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The Real Cost of Your Clothes

Hannah Yi
Does your shirt only cost $3.99?

On April 24, 2013, more than a thousand people died, and it’s because of the clothes you’re wearing right now. Have you ever wondered why some clothes in your closet are so cheap? Take a look inside, and tell me what you see. The truth is, your $3.99 H&M crop-top, your Forever 21 mini skirt you paid less than ten dollars for, and your comfy leggings from Zara are costing people their lives, and have already accounted for more than 1,134 of them in Bangladesh according to a NPR news article (Kenney).

Considered the deadliest garment factory accident in history, in 2013, a five-story commercial building known as the Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed. The building’s owners ignored the warnings to avoid using the building after cracks were found earlier. Shockingly, the garment workers were forced to return back the following day, and when the building collapsed, more than 2,500 people were injured. Later, more than 1,100 people were killed. The building’s cracks may have been an accident, but the death of the garment workers workers certainly wasn’t. The culprit? The cheap clothes we all love.

Who doesn’t love a good bargain or a cute shirt from a fashionable store? However, if cheap clothes violates the rights of eighty percent of workers in a country, a change is needed. Bangladesh is one of the few countries willing to satisfy millions of people all over the world that want more clothes at cheaper prices, and the price workers have paid is appalling.

As the fashion industry grows, the working conditions continuously deteriorate. The people of Bangladesh shouldn’t have to spill their own blood for the price of affordable clothes when the buyer only pays a small sum of money. There is no justice in this situation; without a proper balance between prices of products and working conditions and minimum wage of producers, the situation in Bangladesh will continue to worsen.

Sadly, many Americans don’t understand how terrible the true cost of clothes are. Cheap clothes now are taken for granted. If consumers don’t understand where and under what conditions their clothes were made, garment workers working in sweatshops can easily be taken advantage of. There needs to be more recognition of this crisis considering more than 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased every year.

And keep in mind that Bangladesh isn’t the only country that has sweatshops; there are many more countries out there with the same inhumane working conditions. Other countries like Cambodia, China, Guatemala, and Indonesia are well known for having inhumane sweatshops in the ever-growing fashion industry.

Some might believe that since Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of ready-made garments, the workers would be paid more. However, this statement is incorrect; the factories are economically successful because of the terrible working conditions including overcrowded buildings, loose work regulations, and the government crushing organizations created by garment workers that are determined to have better working conditions. In The New York Times Magazine, it has been reported that the minimum wage of 32 cents an hour in Bangladesh has not been raised since 2013, despite inflation (Abrams). Yes, the minimum wage has increased, but it still cannot lift citizens of Bangladesh from poverty; there still isn’t a fair balance between what Western consumers pay for and what garment workers earn.

So what does this global crisis have to do with you? You’re indirectly supporting these brands by purchasing more of their clothes. The clothes that you wear are made in dingy sweatshops where thousands of workers work daily without the proper regulations workers all workers need.

Popular brands such as Urban Outfitters, Old Navy, Forever 21, H&M, Abercrombie and Fitch, GAP, and Banana Republic are known to support the usage of foreign sweatshops according to a recent New York Times Magazine article (Editorial Board).

Just because you stop purchasing clothes from the stores that you love doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t wear that trendy sweater you see all over social media. Brands such as Nordstrom, American Apparel, and Patagonia are brands that don’t use sweatshop and are against all sweatshops. So don’t be afraid to stop shopping from H&M when there are tons of different, ethical brands that have similar styles!

If you can’t stop supporting your favorite brand which is known to have foreign sweatshops, even just limiting yourself to buying half of the amount of clothes you normally would purchase is still actively promoting change. Convincing yourself to not buy that sweater in the window of an H&M store is still making a difference. Telling others that Old Navy may have stellar sales, but institute the unethical use of sweatshops also promotes change. Can’t do that? Then at least download the app, Free2Work!
This app is a consumer informational program that shows consumers the different data on brands’ responses to forced and child labor in different business industries. Free2Work has 400 brands and are graded using a system where A is the most ethical, and F is the worst. Consumers can even report their own thoughts on this app, as well.

As a consumer, you have a moral decision to make: Are you going to be an ethical consumer or one that continually supports these unethical practices? Just keep in mind, you have the power to suppress the working conditions of millions of people around the world, or you can help millions of garment workers in Bangladesh. And it all starts with just deciding to not put that one shirt in your shopping cart.

Works Cited
Abrams, Rachel, and Maher Sattar. “Protests in Bangladesh Shake a Global Workshop for Apparel.” The New York Times, 22 Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/business/bangladesh-protest-apparel-clothing.html. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.
Editorial Board. “Bangladesh’s Crackdown on Labor.” The New York Times, 1 Feb. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/opinion/bangladeshs-crackdown-on-labor.html. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.
Kenney, Caitlin. “The Tragic Number That Got Us All Talking about Our Clothing.” NPR, 26 Dec. 2013, www.npr.org/sections/money/2013/12/26/257364509/year-in-numbers-the-tragic-number-that-got-us-all-talking-about-our-clothing. Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.

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