The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
With the entire world put on pause, during lockdown there really wasn’t much else for us to be doing with all of our free time besides online shopping. However, sometimes it is hard to remember that while we’re pressing buttons from our couches, there are employees constantly working tirelessly to fulfill our orders according to standards, and in a timely fashion. With the negative effects caused by COVID, fashion labor environments that were already unsafe, have caused the industry to go even further downhill.
Let’s rewind and go back to the world in pre-COVID times. Most people have recently become aware about the concept of “fast fashion” and how the workers in those factories were placed in very unsafe conditions. However, this is not just the case for fast fashion, some of your favorite higher end companies could be treating their employees the same way, or even worse. To name just a few examples, Nike, Gap, and Target have all been involved in scandals when it comes to mistreatment of their labor workers. In the EBook, “The Dangers of Fashion”, authors Sara B. Marcketti and Elena E. Karpova, describe this conditions as modern day slavery. By using this term, it really puts into perspective how dangerous and harmful these environments really are. Modern-day slavery in this context is a term with many definitions. These poor working conditions consist of many components such as extremely long working hours, little to no pay, forced labor, and verbal and physical abuse. In essence, these workers have no basic human rights when it comes to their job environments. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals addressed this issue, and called for action. Other organizations as well have taken action to ensure that standards are being upheld for working conditions, however, this did not eradicate the issue, and it is still prominent and frequent in the garment production industry.
However, we are no longer in pre-COVID times, so it is important to touch upon how the pandemic has greatly affected these conditions. Regardless of industry, a large fear of many at the beginning of the pandemic was losing their jobs. However, for most garment workers, they would have been safer and healthier if they actually had lost their jobs. Many companies forced their factory workers to continue to come in and work each and everyday, even though we were under a lockdown order. In Issue 6 of The Fashion and Race Database, author Anu Lingana discusses results of a study done by the University of Sheffield and the Worker Rights Consortium. The report surveyed over 1,000 workers from 302 factories, and uncovered many shocking results. The majority of conditions from the past had still reigned true, such as unfair wages, verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation. However, new COVID related conditions had now been added. 39% of surveyed people said they were forced to work without adequate COVID-safe measures such as personal protective equipment (masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer) and social distancing. These workers were left with no choice but to put their own lives at great risk, just to keep the supply chain of clothing production functioning.
The fashion industry is full of hidden harms to the workers that supply us with necessary products, which has only worsened during the pandemic lockdown. Most of us are unaware of what goes on behind the scenes in the fashion industry after we press the “submit order” button. Although online shopping is extremely appealing to all, especially during conditions like COVID, it is important to keep in mind how others are negatively affected.