In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations wrote up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–a document outlining the basic rights every human is entitled to. The declaration includes 30 articles–including everything from the right to life, right to marriage, right to rest, and so on. There is one article in particular we want to focus on this month, Article 23–the right to work.
The human right to work entails the right to just and favourable working conditions, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to just payment ensuring an existence worthy of human dignity, and the right to trade unions.
If you’ve ever held a job of any kind you most likely expected these rights to be met. It is expected that your employer will pay you justly and provide safe working conditions. Would you continue to work if that wasn’t the case?
Many fast fashion companies take advantage of the disadvantaged societies in which their factories are located. Factory workers may not be educated about their basic human rights or they are so desperate for a job that they accept unfair working conditions and unequal pay because well what other option do they have? This question is how many people justify sweatshops.
Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about the changes that need to be made in the fashion industry to create not just fair but good working conditions and to not just pay people enough to survive but to thrive. We’ve always thought that the answer to the fashion crisis would be a complex solution but the more we think about it the answer seems to be a rather simple one. We need to be okay with paying more in order for products to be manufactured ethically.
Let us explain: Fast fashion was developed out of competition. Instead of trying to improve designs or quality of clothing, companies began competing by producing more styles of clothing at a faster rate for a cheaper price than their competition. The way they achieved this was by going to the factories and demanding cheaper production costs. If one company offered a t-shirt for $5 the competition needed to offer it for $4 and then the $5 t-shirt company needed to drop their price and so on and so on. Consumer price tags went down because production costs were cut which means that factories were having to produce more for less. Factories couldn’t afford to lose the business so they accepted these prices and therefore exploited their workers to meet the production demands. Our consumerism is literally fueling the cycle of poverty.
If we toned down our consumerism to be okay with paying more for quality & ethically made items then brands could pay factories more which in turn means that workers would be paid livable wages. In fact, if workers in Bangladesh were paid $1.50 (a liveable wage) instead of 31 cents an hour that they are paid by H&M, it will increase the clothing prices but not by that much because paying the worker is a small fraction of the total cost of an item. And honestly, who’s going to flinch when the price of a top goes from $5 to $6.
A consumer item would only increase by 1.8% if we doubled the salary of sweatshop workers.
Fashion relies on a supply chain which is made up of multiple segments. In order for paying more for our products to really improve the livelihood of workers, every facet of the chain has to make a commitment to uphold ethics over profit. If one party pockets the increased profits this logic won’t work.
Seems simple, right? Well so do ‘basic’ human rights but we still needed a declaration in order to uphold those, and even then it clearly doesn’t happen. This month we encourage you to educate yourself about the human rights that you are entitled to. We encourage you to fight for those rights for not only yourselves but your fellow human beings. Just imagine a world where everyone is treated fairly, where everyone thrives. That’s the kind of world we should strive to have.