Harnessing the fashion rush to exploitation

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The fashion industry currently holds many jobs. It is meeting a basic need, serving a purpose of expression, preserving crops, producing a brilliant amount of carbon emissions and filling all possible rivers with toxic scum. An industry-encompassed subculture called Fast Fashion is the most worked segment of them all. By keeping activists on their toes, companies that promote this culture ensure that in addition to sufficient ecological damage, an unhealthy environment for workers is also created.

Fast fashion refers to the rapid production of inexpensive clothing in line with the demands of high-end fashion. Over the past two decades, this business model has grown tremendously. Clothing manufacturing doubled between 2000 and 2014 and clothing purchased per capita increased by 60 percent. This trend has not gone unnoticed. The quick fashion review is a conversation that has been around for years now.

An average consumer throws 60 percent of their clothes the first year itself. The predominant perspective of consumers to constantly buy clothes to keep up with trends has kept the situation from improving. With this in mind, companies prefer to invest in styles and designs rather than raw materials. Retailers like Zara and H&M have claimed that around 40 to 53% of their products in stock are less than 3 months old. Fast-fashion giant Shein, the world’s largest online-only retailer, launches around 700-1,000 new items every day, as its CEO said. Molly miao. This approach of quantity over quality gave way to two major issues, one being ecological damage and the other being the exploitation of labor.

The the fashion industry is responsible for more than 10 percent of carbon emissions and consumes around 100 million tonnes of oil each year. Virgin polyester is a key part of these numbers. The one-year manufacturing process of virgin polyester produces the same amount of CO2 than 180 coal-fired power plants, which represents around 700 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Reports estimate that this could double again by 2030. The fThe auto industry emits as many greenhouse gas emissions each year as the economies of France, Germany and the UK combined, according to McKinsey researchers. The recent report by The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made the discussion even more imperative, as it called climate change a “code red for humanity”.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, manufacturing units discharge toxic wastewater with a high phosphate content into rivers. In Delhi, for more than 33 days in 2020, the ammonia level in the water has remained above treatable levels, directly impacting over a third of Delhi’s water supply. Rural India plays a major manufacturing and dyeing role for many clothing companies. These effluents pollute the drinking water of the villagers and make cultivation difficult. The water crisis in Punjab with the depletion of groundwater levels is a recent problem, something the Punjab is still going through, and these industries are only making matters worse.

Not just the production, the disposal of these clothes is also a mess. According to a Ellen Macarthur Foundation report, if things continue as they are, more than

150 million tonnes of clothes will end up in landfills or be incinerated in 2050. Each second, a garbage truck clothing value is thrown away or burned.

This stifling climate system, to add to the misery, is built on the backbone of workers working long hours and meager wages. The need to be competitive in the market motivates most companies to cut all costs possible, with labor wages being an easy target. Companies make sure to choose locations with cheap labor costs and limited worker rights. Countries like China, India and Bangladesh offer great options as a massive population paves the way for extremely low wages for many hours of work. Unemployment being a major problem, it is a well-known situation in India. The workers are all employed days a week and often refused overtime payment. The pandemic has only worsened the situation and without government intervention the future is bleak.

The working conditions are another appalling sight. Lack of ventilation, inhalation of fiber dust and other toxic substances are a daily routine. Forced labor and child labor would be a whole different article.

The voices around Fast Fashion’s operating economy, right now, are louder than ever. People’s concern grew around the work lines of fashion companies, forcing many large companies to speak out. Companies like Levi’s, Wrangler, H&M, among others, have started to make small efforts towards sustainability, piloting products with a increased amount of hemp cotton, detachable accessories and reduced water consumption being some of them. Zara also claimed to use 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. Although this should only be the beginning, the end goal being to fully embrace the concept of circularity; a system where we no longer extract new materials from the earth.

Looking at the bright side, a lot of new companies with better alternatives are emerging in the textile space. A Delhi-based textile start-up ‘Aslee‘uses materials like nettle, hemp, and bamboo to bring about change. Other sustainable brands worth mentioning are ‘Harago’, ‘Amesh’ and ‘Petit Pli’.

When it comes to working conditions, the Make in India initiative has given Indian workers more space and rights in this ruthless industry. But with the pandemic enveloping the entire world, the situation has stumbled on a steep slope. Conditions are improving now, with an increase in vaccinations most likely, but we still have a long way to go.

Returning to pre-Covid conditions is not the goal, the bar is much higher. Workers’ rights, as mentioned above, are in urgent need of attention and improvement. In addition, the fashion industry is still not regulated in terms of environmental impact, which needs to be looked at. Society cannot wait for the dawn of realization to fall on capitalism, regulation is the only way, at least as far as the ecosystem is concerned.


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