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Dear Consumers, Join The Fairtrade Fashion Revolution

Why putting down that $10 Forever 21 skirt and picking up its pricier, fairtrade counterpart is the right thing to do.

All around the world, we as humans have become adapted to comfort and ease. We want our demands quicker and cheaper in order to be satisfied. Ever since Amazon Prime’s two day free shipping, nothing taking five to eight business days can seem to arrive soon enough, and every shipping fee feels like too great an expense.

While saving money and hastening long processes aren’t inherently bad things, there are some cases where these practices can be devastating to certain groups of people. One example of this lies within the corrupt fashion industry.

Most of us have heard of Fairtrade clothing and sustainable cotton farming before, but for some reason we keep choosing the more convenient option; chain fashion stores you can find at the mall. If you’re like me, you’ve probably just cringed at the high prices of environmentally conscious clothing and walked into the nearest H&M with some considerable guilt on your conscience.

We choose more for less. Mass production in exchange for the mass destruction of developing nations and their communities. Even five years after the tragedy at the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where a garment factory collapsed, killing 1,127 workers, we still turn a blind eye to the atrocious working conditions overseas.

This cycle of feigned ignorance and constantly purchasing inexpensive, labor intensive clothing in the fashion industry has to end. We have to start taking responsibility for our actions, and stop dissociating ourselves from what we are doing to other people by remaining indifferent to the unjust treatment of human lives.

“I think we have taken a step away from the process, but we have also become further away from those countless, faceless people whose hands have touched the clothes we wear: the cotton farmer who grew the cotton, his wife who picked and cleaned it, the guy who packed and loaded it to the gin, and on to the constantly changing hands who ensured that the machines are working non-stop, ginning the cotton, spinning the yarn, weaving the fabric, dyeing and printing it.”

Subindu Garkhel, via Fairtrade America

In honor of Fashion Revolution week and in recognition of the lives lost in Bangladesh and around the world, it’s high time we expose the ugly truths behind big name fashion brands, and shine light on the commendable work Fairtrade is doing for farmers, other laborers and their families in developing countries.

Ugly Truth #1: Unsafe Working Conditions. Cotton farmers in India and Africa are invaluable and immeasurably essential to the textile industry for all of the work they do, coming from two of the largest sources of cotton in the world. However despite their significance, adults and children alike from these nations are exploited solely for their work. From factories burning and crumbling to the ground, to factories like the one in Bangladesh where 50% of female factory workers asked in a survey reported that they were beaten on the job, insufferable conditions have drastically affected the health of cotton workers. In India alone, 250,000 cotton farmer suicides have been recorded over the past 16 years.

An excerpt from the interview between The Guardian and 45 year old father of nine Moussa Doumbia exhibits the harmful effects of pesticides.

Sitting down on a low bench in front of the fire, Moussa takes a strip of paracetamol tablets from his shirt pocket. “I have a headache all the time,” he explains. “Working with the pesticides makes you sick; it makes your head sore, your stomach ache.” He tells me that a packet of eight paracetamol tablets costs him CFA400 (52p). So he has to sell two kilos of cotton to earn enough money to buy a single packet? Moussa nods.

For more information, watch Fairtrade’s short documentary about how cotton garments are made as well as the dangers and injustices cotton workers endure on the job.

Ugly Truth #2: Widespread Pollution. While it’s just the tip of the contamination iceberg, Fairtrade notes that defective systems of irrigation in cotton farming diminish local water sources, and the technique called “flood irrigation” can lead to fertilizer and pesticide runoff polluting rivers, lakes and other bodies of water.

Ugly Truth #3: Substandard Wages for Workers. Farmers across Asia and Africa are struggling to survive on their annual salary of less than 300 USD, while cotton farmers in America receive lavish government subsidies if they are working for a large corporation. The reason these farmers are being slighted is due to the fact that the price of cotton has dropped by 45% since 1960, while the cost of production has gone up, making both their livelihood and the cotton industry unsustainable for much longer. Subsidy schemes have robbed African farmers of $250 million annually, making it impossible for them to provide money for essentials such as housing, healthcare, education, food and additional fees for tools. Fairtrade has proven that a 1% increase in the price of retail clothing could lead to the selling price of cotton increasing by ten percent, helping cotton farmers earn decent wages for their labor. Which wouldn’t hurt the multi-billion dollar textile industry, nor consumers of its products.

The praiseworthy work of Fairtrade. Fairtrade is the largest, most well known and most ethical organization in the world dedicated to social, environmental and economic responsibility. It is entirely focused on helping workers receive the wages and treatment they deserve while ensuring brands can sustain their companies from farm to supply chain. Fairtrade created the Fairtrade Textile Standard, the first certification of its kind, in order to guarantee that corporations perform exceedingly well on all criteria regarding their workers and the environment, and are transparent about all the steps in their process. Currently there are over 1.65 million farmers and workers employed in companies that have been certified by Fairtrade across 75 countries.

Doing your part. Now that you know what goes on behinds the scenes of your favorite trends and threads, make it personal.

  1. Force companies to be transparent about their treatment of employees, from farmers to factory workers, to supply chain stores. Transparency compels companies to become accountable for their actions, which leads to change in the fashion industry.
  2. Use the hashtag “#whomademyclothes” to demand answers from brands on social media, and be critical of where your garments are coming from. Watch for the workers and farmers who reply “#imadeyourclothes”.
  3. Make an active effort to buy Fairtade cotton, which ensures that farmers are making livable wages from cotton that is typically low-priced on the market. Shop from Fairtrade stores that are open about their sustainable practices and socially responsible choices.
  4. Join the Fashion Revolution along with thousands of others in order to speak out against injustice in the fashion industry.
  5. Visit this site if you have questions about embarking on your sustainable fashion journey.  

Before you go to make an impulse sales buy at your local mall, consider waiting a paycheck or two in order to make a purchase that will benefit more people than yourself.

It feels good to know you are doing good and looking good in clothes that are fully supporting all the hands that made them.

Photo credit: Bijal Vachharajani via Fairtrade

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