Fashion and you: the dark side of the clothing industry

Artwork by Sa Pasa


Finding a new shirt or dress that you love can be a great feeling. We use clothing to express our interests, our clique, our personalities – and it’s especially great if it is a bargain. Clothing is cheaper than ever in this era of fast fashion. However, there are hidden costs behind the clothes you love.

To educate young Australians, BWA (Baptist World Aid) have launched the 2017 edition of their Ethical Fashion Guide. The launch conference involved a panel discussion with Mark Purser, the state representative for BWA, and several entrepreneurs that are seeking to change the fashion industry. The Ethical Fashion Guide rates clothing companies from A to F on their “labour rights management”, with higher grades given to companies that “reduce the risk of modern slavery, child labour and exploitation”.

Mark Purser began the conference by prompting the audience to ask themselves, “Whose hands have created my clothing, are they the hands of the exploited?”

95% of the clothes we wear are produced in developing nations by garment workers, who are roughly 85% women, and some of the lowest paid people in the world. According to studies by Women in Informal Employment (WIEGO) garment workers in Pakistan, Thailand, and India are working 9 hour days for less than a dollar. Since the development of fast fashion, most people don’t feel bad if they only wear clothing just once. The effect of this consumer trend has had on garment factories has been horrific, as clothing companies squeeze workers for more profit, and corners are cut in safety measures. The tragic consequences of this was seen in 2013, when Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed and killed 1,134 workers, and injured over 2,500. The building was known to have structural faults and visible cracks which were intentionally ignored by management. The Rana Plaza collapse was heralded as a wake-up call for the fashion industry, but four years have passed and the situation is still dire for garment workers.

Attempting to form worker unions or raise the minimum wage is usually met with violence. When Cambodian garment workers protested in Phnom Penh to raise the minimum wage the government responded in full force, with the protest being subdued after four protesters were beaten to death by police and dozens more injured by live ammunition being fired into the crowd.

Many well-known companies such as Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, and Abercrombie & Fitch – just to name a few – rate poorly, which is a fact that would surprise many Australians. Not to say we are ignorant of the sweatshop industries, it is a well-known issue, but we are ignorant of companies that are doing the right thing. One more well-known brand, Cotton-On, recently responded to prompting by BWA by altering their fabric sources.

“The consumers have all the power,” said Mr Purser, “the power to turn the industry from slavery into an ethical fair industry that will ultimately help these countries develop.”

Another speaker at the event was Koky Saly, founder of the Beekeeper Parade, a social enterprise that is recycling fashion waste into backpacks and bags. Beekeeper Parade have recently opened a new stall in Melbourne Central that has become a remarkable success.

“The fight for justice is slow,” said Mr Saly, “The industry is turning, though slowly.”

As more people become educated on the clothes they buy, garment workers might gain more rights, and have a fairer chance to work and feed their families without risking life and limb.


To access the Ethical Fashion Guide or to find more information, please visit:

Conor Ross

The author Conor Ross

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