Fashion, Supply Chain, Pollution, and Human Rights

Added on by Carly DeGraeve.

One theme that is always present in the things I make and the things I show others how to make is: put effort into what you make by selecting high quality materials and using the right techniques to create long lasting classic items.   We live in a world of fast-fashion.  We want lots of things and we want them cheap.  Oh yeah - and we want them on trend.  

Working with fabric is a funny thing.  It moves on its own, it has properties that are not always consistent, and it reacts unexpectedly at times.  It is one of the few things in the modern world that cannot be completely automated.  We just can't make machines that can match a sleeve cap to an armscye with any consistency or react appropriately to the unpredictable nature of fabric.  Human beings are required in the process of making clothing and accessories. 

In the last few decades apparel and accessory manufacturing has been sent overseas to less developed countries because labor is cheap.  If we have to pay human beings to make a clothing item that takes X many hours to construct, why not find the cheapest labor possible so we can sell it for a lower price than that other store/brand/line and win some market share?   There are many reasons why this shouldn't happen (everything from "American's need jobs" down to "you're exploiting workers in poor countries") which we should be thinking about but that isn't exactly the point of my post (today).  

These countries that are currently home to our textile and apparel manufacturing are desperate for the money they make from these factories along with the skills, training of the employees, and equipment.  Many of the countries don't have the same rules, regulations, and standards in place to reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals from polluting the water, air, and ground soils near the manufacturing plants.  Some of the governments are willing to allow pollution to the point of premature death of their citizens to keep up with the demand for goods from American and European companies just to make sure the money keeps coming in.  

Recently, Friends of Nature, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Green Stone joined together to investigate pollution in the fashion industry and push for changes to be made for the health and well being of those who make our apparel.  There is a problem with the apparel supply chain.  Inventory levels are down - in some cases way down.  We have reached a point where pollution has effected the work populations so deeply that it has slowed down production.  Some companies have cleaned up their acts since the Green Choice Alliance approached them with concerns - others have ignored the Alliance.  

An editor for a crafting publication - whom I won't name because I don't want to give her publicity - uses faux fur because, as she says, "not a fly was hurt" in making the garment.  Maybe not a fly was hurt but many, many human beings in poor countries were hurt in the making of that faux fur.  It has been popular belief for many years in America that the ethical apparel decision was to use synthetics instead of real animal hides.  Apparently, it is ethical to save animals (or throw away usable parts of the animal from the food chain) even though human beings in poor countries are dying because of pollution.  

Another layer to this problem that should not be ignored is that our presidential candidates did not mention human rights in the international policy debate.  Countries like China who keep tabs on how frequently our leaders use terms like "human rights" may see this as an opportunity to further exploit their citizens because the US is more focused on economic issues that human issues. 

For a very good summary and quick read on the topic, check out this article from Fast Company.  To see the full report including a chart of positive, neutral, and negative companies as well as a great explanation on what kind and where in the production chain pollution happens click here.