Fast Fashion Pros and Cons Essay

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The modern fashion industry has a guilty conscience when it comes to clothes and children. Whether or not they would like to profess this, young children in poorer countries thread and sow the very clothes that are worn by millions across the globe. Since the Industrial Revolution, abusive labor has been no stranger to the creation of garments and accessories [1]. Which, this is why I want to research and debate if the fashion industry is responsible for this exploitation. Throughout this essay, I plan to discuss responsibility, reasoning, and the debatable matter of child labor in the fashion industry. I aim to create a reasonable argument that considers everything that I have researched whilst also holding an unbiased thought process. Whilst the unjust, peril, and austere conditions subjected to these workers are wrongful, is this the fashion industry's fault due to their promotion? I hope my research will unearth an answer to this question, whilst considering every aspect of the matter.

Explaining my question:

To answer my question, the definition of child labor needs careful examination as everybody's perception of the words may be deceived completely differently from one another. Unfortunately, the employment and exploitation of children in the clothing industry is still quite alive and thriving with 180 million children trapped in this horror. The Oxford Dictionary depicts it as 'the employment of children in an industry or business, especially when illegal or considered exploitative' [2], this includes physically, mentally, socially, and morally harmful work. The possibility that any clothing in our wardrobes could have been made by an exploited child has emphasized customers and even companies having to research what is happening behind the scenes of their clothing. However, this can become impossible for some corporations as most in this modern world use poorer countries where it is more accessible for clothing factories. They hire foreign organizations to work their factories and along the way, children get caught up in the trial; is this due to money-hungry business owners? Clarification on what the fashion industry is may also be needed, it is complex and every little detail of clothing is involved in this industrial process. Britannica supplies a perfect definition of this: 'The fashion industry is the production of raw materials, principally fibers, and textiles but also leather and fur; the production of fashion goods by designers, manufacturers, contractors, and others; retail sales; and various forms of advertising and promotion' [3]. This captures the reality that every step of the way counts and this is why clothing companies and brands may not have full knowledge of who is used to create their final product. We also need to consider every aspect including the use of social media, fashion trends, fast fashion, and how clothing is consumed across the world. 80 billion garments are produced annually across the globe [4] and distinctive features of the fashion industry influence what we buy from those clothes that are made.

Why does child labor occur?

The reason why many corporations choose to employ children is because they slip so easily under the radar [5]. Fashion brands have the strongest relationships with the final stage of the manufacturing process, however, deeper into the works of the supply chain, where visibility is not very prominent, the risk of children being involved remains substantial. Due to these deeper aspects of the chain occurring in poorer countries where laws may not be enforced as much as in first world countries, nobody is around to stop this labor. Many companies who have had allegations against them involving child labor claim to adhere to strict policies revolving around this, but despite that, they have little involvement in the origins of the materials and garments made for them. Nonetheless, it is recommended that these companies create strict rules but if they do not know about these practices happening, they would not be able to help. It is also important to note that 46 countries do not have laws to protect children under 18 from doing dangerous work [6]. Some even have no charities or nobody around to protest for them; they are simply trapped in modern-day slavery. What is even worse is that these children are as young as 6 and work up to 110 hours a week. On average the children earn less than £2 a day. Some even less than £1 a day in even poorer places [7]. What also should be highlighted is the association between the status of a developing country and the rates at which child labor occurs is rather obvious and not a coincidence [8]. There are many factors that most likely contribute to this, and we can start with the economic aspects. Firstly, economies that transition into industrial-based systems do not have an unchallenging ride. Large outpours of poverty and employment occur all over nations in a wide area. Nations that have low economic opportunities show evidence that families have no choice but to rely on a source of income earned by their children. It is deemed that sending children to be labored is a matter of survival and can't be helped due to the impoverished conditions those developing countries are in. Industrialization and global markets may be to blame for this as these cost countries a large amount of their economy. It's also worth mentioning that these governments may not have well-established roles internationally, meaning they do not have large sums of money spare to help their citizens. These developing nations also take out lots of extensive loans from foreign countries or private corporations; which tend to leave them with a large amount of debt and of course this causes even more problems. They are unable to stimulate jobs or even social welfare projects that could help problems such as child labor as they are too busy trying to repay the large debts that the country is in. This starts to create a picture of the impoverishment cycle that these nations are in and explains why child labour occurs. And so, is linked to this problem of exploitation behind the scenes of the fashion industry.

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Does the fashion industry help with this problem?

Now that we understand why and how child labor occurs in these developing countries, it is important to discover how it has links to the fashion industry and how we can start to connect this to our question. In Bangladesh alone, as many as 3.6 million people work in the fashion industry, in which a considerable proportion of that number are children [9]. Those who, use the money earned for their families for food, clothing, and shelter. Despite international and national legislation against child labour, it may not be too implausible to consider that the jobs created by the fashion industry are helping them to some degree [10]. Others may also acknowledge that these needful families would be even more deprived without the financial contributions of their children. Meaning, that the vast lack of food and shelter would be even more severe and the survival rate chances would be even lower without access to these jobs created by fast fashion. In addition, children would have already been in an exploitation position due to the poverty of their families, perhaps this suggests that the fashion industry helps their families. Furthermore, certain activities conducted have been proven to not include any labor or exploitation [11]. Although we do need to consider that this will be a small proportion of the work directed in factories and elsewhere, we should ask ourselves if these jobs created by the fashion industry are helping in some way. Supporters of this idea have also suggested that creating a safe environment in the workplace so that children can work without being exploited is an innovative idea. We should emphasize however, that interference with schooling is listed on the work which is classed as child labor [12], so hours would have to be limited to certain hours and times of days for this to be classified as a better opportunity to earn money. This money could be used for parents to find a way to finance school fees if they discipline the money earned. In return, they could create a better future for their kids and their own families. Let's not forget that this money would be pumped back into the economies of developing countries. This lets those companies grow and possibly create better situations for deprived families such as those who have to send their children to be laboured. However, the evidence, like the ethics and the legal argument, is ambiguous.

What are the negative effects of the fashion industry?

It is rather clear that there are many ethical and problematic effects from the fashion industry implanting its roots in these developing countries. It is time to talk about those factors and how the fashion industry itself may promote the exploitation of children simply by manufacturing the clothes we wear in these developing countries. The demand for child labor is rather simple. Cheap child labor reduces overhead, consumer costs, and profit margins [13]. It is also highlighting the large inequalities between the North and South with European and North American clothing companies dictating conditions with their manufacturers. Usually, they are forced to cut costs to meet profitable margins and sadly, the real victims are the factory workers who endure long and harsh shifts [14]. Sometimes these shifts are in dangerous conditions for wages that barely cover any living costs. Due to there being no help in these perish areas, the workers cannot assert their rights. Many have even died in industrial accidents; an example of this is the case at the Rana Plaza building which collapsed in Bangladesh and was holding sweatshop workers; this terrible accident claimed 1000 lives. This occurred because employers were not financially able to create safe conditions for their employees. You would have thought that this would have been a pivotable point in the use of cheap labour but cases like these take place all over the world in poorer countries. During my research, I came across a documentary about the conditions of child labor in Bangladesh [15]. A man surrounded by children of ages 6-15 stood in a poverty-stricken area which was a factory used for making clothes. He stated that due to poverty the children are 'pushed towards employment where they are neglected from their rightful earning because of their age and vulnerability'. If the fashion industry is aware that some of the sweatshops in which their clothes come from are run by poor children then perhaps, they are promoting the exploitation of them if it still happens to continue. It was also detailed in the documentary that the money earned from the children's work was often 'not sufficient enough'. It is terrible that these kids have to work to survive and are stripped of their basic human rights when really, we should be protecting them. Sadly, the labor can also have traumatic consequences depending on which industry the child is working in. Generally, long-term health problems are common problems as a result of the malnutrition they experience, even exposure to chemicals, abuse, injuries, exhaustion, and psychological harm [16]. We need to consider the severity of exploitation when debating our question. If in fact, the fashion industry is promoting child labour, it is so bad that it cannot be ignored.

What is fast fashion and how do clothing trends affect the fashion industry?

Fast fashion is a term that is used to define the production model that allows retailers to create and sell clothes at lightning speeds. It takes advantage and capitalizes on humans' needs to be fashionably trendy for approval in society. The traditional fashion Calander no longer exists as it's been taken over by fast fashion and its need to keep up with the latest fashion trends. This is taken to the extremes, with more than 52 'seasons' now being turned over every year [17]. It has been named the 'largest disrupter in the retail industry today,' however, there are some benefits to this plague of cheap clothes. It has reaped benefits for consumers hugely by transforming the market in many ways; by focusing on simplicity, availability, satisfaction, and affordability. However, this intends to be positively impactful on the company and the consumers without considering other people deeper down the supply chain. It makes you wonder how some clothing companies can even keep up with the ever-growing demand for fresh new clothes. Sadly, it is as simple as giving sub-contracts to manufacturers overseas to whoever bids the lowest - this is usually to countries that already have some of the cheapest production costs on Earth [18]. Companies can make demands by threatening to break contracts if the manufacturers do not keep up with the required supply needed. They are not known to keep long-term relationships but in turn, are comfortable with breaking up with these manufacturers if they need much more clothes than what is being produced. Although it is surrounded by ethical concerns and critics, it has undeniably been growing exponentially over the last 20 years and will most likely keep growing. It is exceedingly successful and represents the culture of instant gratification in our modern societies [19]. Fashion is a growing industry and fast fashion happens to be a major contributor to its growth with help from the internet, social media, and technological innovation. I hope the research I have gathered balances the positives and negatives that fast fashion brings to child labor and developing countries.

Does fast fashion reap any positives?

Understanding what fast fashion is and what it does for the fashion industry is only one part of discovering how it may or may not exploit workers in poorer countries. Are there any positive outcomes of our obsession with cheap clothing and the never-ending need to fit in? Due to uproar in the media about the ethical issues of the clothing we buy, more and more factories are starting to offer better wages. Fast fashion caused a movement of people demanding better pay and working conditions for these labored people and some manufacturers have started to listen. With millions of jobs created by fast fashion retailers in poorer countries, it has been said that 'Garment factories that offer a liveable wage and the flexibility to balance a personal life outside of work can go a long way in improving the status of workers to meet the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals [20]. Meaning, that in some cases, if a liveable wage is offered, it could change lives around. Fast fashion is often viewed in a negative light, but if we look at it from various angles and different ways, there are many benefits that activists tend to ignore or miss completely.

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