Where Do Your Clothes Really Come From?


A t-shirt at Walmart costs $5. As college students on a budget, we are often hunting for the best price we can find, so finding that dirt cheap t-shirt often counts as a personal victory.

As consumers we have come to expect these low prices from clothing retailers; but have we ever thought about why Walmart can sell us that t-shirt at such a low price? In the abstract, we know that it has something to do with outsourcing and the label ‘Made in China,' but in reality it has dangerous consequences for girls worldwide.

The Bangladeshi garment industry is seen as an escape from poverty by Bangladeshi women. In an interview with Bloomberg BuisnessWeek, a woman named Nazma Akhter illustrates how she had moved to Dhaka, the capital city, to provide a better life for her children. In her home village, Ahkter’s own mother labors in a rice paddy. Ahkter, herself, spent 10-12 hours every day hunched over a sewing machine, before she was injured in the infamous Rana Plaza factory collapse.

Millions of other women have stories just like Ahkter’s. In fact, most of the 3.5 million Bangladeshis working in the garment industry are women. Unfortunately, women are among the most vulnerable people in this industry. For instance, most factory supervisors are men and the workers suffer verbal and physical harassment as well as beatings. Workers also have no rights or legal protections and as such do not receive health insurance, maternity leave, easy access to unions, or sick days. Female workers with children are separated from their families for long periods of time, especially when they live far from the factories and must walk because they cannot afford public transportation.

The conditions of the factories themselves are horrific. For instance, the workers are often cramped into dusty apartment buildings with few windows and unsanitary bathrooms. Factory owners will often add on additional floors to buildings that already lack adequate structural support, increasing the risk of collapse. The buildings also lack necessary fire doors and exit routes.

After the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, European and American retailers affirmed their commitment to improving factory conditions. These goals, however, may be hard to enforce. Major retailers place orders to and are supplied by factories that often engage in illegal subcontracting. This practice results in unregistered factories that are not subject to inspection or any minimum safety requirements. Even though the major retailers have strict policies against subcontracting, the process lacks a sufficient paper trail to determine which orders have been produced illegally.

In the face of these shady practices, it can seem as though we have no control over where our clothes are produced. And it is easy to ignore a problem that exists half a world away. But Her Campus challenges you to think before you shop and to use your power to stand up for women all over the world!