Women account for 80% of the workforce in the garment industry.
Poverty wages are widespread, especially in high risk producing countries where women earn less than men for doing the same work, often working 14-16 hours per day or more, six days a week.
Women are the most targeted victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and gender discrimination rooted in unequal gender-based power relations between and among women and men.
A report by Global Labor Justice recognizes sexual harm, gender-based violence, and power dynamics between men and women.
Three quarters of garment workers worldwide (about 65 million) are in the Asia-Pacific Region which include countries Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. A report by the ILO has estimated that due to COVID-19, thousands of factories have shut down or closed temporarily which has had a tremendous affect on the work and livelihoods of garment workers, especially women.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Poorly maintained buildings and facilities pose health and safety risks in factories among garment workers, often resulting in many types of accidents and health threats, including loss of life.
Blocked emergency exits and bars on the windows allow for hazardous conditions.
Long working hours and lack of adequate rest and hygienic conditions in factories contribute to accidents.
Exposure to harmful chemicals while working on the cotton fields and during the dying process is a health hazard known to cause serious health implications to workers, farmers, and nearby populations.
Global Slavery Index analysis identified the "top five" products at risk of modern slavery in each of the G20 countries. The apparel sector is second to tech.
Human trafficking is in the top three illicit activities in the company of the drug trade and counterfeiting. (Source: UNODC)
"Child labor is found in 51 countries in at least one part of the cotton, garment, and jewelry supply chains. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, including the main countries supplying the fashion industry: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Turkey, and Uzbekistan."
"Children can be found working in many export-oriented industries, including garments and footwear, glass manufacturing, leather tanning, stone quarries, and gemstones. Many work unacceptably long hours, often in unsafe conditions or with minimal respect for their rights." (Source: ILO)
"A significant share of the workforce in the garment sector in India may be considered 'forced,' given that around 51% of the garment workers in India are paid less than minimum wages." (Source: ILO )
In 2020, reports of forced labor, mass detention and forced sterilization were found in the Xinjiang region of China. Some of the world's organic cotton and apparel come from this region. XPCC (a quasi-military organization) is directly linked to XPCC cotton farms. Human rights abuses and China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang has been revealed.
ENVIRONMENT & BIODIVERSITY
It is estimated that between 80-100 billion articles of clothing are produced each year. There are about 7.5 billion people on planet earth. The garment industry has an overproduction issue.
The average consumer now buys 400 percent more clothing than 20 years ago. (Source: True Cost)
Of the total fiber input used for apparel, 87 percent is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill. (Source: Ellen MacArthur)
Less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year or USD 500 billion in value is lost due to clothing that is barely worn, not donated, recycled, or ends up in a landfill. (Source: Ellen Macarthur )
The average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago. (Source: Ellen MacArthur)
Issues such as garment manufacturing mistakes, changes to garment specifications, and textile changes contribute to waste.
Microplastics are released from synthetic materials. One piece of clothing can release 700,000 fibers in a single wash (Source: Greenpeace)
Between 15% to 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by household and industrial products, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea. (Source: Greenpeace)
It takes 3,781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans and 2,700 liters to create a t-shirt from cotton production to the delivery of the final product. (Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WWF)
Not all cotton is grown in rain-fed places.
Around 20% of wastewater worldwide is known to come from fabric dyeing and treatment. (Source: The World Bank)
Runoff of pesticides, fertilizers, and minerals from cotton fields contaminates rivers, lakes, wetlands, and underground aquifers. These pollutants affect biodiversity directly by immediate toxicity or indirectly through long-term accumulation. ( Source: WWF)
Textile dying in countries where regulations are lax also end up polluting waterways.
The Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the fourth largest lake in the world, has shrunk to a fraction of its former volume largely due to irrigation for cotton farming. (Source: The Guardian)
GREENHOUSE GAS (GHG)
The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry's greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 percent by 2030. (Source: UNEP, Ellen MacArthur)
The use of freight transport by the fashion industry is set to triple by 2040
If demographic and lifestyle patterns continue as they are now, global consumption of apparel will rise from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million tons in 10 years. (Source: UNEP, Ellen MacArthur)
According to Pesticide Action Network, cotton is responsible for 16 percent of the world's insecticides.
Ancient and endangered forests are being logged for rayon, viscose, modal, and lyocell. (Source: Canopy)
Dissolving-pulp (the base material for rayon/viscose) wastes approximately 70 percent of the tree and is a chemically intensive manufacturing process. (Source: Canopy)
Less than 20 percent of the world's ancient forests remain in intact tracts large enough to maintain biological diversity. (Source: Canopy)
Leather is another culprit leading to deforestation (Source: Vogue Business)
The fashion industry is vital for economic development: it is valued at some USD 2.4 billion globally and directly employs 75 million people throughout its value chain. It is the world's third-largest manufacturing sector after the automobile and technology industries. (Source: World Bank)
"In the apparel industry, the big brands and retailers, typically headquartered in the United States, Europe, and Japan, drive the market, determining what gets produced, where, and at what prices." (Source: ILRF Report)
"The globalization of apparel production was enabled by new rules of trade, promoted by multi-national corporations, which allowed those corporations to operate in more and often far-flung geographic locations, mostly in the Global South." (Source: ILFR Report)
"Brands design products and market them, but most often outsource production to independent factories located in regions of the world where labor costs are lower and social and environmental regulations are lax." (Source: ILRF Report)
The garment supply chain is complex stretching across several countries, often unregulated, making traceability difficult.
Made in the USA does not always mean that garments were made ethically. The US is considered a medium risk country.
"The 'fast fashion' model has a deteriorating effect on working conditions. Low wages, forced labor, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions and child labor are rampant throughout the garment supply chain." (Source: Somo)
Paying garment workers a living wage is up to brands and factories to work together to achieve it.
The uncertainty of future work due to automation needs to be addressed by business.
The effects of COVID-19 have put garment workers in far more vulnerable positions as they are out of work. Some multinational brands have refused to pay factories for canceled orders.
"The FTC is a bipartisan federal agency with a unique dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition. The FTC protects consumers by stopping unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace. We conduct investigations, sue companies and people that violate the law, develop rules to ensure a vibrant marketplace, and educate consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities. We collect reports on hundreds of issues from data security and deceptive advertising to identity theft and Do Not Call violations, and make them available to law enforcement agencies worldwide for follow-up." (Source: FTC) They handle deceptive "green" claims.
Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307) prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor – including forced child labor. Such merchandise is subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s). (Source: US Customs and Border protection)
The California Transparency in Supply Chain Act declares that retailers and manufacturers doing business in California with annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding US one hundred million disclose information regarding their efforts to eradicate human trafficking and slavery within their supply chains on their website or, if a company does not have a website, through written disclosures. Businesses are required to disclose their efforts in five areas but not held responsible under law if there are any violations. The five areas are: verification, audits, certification, internal accountability, and training.
S.4241 - Slave-Free Business Certification Act of 2020. A bill introduced to Senate on July 21, 2020 would require businesses with global revenues in above US five hundred million to audit their direct suppliers, secondary suppliers and on-site service providers. For more go to: https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/s4241/BILLS-116s4241is.pdf
SB1399- The Garment Worker Protection Act This bill introduced by Senator Durazo would prohibit any employee engaged in the performance of garment manufacturing to be paid by the piece or unit, or by the piece rate, except as specified. The bill would impose a statutory penalty of $200 against a garment manufacturer or contractor, payable to the employee, for each pay period in which the employee is paid by the piece rate. Employees paid by the piece end up making an estimated $5.15/ hour. The California Bill did not pass but efforts will continue. For more go to: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB1399
The uncertainty of future work due to automation needs to be addressed by the government to avoid civil unrest and the benefit of business.