Lack of regulations and demand for cheap clothing are causing human and animal rights issues in fashion to escalate, but consumers are starting to demand better.
Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere, is paying.
Most of us do not think twice about the piece of clothing on our back. We pick it out at the store because we like the colour or style or maybe just the fact that it’s cheap. It sits in our closets with piles of other clothing, only to be worn a handful of times.
Rarely do we think of how the garments came to end up in our closet. Who made it? What material is it made from? Was any harm caused by it?
Just as people have started wanting to know how their meal ended up on their plates, we need to demand the same for our clothing. Human and animal rights in fashion is a conversation that needs to continue.
While there has been decent light shed on the fashion industry in the last years, especially since the Rana Plaza collapse, human rights continues to be a huge issue in the industry.
Society’s obsession with fast fashion forces brands to keep costs low in order to undercut their competitors. As a result, garment workers’ wages are continually cut or they lose their jobs as factories move to markets where production costs are even lower.
The apparel industry predominantly employs women, who are denied maternity benefits, subject to harassment, often forced to work overtime, and frequently experience poor wages. Bangladesh, where Rana Plaza was located, is particularly dangerous for industry workers and accounts for a large portion of fashion’s workforce.
A common misconception is that only products with extremely low price points, between £10 and £20, are guilty of unfair labour, but the truth is that more brands than we know are using these practices. Even luxury brands have been exposed for having unethical practices.
Over the last year, a new issue has emerged as well. With the global impact of the pandemic, fashion brands have halted their production of new collections, many refusing to pay their factories for their orders. Garment workers have reached a new level of vulnerability, as work for some came to a standstill.
It used to be much easier to spot garments using animal materials, such as leather and silk, as these textiles used to be exclusive to high-end brands. However, as the industry scaled, these materials became cheaper to produce and use. Genuine leather, silk, wool and even down can be found at fast fashion stores across the globe.
The demand for these textiles has escalated the issues associated with them as well. Leather is one of the leading drivers of deforestation in tropical forests and animal agriculture, which includes animals raised for meat, clothing, and other products, accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.
While the environmental footprint of animal-derived materials is starting to get traction, animal rights in fashion is not frequently discussed.
A misconception of many of these textiles is that they are byproducts of the meat industry. However, that is not as simple as it seems. Many of these animals are factory-farmed for the sole purpose of using their skins as clothing. They are raised in crowded, confined pens and suffer painful treatments at the hands of humans.
Additionally, many countries lack legislation regarding animal rights in fashion, which means their conditions and treatments are not audited or regulated.
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Luckily, consumers hold all the power to change the industry. As we demand better regulations and more transparency, brands are starting to listen. This is easier said than done, though. What should we be looking for from brands?
To ensure companies are using fairtrade practices, look for certification from reputable organisations such as the Fair Trade Federation or Fair Trade Certified. Another great resource to look into a brand’s background is Good On You, which rates brands for their impacts on humans, animals, and the environment.
Global organisation Fashion Revolution is leading the charge in educating consumers while also pushing for change within the industry. Its campaign, Who Made My Clothes, gives a voice to the people behind our clothing.
While there are a few vegan certifications, like the Vegan Trademark, they are mostly used in food and rarely in clothing. Luckily, most countries do require fabric materials to be listed on the care labels of the garments. Look for natural fibres like GOTS-certified organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell. Education about the trouble with leather is gaining acknowledgement, leading to innovation in plant-based alternatives.
If consumers remember that their buying is power, we can start to change the industry for the better. Like LN Smith said: “Every dollar you spend is a vote cast for the world you want.”