The term “ethical fashion” has circulated conversations amongst conscious consumers and fashion designers. Its purpose is to create opportunity for economically marginalized people in developing nations, alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development. It promotes fair price for fair wages. Fair trade factories aren’t full of over-worked and underpaid men, women and children. With more awareness being raised and brands taking a stance for fair-trade, we as a people still have quite a long way to go, and “ethical fashion” is only just a piece of the puzzle.
I live in California and by default, I spend a lot of time in the car. One evening on my way home from work, I put on a TedTalk by Canadian journalist, Noy Thrupkaew, who has spent countless hours in hundreds of jails and brothels and interviewed many NGO workers about Human Trafficking. I had assumed she would speak of the injustices of human trafficking in the sex industry, because that is what I associated human trafficking with. Little did I know, she was about to open my eyes (and expose the limited knowledge I had about the topic) to the much broader picture of what human trafficking is. I thought it was only about forced prostitution, an injustice that so deeply angers me and is the reason I have pursued work in the justice sector. I had no idea that there was an entire other group of people attached to this. From my research, I found this group consists of men, women, and children, most of whom have been promised a visa and a better job in a more affluent country only to find themselves working 14 hour days with little to no pay, mistreatment, most often with their documents of identity withheld, and at the mercy of their traffickers.
Noy Thrupkaew says, “Human trafficking is far more prevalent, complex and close to home than most of us realize.”
Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor.
Key Statistics about labor trafficking
- 22% of human trafficking is forced prostitution, 10% of human trafficking is state-imposed labor and 68% is forced labor exploitation (those who create the goods and deliver the services that most of us rely on every day), but accounts for fewer than 10% of convictions.
- Globally, the international Labor Organization estimates that there are 14.2 million people trapped in forced labor in industries including agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing, including the apparel industry.
- The U.S. Department of Labor has identified 136 goods from 74 countries made by forced child labor.
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has received more than 4,000 reports of labor trafficking since 2007 within the United States.
- Victims of labor trafficking pay an average of $6,150 in “recruitment fees” for the job they were promised
So how does all of this this relate to ethical fashion? Ethical fashion (or fair trade) essentially cares about the well-being of the people and communities who make our clothes. It’s about fair price and creating sustainability for the long-run. While mega-companies have factories full of underpaid and overworked employees, we are supporting this injustice when we have the opportunity to be part of the solution. When we choose to be part of the solution, we are helping to empower people to support themselves, their families, and ultimately their communities, and it is an investment worth making.
My goal for writing this piece was to start a dialogue. Can we ask ourselves who made our clothes? Who made the white cotton t-shirt I so love and wear all the time? Who crafted my shoes? Where she is from? Is she being paid fairly? Does she have children to support? We live our lives in our clothes (thank goodness) and it is time we take a stand, even in a small way to support the fair-trade movement. Supporting this movement can look like beginning to be a conscious consumer and not buying from companies that own sweat shops where the kinds of labor injustices occur.. There are so many amazing fair trade brands we can support so here is a mini-list to get you started. Enjoy!
-Industry of all Nations
-Urban Renewal by Urban Outfitters
-Green Room by ASOS
And even West Elm (furniture).
Let us know what your favorite fair-trade brands are. We would love to hear!
With light and love,
Los Angeles, CA