Posted on: December 10, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Bithi, 15, was forced to work in a garment factory. Next up for the girl — an arranged marriage. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Mark Nonkes)

By The Editorial Board

As you buy presents for your loved ones this holiday season, you probably have a budget in mind. But that affordable sweater you’re considering may come at a high ethical price: forced labor, possibly even child labor.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that our purchases have consequences for human lives. Before purchasing, we need to ask ourselves where the item was produced. Was the workplace ethical? Are workers being paid a fair salary? Are they putting themselves in danger? Was this item made by a child?

“Global estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicate that 160 million children between 5-17 years old were engaged in child labor in 2021, of which about 79 million were in hazardous labor,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “The ILO also estimates 25 million people are trapped in forced labor, including over 4 million children.”

These numbers continue to increase, specifically for children. Children already face a lack of human rights, with threats to their health, safety, and education every single day. Poverty is persistent in communities where these labor conditions exist; children lack education, damaging their future employment and chance to create a better life for themselves.

Children already face a lack of human rights, with threats to their health, safety, and education every single day.

Only 2 percent of garment workers receive a livable salary. Because sweatshop factory pay is not enough, mothers will bring their daughters to work in factories at alarmingly young ages.

According to The World Counts, “250 million children between 5 and 14 are forced to work in sweatshops in developing countries.”

With the pandemic, garment workers now earn even lower wages, or none at all when there is a lockdown. An estimated 1.6 million garment workers were fired in seven countries, many of them not paid their full legal entitlement to severance.

Sweatshop wages barely cover essential needs. Some workers are paid only $0.13 every hour and often work in poor conditions of bad air quality and extreme heat. 

For decades, in order to pay workers less, fashion industries have intentionally chosen Asian communities that face poverty–countries such as Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Women are recruited as they are most vulnerable socially and economically.

Women make up 85 percent of sweatshop workers, and they experience physical, verbal, and sexual abuse in factories daily. Often, women will refrain from making complaints to Oxfam, as they fear they will lose their jobs if they report. One in four Bangladeshi garment workers experiences abuse–and that number likely represents underreporting.

Only 2 percent of garment workers receive a livable salary

Women face denial of maternity leave and poor sanitation in the workplace, and managers have forced women to take pregnancy prevention pills. Many women develop diseases such as bladder infections due to lack of bathroom breaks. 

Over the years, thousands of garment workers have died due to the poor condition of factories, which can lead to fires and building collapses. An estimated 1.4 million workers have been injured in garment factories every year. 

These factories are also bad for the planet: Fast fashion is one of the five leading causes of global warming. By 2030, it’s estimated the fashion industry consumption of resources will be equal to two earths, with clothing demands predicted to increase by 63 percent. 

It’s impossible to cover in one editorial the long list of horrors sweatshop workers and children face in the name of fast fashion. As consumers, we must do our research and become aware of the hidden and damaging impact unethical workplaces have on humans and on the environment.

What else can you do? Sign petitions like #PayUp. Protest. Work with organizations and charities that fight for sweatshop workers’ rights. We must fight for change. We must make the choice to act in solidarity with these workers by pushing companies to pay their employees and give them basic human rights.

It’s time to think twice before you purchase that sweater whose price seems a bit too good to be true. Boycott fast fashion, and instead buy from sustainable and environmental shops or second hand.

Give the gift of a better life.

The editorial board is composed of editor-in-chief Deana Elhit and the section editors of The Glacier.