Take a look at the tag on your t-shirt. Go on, we’ll wait. Brand, size, care instructions, and country of origin – it’s all there, right? But one important piece of information is missing: the story of the garment workers who made that item of clothing. When we talk about improving the cotton supply chain, it’s easy to get bogged down with the details of materials and logistics, but it’s important to consider the people behind the pieces. As a company committed to truth in cotton labeling, we wanted to share our support for the #whomademyclothes movement and shed a little light on how your cotton garments are made.
Working Conditions Around the Globe
Clothing production is one of the world’s oldest and largest export industries and it serves as a case study in the issues associated with global manufacturing. Nearly 75 million people are employed in the garment and textile industries, a number that has continued to grow with the rise of globalization, fast fashion, and consumer demand.
In the United States, the 20th century saw a shift from domestic production of clothing to production overseas and in developing nations including China, Mexico, Uzbekistan, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Eight out of ten of these workers are women between the ages of 18 and 35, an often-vulnerable population in many of the countries where clothing production is a major source of employment. Among the challenges facing these workers, low wages, long hours, and dangerous conditions are just the beginning. In many countries, oversight is non-existent, there is little to no job security, and workers are virtually powerless to stand up to factories and farms operating to meet the needs of multinational corporations.
The #WhoMadeMyClothes Movement
When we look at the price tag on a shirt, it tells us what we pay, but doesn’t provide any insight into how much of the cost goes to raw materials, and how much toward the labor that goes into producing a piece of clothing. In the race to the bottom to satisfy consumer demands for ever-cheaper clothes, this means cutting cost at every stage – including the pay, safety, and welfare of garment industry workers. On April 24, 2013 the Rana Plaza tragedy brought the issue of working conditions in the clothing industry to international attention. When this five-story commercial building in Bangladesh collapsed due to structural failure, more 1,100 garment workers were killed and another 2,200 were injured, making it the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
In response, ethical fashion pioneer Carry Somers founded Fashion Revolution, a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. In addition to spearheading a “Fashion Revolution Week” of activism that falls on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, the organization developed the viral #whomademyclothes initiative, which encourages consumers to contact brands and policymakers to demand safe, clean, and fair garment production methods.
What You Can Do
For those who want to help empower garment workers and see progress towards more ethical production, it’s important to adopt a two-pronged approach. Not only should consumers use their voice to participate in activism like the #whomademyclothes initiative, but it’s also important to put your money where your mouth. Buying from companies that promote transparency at every stage of the production process whenever possible is a powerful way to show your support.
While many of the efforts are focused on those who sew and finish clothing in factory settings around the globe, we must consider the workers who pick the raw materials as well. Cotton is a crop that’s particularly susceptible to unscrupulous labor conditions in countries like Uzbekistan, where child labor and forced labor still run rampant. While it can sometimes be difficult to trace where a raw material such as cotton is grown, a little investigation will prove that some companies are more forthcoming than others. Look for high-quality cotton that a company can guarantee was grown in the United States under the highest ethical standards. Our proven pure pima cotton that’s used in Wamsutta sheets and towels is grown in the San Joaquin Valley of California, and we’re proud to say that our commitment to safe, clean, and fair cotton production drives everything we do.