Fast Food, Fast Fashion and Other Endeavours of Capitalism We Shouldn't Celebrate

From fast food to fast fashion, modern capitalism has disregarded the people factor, and only focused on the profit factor. Here’s a brief look at how multinational corporations have exploited the environment, community, local organisations and labour for their profit.

Food Industry

The USA has over 49 million people that are food insecure. This means that they depend on fast food and its components, which has not only resulted in several health problems like obesity but has had a tremendous role in putting the farmers in unstable economic conditions. Fast food is an endeavour of capitalism that has massively affected farmers in and around the US. The profoundly exploitative and profit-based nature of these corporations has resulted in farmers working for unhealthy hours and in hazardous conditions. Research has also found that large scale farming activities are significantly harmful to the environment. 

The fast-food industry receives its fuel from college students, on-the-run workers and people looking for cheap meals; which has enabled the massive expansion of the industry. Securing a kind of special place in our hearts such that we might not be able to live without them.

Corporates in the US also have an inclination to employ immigrant farmers as they can easily strip them of their essential worker’s rights as well as revoke their rights to form unions. Here, arise the struggles of work-for-value and fundamental human rights.

Before the international spread of privatisation policies, local markets and farmers would earn their revenue by selling their produce directly to consumers, naturally earning a higher income. After privatisation (which is portrayed as an idealistic condition), they found it difficult to cultivate crops that were up to the corporation’s standards along with producing adequate crops for them to earn that daily revenue. Countless research has shown that corporations that employ out of country services (say an American company that uses Indian potatoes to make their French Fries), tend to pay their employees below the average wage to maximise profits. Not only is this inhumane, but is also highly inequitable to the farmers that toil in their fields for 12+ hours a day to produce the best possible crop while the managers and employees get paid more than $2000 per month.

 

Fashion Industry

Fast fashion is essentially trendy, cheap clothing that bases its style on either celebrities’ fashion or from fashion runways. The clothes in fast fashion are extremely cheap, and usually mediocre quality. What Kylie Jenner wears today could turn into a fast fashion brand’s exploit tomorrow. The worst part of this is these clothes are especially made to be quickly discarded after the trend has passed, hence earning its name “fast” fashion. 

Marx has not missed the exploitative nature of the fashion industry and has discussed it numerous times in his book, “Das Kapital”. In his book, “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, Engels highlighted “15,000 mostly young, women seamstresses” who worked between 15-18 hours a day, forced to sleep and eat in their workshop. 

Some would say this is an industry that has created both marvels and horrors. The problem initiates with the tremendous hours of labour that the fashion industry requires its workers to undertake. Marx underlined the tragedy of a 20-year-old woman named ‘Walkley’, who “worked uninterruptedly for 26½ hours” before dying at a very young age. He also talks about how he’d hoped that the sewing machine would transform the production of garments, but instead, it became a beacon of exploitation of workers.

The current fashion scenario, if not known to all, is still extremely exploitative of workers. Children working in sweatshops, mostly women working for inhuman hours and getting paid way below the minimum wage. 

Workers in Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest apparel producer, get a minimum monthly wage of $68 in comparison to $280 in China, the world’s largest apparel producer. According to Reuters, 60% of Bangladeshi production is sent to Europe, 23% to the US, and 5% to Canada. A few of the leading fast-fashion brands with this approach would be Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and many more. 

(If you haven’t seen it already, Hasan Minhaj has an episode dedicated to the fast fashion industry on his show, Patriot Act (you can watch it on Netflix/YouTube). 

The ideologies of capitalism dictate that market competition leads to an increase/decrease in price, which means that corporations can decide how they intend to price their product and the margin of profit. But what does this mean for labourers? It means that instead of getting paid at least the average wage amount, they get paid much less. 

Recently, the #PayUp movement has taken charge of this issue. The COVID-19 crisis has left workers without proper employment, and in turn, without income. Top brands in the fashion industry have cancelled ongoing orders (roughly worth $3 billion just in Bangladesh) and are also refusing to pay for these in-process goods. This has caused factories to shut down, leaving their employees (most of which are women), without jobs. The PayUp Movement, with the help of activists from all over the world, demands the most influential brands in the world to pay for backorders and fulfil contractual obligations. Currently, out of 35 brands that have been named by the movement, 13 have agreed to pay upwards of $600 million in Bangladesh. The campaign has also helped unlock around $7 billion in unpaid backorders around the world. 

Another problem with fast fashion would be waste. According to the Indian Textile Journal, the average wastage of clothes in India every year is around 1 million tonnes. Not only is this harmful to the environment, but it drastically damages places that could have been places of shelter for the unsheltered. 

This is an issue that requires regulation from the government when it comes to production itself. Besides this, an ideal solution is buying sustainably. This means eating healthier, or from companies that have ethical sourcing- which means that they’re not harming the farmers they buy from or the climate conditions that they’re getting their produce from- and buying thrifted clothes or buying from sustainable brands. Thrifting has been trending for its low prices as the clothes are usually factory rejects or second-hand clothes that are usually high quality and sold by local stores. 

However, not everyone can afford to make a change or to completely change their lifestyles. For some people, the cheaper prices play a key role in helping them sustain themselves. But those of us who have the money and resources should try to do so, as every little bit helps. After all, fast fashion and food are so indented in our lives, it will be difficult to cut it out completely. 

Underpaid workers, farmers committing suicides, global warming and climate change. These are just some of the issues that plague the fast food and fast fashion industry. As an economic policy, capitalism has promised development and a happier future, a utopia where everyone gets maximum utility at the best price. But is it worth the cost?

 

 

 

Sources: 1,2,3,4