In its current state, the fashion industry is broken. The price of clothing has been declining for decades, while the social and environmental costs have been increasing exponentially. While consumers are fighting for the best deals, our neighbors are fighting for their lives. Each piece of clothing comes at a hidden cost, so we think it's important to be aware of the true costs behind our global fashion consumption.
To achieve greater profits, brands are constantly seeking cheaper labor in developing countries. As a result of this, brands have completely neglected basic human rights by turning to child labor, forced labor, inadequate pay, repression, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions. A report by Behind the Barcode showed that just 12% of fashion brands were able to prove they paid legal wages in any part of their supply chains. The fashion industry is the largest employer modern slaves and child laborers. These workers are forced to work over 140 hours of overtime a month with an average wage of less than 30% of the living wage. This traps families in a cycle of poverty that they are unable to escape. Moreover, these workers are often employed by unregistered shadow factories that foster even more exploitations and abuse in unregulated environments. These shadow factories force their employees to work in small, unsafe environments for over 12 hours a day. With hazardous chemicals used throughout their production, this subjects their workers to many illnesses and fatal conditions.
80 billion pieces of clothing are produced every year, yet only 20% are recycled. Since 1998, the average consumer is purchasing 400% more clothing but keeps each garment for half as long. This change in consumer habits is creating grave impacts on the earth. We need to have a better understanding of the implications of production and consumption habits, and what effects they have on the environment, communities, and the economy. For every ton of textiles recycled, over 20 tons of CO2 is saved from entering the atmosphere. And for every 1,000 tons of collected textiles, over 20 jobs are created.
The fashion industry is one of the largest consumers and polluters of water. Manufacturers release an estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals into freshwater sources that are used by communities for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Even if the water is treated, the chemicals from manufacturing processes will likely still be present in the water supplies. These chemicals pose a major threat to those that rely on the water as they are extremely toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and cause damage to reproductive systems. Today, 844 million people lack access to clean water. At our current consumption rate, this situation will only worsen. By 2050, it is estimated that over 1.8 billion people will lack clean water with over 5 billion people living in water-stressed conditions.
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. Fashion accounts for more than 8% of global climate impact (1.2 billion tons of CO2e per year), more than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined. The majority of this comes from the production of synthetic fibers and using non-renewable energy sources.
To learn more, we suggest watching The True Cost documentary, available on Netflix now: