What is Ethical Production? | Sustainabilty

Have you ever taken a moment to stop and think about who actually made your clothes? Most people haven’t.

It is our goal is to provide a small glimpse into the fashion industry and reveal some of the industry’s biggest secrets.

It’s 2020, and there are political and social movements everywhere we look. We have the Black Lives Matter movement, Feminist movement, Defund the Police movement, Civil Rights movement, End Human Trafficking movement, etc. And while there are many sides and views, it seems like we all should be able to agree on ONE thing. And for us, that one this is that EVERYONE should have basic human rights, regardless of the color of their skin, age, gender, sex, religion, political party, social class, working class, etc. Because after all, we’re all human, right?

And you are probably thinking, “Yes, of course everyone should have basic human rights!” (or at least I hope that’s what you’re thinking).

But don’t be so quick to pat your self on the back. Unbeknownst to you, you might actually be exploiting people if you purchase items and/or products from these companies…

Major corporate companies like Walmart, H&M, Gap, URBN (and pretty much any fast fashion company) along with many, many others exploit their factory workers everyday.

Here are just a few facts:

*Garment workers are often forced to work an average of 14-16 hours per day.

*A normal work week consists of 7 days a week

*Average work week consists of 96 hours

*Garment works are forced to work longer hours during peak season. Often extending their long work days to 2 or 3 am.

*Garment works are not allowed to form unions. Factories will threaten and physically attack workers if found to be union members

*Forced labor is not uncommon in the fashion industry (ex. Uzbekistan government forces one million people to leave their regular jobs to pick cotton every year in autumn in order to meet cotton exporters large demand).

*168 million children in the world are forced to work in the industry (aka modern slavery)

*Working conditions are unsafe and have little to no regulations (buildings are falling apart, unsafe use of chemicals, and cockroaches, rats, and other unwanted creatures are commonly found in these working conditions)


Factory Worker Pay:

*Garment workers are supposed to be paid “at least the minimum legal wage” however, that isn’t always the case. Many factories don’t even pay minimum wage. And in most of the  manufacturing countries the minimum wage this is 5 times less than the standard living wages. 

Let’s focus on that last point. Garment workers are paid “5 times less than the standard living wage”. So what does that mean?

“A living wage represents the bare minimum that a family requires to fulfill its basic needs (food, rent, healthcare, education, etc.)”.


How is this calculated:

  • A worker needs to be able to support themselves and two other “consumption units” (1 Consumption unit = 1 adult or 2 children)
  • An adult requires 3,000 calories a day to be able to carry out their work.
  • In Asia, food costs account for half a workers monthly outgoings (50% of the monthly salary)
  • 40% of the monthly salary goes towards housing, health costs, children’s education, clothing, and travel costs
  • The remaining 10% towards discretionary income (savings, pensions, some entertainment)

More information on this HERE.

In Asia, the average living wage is 31.4% higher than minimum wage pay. While, we can’t change minimum wage, laws, etc in Asia, we CAN choose what brands we want support. We can support brands who choose to partner with factories who pay their workers livable wages (not minimum wage). We can choose to support brands who source family-owned and operated factories instead of government-run and enforce factories

 How much does it cost to make a t-shirt ethically?

The average cost to make a t-shirt ethically is around $15. And that’s just the cost to make a t-shirt.

So what all is factored into the cost of making a t-shirt? Well the cost to make a t-shirt (along with other clothing items) includes the cost of the fabric, worker’s labor, taxes, marketing, store markups, etc. So if you see a t-shirt retailing for $5, but it cost an average of $15 to legally make it, how is that possible? How are they not losing money?

 You guessed it. The labors/ factory workers producing these items are well underpaid, sometimes making as low as $0.33 per shirt. Even in Los Angeles, CA the U.S. Department of Labor found that “workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour days spent sewing clothes for Forever 21, Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx”. (https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-forever-21-factory-workers/)

Here is an example from the LA Times discussing a Federal investigation with Forever 21. 

“A knee-length Forever 21 dress made in one of the Los Angeles factories investigated by the government came with a price tag of $24.90. But it would have cost $30.43 to make that dress with workers earning the $7.25 federal minimum wage and even more to pay the $12 Los Angeles minimum, according to previously unpublished investigative results from the Labor Department”. 

The easiest way for companies to reduce their cost is cutting the budget for factory worker’s wages because everything else is pretty much a fixed/set cost. In this example with Forever 21, the dress with a price tag of $24.90 should have retailed for roughly $66 based on cost of $30.43 to make the dress (and that’s still not paying the minimum wage of $12/hour to meet Los Angeles, CA standards). So if Forever 21 was paying their workers minimum wage, the average knee-length dress should retail for roughly $70 (and that’s not even for a sustainable product).

 That is a huge difference in cost.

You might be thinking by now, how is this legal and how to these companies get away with this? Well, technically it’s not legal. However, there are loopholes in every industry so these major retails are able to slide around this issue and plead innocent. Most of these fast fashion/big corporate companies do not actually own the manufactures - they outsource the work to these third-party manufactures. By doing so, they essentially turn a blind eye to what is happening in these factories because they have a contract with these vendors stating that they pay their workers fair salaries.

 I’m not sure how getting paid 1/3 of minimum wage is “fair”.

So if the factories get investigated and/or audited, they simply “close” and reopen under a new company name and start this process all over again.

If you are remotely knowledgeable about the fashion industry (as all of the fast fashion and major retailers are), you would know that these poor factory workers are being exploited. But they are able to make major profits off of these people, so they essentially could care less.

So what can we do?

 It all starts with a more conscious consumer. That is the whole reason we decided to start this blog - to help educate our consumers on our product but also some of the major issues that are apart of the fashion industry that we live in.

 There are so many brands that are becoming more vocal and transparent about their manufacturing, supply chain, production, etc. I think that is so great that brands are starting to bring awareness to this issue.

 Ending Thoughts:

 As I mentioned previously, no one or no brand will do any of this perfectly. But by voicing some of these initiatives, it holds them accountable, and even better, it educates other brands and customers on ways we can improve.

 There is a quote I have seen quite a few times and I think it does a wonderful job at summarizing what all of this is about. “Be imperfectly zero waste. Be imperfectly vegan. Be imperfectly sustainable. Because small conscious changes are better than none at all”.

 For the people in the back “small conscious charges are better than none at all”!

 Can you imagine if we all lived with that mentality? Perfection is nearly impossible in anything we do - body image, monetary status, relationships, etc. But if we all took the a little extra time to educate ourselves on the products that we are buying and who we are buying them from, it could change the world! Seriously. Many clothing factories are located in third world countries. If we take a stand together to support companies that pay their employees well, treat them fairly (or even like humans), it could pull those third world countries out of poverty.

 Change has to start somewhere. And even small changes have a huge impact. 

 Want to learn more about ethical issues in the fashion industry? Follow along with us on this journey! We will continue to post information on our blog page with ideas and events surrounding this topic.

Thanks for reading and taking a few minutes out of your day to learn how to make a change! Check out our Planet + People page to learn more on Elyse Wilde's view and mission of sustainability!


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