Negative Effects of Fast Fashion on Workers

Negative Effects of Fast Fashion on Workers

By Adrian Chong


The dynamics of the fashion industry have been changing exponentially over the past decade as designer creativity and the incorporation of ideas for sustainable usage are on the rise. Overall, this gave birth to the trend of fast fashion in which the tastes and preferences of individuals are drastically changing according to the evolution of fashion trends following the influence of multiple external factors such as the introduction of street fashion by k-pop artists and many more.

Though not covered in today’s topic, one popular question to throw light on is how the environment is being affected by fast fashion. Though people might see fashion as bits and pieces of clothing being stitched together, reality begs to differ as there is a lot more hard work, raw materials, and production processes that go behind it. For example, cultivating the right amount of cotton to produce one t-shirt alone takes approximately 10,000 to 20,000 of water to cultivate cotton, not to mention that the production of turning these raw materials into wearable pieces of clothing requires significant amounts of energy for production. In hindsight, if producing one simple t-shirt alone already requires so much, then how much more raw material and work would be required to produce stunning outfits that are most popularly seen in the Mat Gala and other fancy social events? Overall, it’s about time we re-think how we can create splendid, comfortable, and elegant designs for clothing but at the fraction of the current cost that we have to bear.

On the other hand, one interesting fact is that the industry of fast fashion itself cannot be fully insured due to the enormous liability that the insurance company would have to bear considering how fashion can easily blossom in a day but quickly fade on the next day. This indirectly causes unnecessary stress for those working in the industry with the pressure of consistently coming up with new designs that can potentially top the world as the “trendiest design of the century” while also causing a plight to those manufacturing the clothes. With this being one of the many downsides of the fast fashion industry, what does this mean for its employees and workers?

What is the current situation for fast fashion workers right now?

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the fast fashion industry is constantly on the hunt for new creative ideas to break through the already competitive space, all of which are aspiring to be the top company designers that can easily wipe through the market with their newest product. Therefore, it is noticeable that employees are constantly being pushed to their limits to not only come up with new mind-blowing ideas for display but are subjected to indirectly conform with social stigmas such as slim fit clothing and more. Overall, this has caused many to suffer from mental health stress and many more.

On the other hand, the ones who are even more severely impacted are the workers who work tirelessly day and night to man the machines and general facilities to meet tight deadlines while earning barely livable wages for their families. Many may think that the fashion industry does well in establishing automated systems fixated with internal management algorithms that help to smoothen the production process, however, that’s not usually the case. Rather, some are still heavily dependent on manual installations as clothes that require specific fixtures require the precision of skillful technicians instead. But are these workers being treated fairly? Most of the time… No.

Here are some of the many issues workers face within the industry itself:

1. Cheap labor and low wages

Despite requiring heavy labor workforces to man the facilities and production sites, fast fashion companies have taken advantage of these workers by offering low wages and hiring them for cheap labor. Many of you might ask, if the wages are so low, then why are these workers still working? To be frank, these workers just don’t have the choice to move to another workplace. In most cases, fast fashion companies tend to outsource their production sites to low-income countries to lower their manufacturing costs. This enables them to hire lower skilled workers and use it as an excuse to pay miserable wage rates for as long as $2 per day! As for these workers, they mainly originate from countries with high densities and competitive landscapes, making employment or even securing a stable job extremely difficult. Therefore, these workers have no choice but to stick to these jobs just so they can provide for their families. In the face of laws governing human rights such as minimum wages, it all boils down to what the country’s laws are and the government’s intervention in these acts. Nonetheless, amending national and international laws could take years of discussion and parliamentary debates. Additionally, local governments may also be afraid that amending these laws may eventually plummet the economy even further should large corporations feel that imposition of lawful minimum wage burdensome, thus relocating their operations elsewhere which could even further drive up the rate of unemployment and poverty.

2. Long hours of work

In addition to being paid with low wages, many of the workers have to work overtime, most of them from as early as 5am and often work to as late as 11pm or even till midnight. Furthermore, throughout their entire tenure as a worker, many of them are subjected to strict rules and regulations that severely deprive them of basic work freedom. For example, some sweatshops were shown to have inhumane rules that restrict workers to only 1 hour of lunch break and toilet breaks, this eventually causes many to suffer from over-working themselves, extreme stress, and severe deprivation of sleep. In fact, many workers are so tired that they tend to use their lunch breaks to take power naps to keep themselves awake in their second shift. Overall, these long hours of work eventually lead to unnecessary stress and hardships to these workers, some of which have left their hometowns and traveled all the way to the factories to work, ultimately not being able to see their families for long periods of time due to these extensive work hours.

3. Unsafe work conditions

Lastly, the unsafe working conditions are naturally a safety hazard to the well-being of all workers. From unsanitary work environments to dangerous work conditions with no benefits or protection, all of these pose as potential threats to workers with high levels or risks. For example, when the Rana Plaza workshop had collapsed, the incident took the lives of over 1,000 workers. Such tragic accidents shouldn’t have happened in the first place should these large corporations install safety measures to safeguard the safety of workers. Overall, workers are essentially placing themselves at risk as they continue to work to meet target goals and deadlines. Nonetheless, it’s important to ensure that workers are being treated fairly with basic safety and other necessities, considering that they do have families to care for and that they could potentially be the only sole breadwinner for their family.

What should fast fashion companies do?

First of all, fast fashion companies need to conduct a thorough investigation of their current internal operating practices, allowing major stakeholders to clearly see what is happening on-site to ensure that policies are being implemented to safeguard the well-being of their employees and all members that contribute within the production process. It’s about time for self-reflection, and it starts now! From imposing minimum wage labor laws to ensuring safe working conditions for its employees, all of these will need to be considered when imposing new welfare policies that are beneficial for the workers.

On the other hand, another aspect for improvement would be to set up staff unions or internal organizations that govern the welfare of workers. Although large corporations may have to incur additional operating and monitoring costs for this small purpose, it is still important for the brand’s image and reputation to actually ensure that no mistreatment of workers is being done within the company. A worker union not only helps to ensure that all things are in order, but it may, in fact, actually help improve the efficiency of the entire company. Think of it like this, imagine if the union worked as the intermediary between the directors and the workers themselves, wouldn’t that ease up the tension on communication barriers and other forms of discrepancies? With unions in place, these companies can indirectly expect better efficiency with enhanced workforce morale and job satisfaction.

Final thoughts

All in all, we understand that fast fashion is probably inevitable, and that the fashion industry will continue to grow and shape things around us. However, as conscious consumers, we would also need to be aware of the different accounts that come into play when supporting large fashion brands. All may seem glamorous and elegant on the outside, but what lies within is something for us to research. There are many environmental crises and humanitarian issues that can be seen from the fast fashion industry, so why not play our part in supporting a good cause and rallying for a better change in the industry for the betterment of others? There are many alternatives to fast fashion such as thrift stores or even donating your clothes to those in need to reduce waste. What do you say? Would you be eager to play your part in combating fast fashion and to advocate for the livelihoods of the marginalized?

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