How the Fashion Industry Exploits the Poor, the Environment and, of Course, Women 

Everyone needs clothing for comfort and staying warm. Certain articles of clothing also help us to adapt to modern living. Imagine for a moment strolling down Park Avenue barefoot on a sunny July afternoon. Few of us relish what such a walk would do to the soles of our feet!

However, there's clothing and then there's fashion. Clothing serves a utilitarian purpose and can make us look nice in the bargain. Fashion can also serve to give us a self-esteem boost, but problems arise when that boost comes in the form of artificially created worth stemming from a designer name on the label. It's one thing to revel in nice things when hard work pays off in the form of, say, a valuable promotion. But when self-indulgence comes at the cost of other people's dignity and even lives, the time has come to find a better way to celebrate personal accomplishment. 

How the Fashion Industry Exploits the Poor and Women

According to the Associated Press, in a Chinese factory where fashion mogul and unlikely political figure Ivanka Trump produces her line, workers not only labor under repeated violations of labor laws, but they also regularly experience physical beatings for failing to produce quickly enough. Trump regularly prices her designs in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars, but her workers are fortunate to average a meager $62 per week. 

Not only is their pay of roughly $1 per hour less than the mandatory minimum wage, but they also labor in horrific conditions. Workers report mandatory overtime shifts regularly extending well past midnight. Laborers sometimes receive as few as two days off per month. And their work weeks normally extend to at least 60 hours or more. 


Women and young girls make up the majority of garment workers, not only in China but around the globe. In nations such as Cambodia, as much as 90% of the female population labors in a sweatshop owned or leased by a foreign fashion mogul. Some of these girls begin laboring as young as five years of age, taking school off the table and condemning them to a lifetime caught in the cycle of poverty. 

In India, a typical day at a fashion factory begins at 8 a.m. and continues until 10 p.m., making for a 14-hour day. With no job protections or security, factory owners can fire employees on a whim or for no reason at all. Due to this, most refuse to protest their mistreatment, as the lives of their family may hinge upon their continued financial contributions. 

Women and children laboring in the garment industry face additional horrors. Rape is a common practice to keep factory workers in line, and those who report their assaults almost always find themselves out of work and starving. Sexual harassment proliferates, even or especially against children, who may lack the maturity (and certainly the education) to fully understand what is happening. 

How the Fashion Industry Destroys Our Environment

Unfortunately, girls and women are hardly the only ones impacted. Our mother earth has fallen under the eye of the fashion industry and has suffered abuse at the hands of designers and consumers alike. 

The most commonly used textile in garment manufacturing is cotton, which is hardly an easy crop to grow. To produce just one shirt, it takes the amount of water that one human being would normally consume in two and a half years to grow adequate crops. 


Nor is water use the only injustice lakes, rivers and oceans suffer for our fashion addiction. Fully 20% of water pollution stems from the textile industry. The production of fashions in various colors requires the use of dyes and bleaches, and elements like arsenic and mercury get dumped into waterways by factories. 

Scientists already project the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. If textile companies continue to dump toxic waste into our waterways, it gives reason to wonder if we will have any fish remaining by that year at all. 

Changing the Definition of Success to Kindness, Not Exploitation 

No one wants to begrudge those who work hard to attain material success the fruits of their labor. However, our plenty should not be served on the backs of the downtrodden, and our indulgences certainly shouldn't destroy the planet we all rely on for survival. We need to change our definition of success to involve celebrating human kindness, like what we see when companies make it a point to manufacture ethically

Those of us with more can do much to help those with little get a leg up in life by refusing to invest our financial gains in an unscrupulous, abusive and destructive industry.

Article by Kate Harveston