The use of subcontractors is also a huge problem. Many factories will get orders from retailers to produce garments. But the factory owner may outsource some of the work to another factory. This may happen because the original factory has simply too much work or because the factory owner knows the work can be done at a cheaper cost, reaping more of a profit for himself. This happens without the retailer's knowledge, although it is a retailer's responsibility to be aware of how much production capacity a factory can take on. Sub-contracted factories will not undergo the same auditing procedure as the original factory so especially in countries who do not have a minimum wage or the right to unionize, it is very difficult to ensure these workers are being treated fairly.
The young women who work in these factories have little if any knowledge of their rights, and rarely resources to fight back should these rights be violated. If you’ve never been told that you deserve a break during a 12 hour shift, are you going to ask for one? Probably not, especially if you are one of the few people who has a job.
What truly breaks my heart is that according to the most recent data, the global apparel market is valued at $1.7 trillion. 1 Yet there are many places around the world where women choose prostitution over employment in a garment factory. Not because prostitution is a lucrative career but simply because they can earn marginally more by selling their bodies than toiling for 12 hour days in a factory. It’s a simple choice of survival over starvation.
I soon found that I could no longer walk into a fast fashion retailer without envisioning the impoverished women and children who made my clothes. In place of the thrill that I once got from purchasing a shirt for less than I’d pay for a glass of wine, was the guilt of valuing my convenience and vanity over the well-being of others.
Contrary to popular belief, paying workers a living wage does not result in significantly higher retail prices. In fact the cost of labor for a $14 t-shirt that is made in Bangladesh is only 12 cents! 2 Tripling the wage of workers would result in only a 78 cent increase in retail cost. If my 78 cents means a worker in Bangladesh can take home three times as much money everyday to feed her family, I’m more than happy to pay it. And I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be. Unfortunately though, ethical production is still a niche market. So you will rarely see ethically made clothing even close to the prices of fast fashion retailers. Because economy of scale has not been actualized by these retailers, their prices are sadly exhorbitantly higher than most high street retailers.