Pricey Bargains Today; Unsafe Textile Factories Support Big-box Clothing Stores, But Lack Care For Employees

Blue loose-fitted crop top from Forever 21: $4.99. Bedazzled cut-off jeans from H&M: $15.00. Oversized pendant necklace from Pac-Sun: $5.00. A person’s well-
being: priceless.

However, it seems as though employers have tried to price-label their employees’ well-being, specifically the major companies that popularize fashion garments and trends that teenagers so closely keep up with.

The past few decades have seen the growth of “fast fashion stores” such as Forever 21, H&M and Old Navy. This stems from the quick, cheap clothing turn-arounds that they manage to dish out every season, all thanks to the massive outsourcing of low-wage jobs to other countries.

According to the New York Times, the United States currently makes only 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, compared to 50 percent in 1990. In an effort to produce cheap clothes more quickly, America has made steady use of textile and garment factories in places like China and Bangladesh, where workers labor arduously over the trendy apparel that we crave. They work overtime, expose themselves to toxic chemicals and get paid a fraction of an acceptable wage.

Seven hundred garment workers have been killed in factory fires in Bangladesh in the last seven years, including two children, according to The Telegraph. Most incidents were caused by faulty electrical systems and poor construction. This is common amongst the almost 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, where most employees work in buildings that are not up to code or do not have the proper permits.

There is a heavy cost lurking behind that cheap price tag. The issue of human rights arises from this situation as the privileged of the first-world exploit the disadvantaged of the third-world. Retailers have been so blinded by competition and wealth that they have overlooked basic human rights. Is a business more entitled than a person now?

On April 24, a garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh killing over 1,000 workers and leaving hundreds of people missing. Just a day before, the owner boasted that the building would stand for 100 years after dismissing repeated concerns about cracks in the building.

This is a wake-up call for our transforming society. We demand new looks and styles so frequently that retailers have to sprint to keep up. Trends are disposable to the consumers as they change their preferences in the blink of an eye.

This too coincides with workers’ lives; they have devoted time and energy to satisfy these needy customers, yet are treated with little respect. That means that in the blink of an eye, a person’s life is put at risk in response to the demands of the masses.

Businesses are pressured to keep prices at a constant low rate, so they will compromise to meet that expectation. That means when China’s labor becomes too expensive, a company will relocate to somewhere like Bangladesh, where workers earn $37.00 a month compared to $200.00 elsewhere. This is a manipulative tactic to get ahead of other penny-pinching clothes chains.

However, some companies have responded to this outrage by coming out with organic, locally made clothes. H&M has a “Conscious Collection” for the buyers to purchase organic, fair-trade clothing. These clothes may cost more, but they value the work ethic of textile factory workers.

The real solution begins at the source. Americans must put their purchases into perspective and decide as consumers if they value bargains over basic human rights.