning to create a fair fashion industry by appealing to private citizens. While the nonprofit does not advocate for boycotting any specific brands, Oxfam involves people by asking them to sign a pledge. This demands that Australia’s major brands pay workers making their products a living wage. The nonprofit reports that because of the public’s push for transparency, 14 major brands have published their factory locations online in the past three years.

Signs of Progress

Oxfam’s campaign is not without adversity. COVID-19 has slowed the global supply chain, cutting employment and leaving many workers without severance pay. However, many companies have made clear commitments to pay workers living wages. In January 2021, H&M’s regional manager for Bangladesh made an argument to increase workers’ minimum wage and stated that the Swedish retailer had paid more for garment items the increase of wages.

In the past, protests over low wages in Bangladesh have resulted in retaliatory dismissals, blacklists and even criminal charges. However, Oxfam’s campaign to create a fair fashion industry, coupled with other nonprofit work and public opinion may be a step in a different direction.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is a term that the fashion industry uses to refer to the cheap manufacturing of runway styles in a quick manner and it has established dominance in today’s consumer market. Top brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 utilize this production technique to hook customers on seasonal goods through low-cost labor that often puts employees at risk. Several controversies in the past have led to disasters, taking the lives of thousands and putting into question the ethics of mass production. In the wake of such calamity, slow fashion has risen up as a movement against the large companies. Through the promotion of improved safety measures and higher quality groups, small businesses are attempting to counteract the damage done.

Fast Fashion Disasters

Past grievances physically showcase the drawbacks of the Fast Fashion industry. The work conditions often put employees in dangerous situations which results in severe consequences. The Rana Plaza Factory collapse goes down in history as an example of this for the fashion industry. The factory, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, manufactured clothing for European and American companies. On April 24, 2013, the building collapsed in on itself and killed 142 employees in the destruction. The disaster was a wakeup call for most, as the building itself violated several safety codes and builders constructed the upper four floors without a permit. The event called into question the ethics and legality of mass production factories. Specifically, the fashion industry entered the debate because not only do companies put lives at risk, but the monetary compensation is notoriously low.

Low Wage Workers

Another significant aspect of this problem is the location of the factories. Companies often take advantage of underprivileged and impoverished nations in order to reduce costs. The wages that citizens of these countries receive often do not measure up to the amount they work. One prime example is with the brand H&M, which has faced recent backlash for failing to provide fair living wages to its workers in various countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Turkey and Bulgaria. While H&M responded by arguing that there is no global standard for a living wage, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) found that workers in Cambodia earn approximately half of those in Turkey. It is therefore evident that the company has been taking advantage of the low quality of life in Cambodia and exploiting the poverty of the nation.

The Slow Fashion Movement

The slow fashion movement has surfaced in recent years as a response to the controversy surrounding fast fashion brands. Members of this crusade work to fight against current practices by producing higher quality goods in safer working conditions and for better pay. These businesses also receive help from organizations like the Good Business Lab, a start-up that focuses on finding a compromise between company goals and employee treatment. At the moment, the nonprofit is located in India and has a sister branch in the United States in order the spread the aid.

The Need for Consumer Awareness

With materials and business practices put under a lens, others have forced the fast fashion industry to refocus itself. The fashion industry is reframing products and their value in the eyes of the public. Additionally, it is finally addressing the imbalance between labor wages and work conditions for the employees. Ultimately, as consumers become more aware of the malpractice occurring behind closed glass store doors, these companies will have to reevaluate their practices and make some drastic changes.

Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr

Help Fight Global Poverty
Poverty is an issue that does not always have a single, clear-cut solution. This leads to a myriad of action plans across the world that seek to address the root causes of poverty. The average person usually experiences these measures through the filters of government officials and media, which makes poverty reduction seem inaccessible to the everyday citizen. However, anyone can help alleviate poverty, not just politicians or public figures. Here are four ways to help fight global poverty.

Use Passions and Education

Poverty is a daunting topic and one cannot learn all its facets in one sitting. The easiest way to begin expanding one’s knowledge about poverty is to start somewhere familiar. Consider any relevant interests or hobbies. For example, sports lovers could type “sports and poverty” into a favorite search engine and learn about issues that impact their interests. Starting off with a topic that is familiar makes it easier to digest new information and keep one’s interest before diving into more specific topics as the individual gains more knowledge.

Finding poverty-related information relevant to one’s interests by discovering articles, videos and social media pages is a great way to educate oneself. Knowledge is a powerful tool to help fight global poverty.

Support Ethical Brands

Fashion lovers will find that the fashion industry is a significant contributor to poverty around the world. In particular, companies produce fast fashion in hazardous sweatshops. Companies make articles so that they wear out within a few wears and harmful chemicals, such as lead, often contaminates them.

Fast fashion companies like Zara and H&M design clothing so that it is outdated within one week thanks to the rise of micro-seasons. Rather than releasing designs corresponding to the traditional seasons, these companies put out 52 clothing collections each year. Some companies get new clothing shipments in their stores twice a week, while others list upwards of 400 items on their websites per week.

Companies can produce this clothing quickly and cheaply due to the usage of low-quality materials and not paying workers a living wage. Estimates determine that informal workers, often women and children, sew 20 to 60 percent of fast fashion garments in their own homes. Globally, 40 million people are garment workers, and 85 percent of those are women. Children usually add details like sequins and beading, which machines can apply easily, in order to cut equipment costs.

To stop supporting fast fashion brands and help fight global poverty, there are a few steps everyone can take. Websites and apps like Ecoture and Good On You provide ratings of brands’ ethics and practices, while also providing a one-stop-shop for ethical brands. Ethical brands like Organic Basics, Kowtow, People Tree and HARA are just a few of the highly ranked clothing companies out there. Thrifting is also a great way to stop creating a demand for fast fashion while not breaking the bank.

Support the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 goals set forth by the United Nations in 2015. They aim to support economic growth and to resolve global issues such as poverty, hunger, lack of access to water and inequality by 2030. These goals are for countries and governments, but individuals can support progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals as well.

In June 2019, Forbes indicated that millennials, unlike older generations, have distinct consumption habits and preferences that are conducive to achieving various Sustainable Development Goals. Millennials are more likely to be conscious of ethical brands, are more ethnically diverse and are financially, socially and health-conscious. Others often think of them as more educated and technology-based than previous generations as well. Other generations can advance Sustainable Development Goals by adopting similar habits, like becoming more financially conscious through impact investing which allows individuals to put their money into socially responsible investments (SRIs).

Get Involved

Individuals can maximize their efforts by involving themselves with a larger group. A great way to help fight poverty is by finding a cause or nonprofit to support. Many organizations help fight global poverty even if that is not their main goal. Organizations dedicated to women’s empowerment, providing access to clean water, child welfare or improving access to education are all causes that decrease poverty rates. Pick a favorite organization and donate some time or money to them on a regular basis. Great resources to start with are The Borgen Project, Days for Girls and Equality Now.

Mobilize

Another way to help fight global poverty is to multiply efforts by contacting local leaders and encouraging others to do the same. People know this as mobilizing and it is a great way to create change. Congressional leaders and their staff receive letters, emails and calls from constituents every week and the more they see a particular issue or piece of legislation come up, the more likely they are to support it. The Borgen Project details more ways to get involved and connect with Congressional leaders.

These five points are a great way for anyone to help fight global poverty and encourage others to join the cause. Together everyone can make the difference that eliminates poverty for good.

Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Google and the H&M Foundation Support Flood Relief in South AsiaWhile the United States remains observant and sympathetic to the troubles in Texas and Florida, on the other side of the globe 24 million people have been affected and over 1,200 killed by a record monsoon that hit areas of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The natural disaster brought the worst floods the area has seen in years.

Google and their employees have committed to a $1 million pledge to Goonj and Save the Children to support flood relief efforts in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. They hope to support flood relief for 75,000 families across nine affected states throughout rural India. Google’s flood relief efforts include giving families kits with food, mats, blankets and hygiene items. Their goal is to help restore the communities’ roads, bridges and schools.

The Swedish clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz, widely known as H&M, has donated $200,000 to support flood relief in south Asia through the Save the Children Organization. The H&M Foundation works to enhance living circumstances by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas. While the H&M Foundation supports this transformation through access to education, water and equality, they also offer emergency relief from partnerships through global organizations.

Save the Children has responded in all three countries, as they believe children are often the most vulnerable in crises like these. Save the Children also provides child-friendly environments where children can acquire access to educational resources and free time, allowing liberation from devastation.

Resources like the U.S. federal disaster response system do not exist to provide flood relief in south Asia. This makes the work of companies like Google and H&M extremely valuable to affected communities, both now and in the future.

Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

Global_Citizen_Festival
H&M is known for providing fashionable and affordable styles for men, women and children. However, the Swedish clothing store chain also does its part to promote sustainability across the world. That’s right – H&M knows how to make fashion sustainable.

A proud partner of the Global Poverty Project, H&M is dedicated to supporting the mission to end extreme global poverty and building sustainable lives for people around the world.

By default, H&M is also in a partnership with Global Citizen, the online platform for the Global Poverty Project that provides crucial information about ongoing problems in the world and actions global citizens can take to eliminate them.

Most recently, H&M and Global Citizen have launched an exclusive t-shirt line to promote the Global Citizen Festival this fall. Musicians Coldplay and Ed Sheeran also contributed to the designs to show their support for the fight against global poverty. Coldplay and Sheeran will also perform at the Global Citizen Festival on September 26th.

Each shirt has a design unique to the musician and is made entirely of sustainable materials. At $9.95, the shirts are on sale at all H&M locations in the U.S. and 25 percent of the proceeds go to Global Citizen.

Furthermore, H&M encourages customers to donate gently used clothing to be recycled. Donation stations are located in every H&M store nationwide until Sept. 17, in a box that advertises the Festival.

Tickets for the Festival are free of monetary charge. Instead, guests must earn their tickets by taking actions against poverty. For every customer that purchases a t-shirt or donates clothing, H&M will provide them with the opportunity to earn free tickets.

Sheeran expressed his excitement to work alongside H&M and Global Citizen to create a shirt that fights back against poverty, uniting people to take meaningful action. T-shirts and fashion are no longer all about style; fashion is now also about taking sustainable steps towards a positive future.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: PR News Wire, Global Citizen 1, Global Citizen 2
Photo: Google Images

potable water
As the largest country in East Africa, about one-third of the land in Tanzania is waterless. A little under 50 percent of Tanzania’s citizens do not have access to clean water, totaling around 21.6 million people.

Although there are three lakes that surround Tanzania, it is extremely difficult for individuals to find access to potable water if they do not live near one of these bodies of water.

While there have been attempts to address the situation, there has not been much success. In 1971, the Rural Supply Program was introduced in the hopes that the government would be able to provide free, clean water to the citizens of Tanzania. A lack of donors and technology have led to the low success rate of this project.

In 2002, Tanzania began major reforms in the water sector, and still insists that by 2025, it will have more comprehensive access to safe, clean water. Reforming the water sector has recently made the country a target for foreign donor support. Germany’s state aid agency is one donor that has been extremely involved in providing Tanzania’s water sector with aid.

Private sector donations are also coming from various types of companies. H&M, a Swedish retailer, has created a three-year program that will pair with Wateraid to “improve water provision and sanitation facilities in 36 schools in the rural Manyara district. As well as immediate assistance, H&M hopes the intervention will influence government thinking about water-related issues in schools.”

Wateraid is also working to solve the sewerage issues in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. The initiative is a for-profit one that removes waste from latrine pits for a small charge in order to reduce disease and improve quality of life in the city.

As a country, Tanzania has become a guinea pig for “water stewardship approaches that involve the wider business community.” The Water Futures Partnership (WFP) has been instrumental in this endeavor.

Although many attempts have been made to rectify the water situation, public awareness still remains a pressing issue. People are accustomed to disposing their waste in the river and unfortunately still fail to recognize that they are not only contributing to the lack of potable water but are also facilitating the spread of water-borne diseases.

In order to make sure the program has a chance of success, there needs to be more open communication and collaboration between the organizations trying to improve access to potable water and the individuals in the populations they are trying to help.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Water Project, allAfrica
Photo: Wikimedia

products of child labor
Today, an estimated 115 million children are working — often forced — to produce many of the basic items we buy for cheap at local malls and retail stores. Ranging from the food we eat to the accessories we wear, there are reportedly around 128 goods which exploit and degrade the well-being of these children. Below is a list of the five most common products of child labor.

 

5 Main Products of Child Labor

 

5. Cocoa

According to the Department of Labor, cocoa is produced in at least five countries which utilize child labor, including Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. Major candy companies such as Nestle and Hershey’s have been linked to some of these suppliers. Just recently, Nestle was accused of breaching its supplier code, including clauses of child labor, safety and working hours. Hershey’s, too, is reported to have at least thousands of children currently harvesting cocoa beans for the company in West Africa today.

4. Carpets

Currently being produced by five countries which utilize child labor, such as Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, these products of child labor are being shipped to retail outlets around the world, including areas of Europe, Asia, and the United States.

3. Tobacco

One of the most popular goods in the world, tobacco has been reported to have been harvested in at least 15 countries that use child and forced labor. Philip Morris International, which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes, has actually admitted that the fields in which the company buys their plants have at least 72 child laborers: the youngest being 10 years old. Tobacco is being harvested by children in countries today such as Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil and Uganda.

2. Electronics

Apple and Samsung, two of the world’s leading electronics corporations, have recently went under attack for alleged use of child labor. In fact, Apple recently discovered multiple infringements of child labor with some of their suppliers, including one Chinese company that employed at least 74 children. Samsung, too, has been accused by labor rights groups for employee mistreatment and for exploiting child labor. The investigation, which looked into eight factories in China, proved some employees were working at least 100 hours per month of overtime and that children were “knowingly employed.”

1. Cotton

Cotton is produced by at least 16 countries which use child labor, including China, Egypt and Turkey, according to the Department of Labor. In fact, some of our most popular retail chains — from H&M to Wal-Mart to Victoria’s Secret — have been accused of benefiting from child labor. H&M, one of the world’s leading fashion chains, is currently under pressure to eliminate its ties with clothing suppliers that buy cotton from Uzbekistan, where large amounts of the plant are harvested by children.

Before you buy something, know where it’s coming from. Stand up for what you believe. Let’s put an end to supporting these corporations who take advantage of children just like our own.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Huffington Post, Department of Labor, View Mixed
Photo: Bloomberg

bangladesh-factory-collapse-data_retailers_factories_worker_union_labor_human_rights_global_poverty_opt
In the wake of the recent garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh, some high-profile retailers have signed an agreement to fund safety renovations on their factories there. Bangladeshi factories have a history of hazardous conditions. Workers are often willing or forced to work in obviously dangerous circumstances. The factory buildings can be unstable, usually resulting from illegal additions, and workers are often overcrowded and underpaid. The minimum wage in Bangladesh is roughly $38 dollars per month. However, most workers’ gratitude for the work is more powerful than their fear of the working conditions.

In November 2012, a fire in a Bangladeshi clothing factory killed 112 people. Although the multi-story factory employed 1,700 people, it was not equipped with any fire escapes. The factory had received a “high risk” safety rating in May 2011 and a “medium risk” rating in August 2011. The large conglomerate that owned the factory had a wide-reaching market. It sold to Walmart and IKEA, and exported to the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Although this fire was tragic, recent events in Bangladesh have understandably garnered much more attention and outrage. The garment factory building collapse on April 24th, 2013 claimed 1,127 lives. Authorities claim that the building owner added on to the factory illegally, so the structure was not as stable as it should have been. The owner also housed heavy equipment on upper levels, compounding the problem. Workers had seen a crack in the building and many had refused to come to work the day before the collapse. However, they had been forced to resume work as usual the next day. In what is considered a direct reaction to the tragedy, the Bangladeshi government recently decided to allow trade unions for garment works and appointed a committee to discuss raising the minimum wage. While these changes are a step in the right direction, their effectiveness is still in question. Companies can still fire workers for unionizing, and unsafe factory additions are clearly happening, even though there are safety regulations in place.

The recent tragedy in Bangladesh has resurrected ethical questions surrounding first-world clothing companies’ use of Bangladeshi workers as cheap labor. Labor rights activists have attempted to persuade some of these first-world companies to take action by covering the costs of improving safety conditions in the factories they do business with. Recently, two of these companies, H&M and Inditex, have done so by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This agreement states that retailers must pay for all necessary safety renovations to factories, which will be subject to independent inspections made available to the public. These companies have agreed not to work with any factory that resists essential building changes. Under the contract, workers are also granted the right to refuse to enter a building they deem unsafe.

This agreement is seen as a major step forward for the movement, as H&M is the chief manufacturer of clothing in Bangladesh and Inditex is the leading fashion apparel company in the world. PVH, the owner of Tommy Hilfiger, already agreed to these terms last year, and other agreements are in the works with Gap, Wal-Mart, and Benetton.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: ABC, NBC, Huffington Post