Monday, 12 May 2014

The cost of fashion † Human and animal rights and environmental health

Hey kittens, I'm sorry to say that things will continue to be quiet around here: I've been offered another job, which means I'll basically be working full time. I'll squeeze in Encyclopaedia entries where I can, but for now, here's something I wrote up a while ago-

I've written a little before on how to be green and black, but I want to extend that a little further this time. I have a passion for environmental matters and human rights too, but my university offered such an overabundance of environmental law units that I squished all in so there was no room for human rights law. (To clarify, I studied climate science and environmental law).

I regularly read articles from magazines such as Peppermint, an Australia eco-fashion publication, and from sites such as TreeHugger and Mother Nature network. On one of my daily jaunts, I came across an article on a note found in a paper bag from Huffington Post (which I mostly follow for the 'Green' section but this popped up and looked interesting).

In short, the article relates how an American women found a note in the bag, from an inmate in a Chinese prison pleading for help. He had been arrested on false charges, abused and was forced into essentially slave labour, producing these paper bags for companies around the world. The question this should make you ask is: Do you know who makes the products you use every day?

This is an important question. As is: How was the product produced? Where does it come from? Where will it go when discarded?

Let's start with the first question: Who produced this product? Luckily, with a lot of alternative fashion, dedicated people hand make items to a great quality. It is only massive corporations which often feel the need to 'cut costs' by herding a lot of poor people into bad quality surroundings to produce stuff. So handmade = yes? Well... where do the components come from? After the horror of the Bangladeshi factory collapse (warning: the first picture is absolutely heartbreaking), it is even more important that people really pay attention to where they get their stuff from.

How was the product produced?
Slave labour? Child labour? Was your black orchid perfume dripped into the eyes of tied down rabbits or force fed to dogs? Was your black leather sprayed with biocides or volatile organic compounds? Was it an energy intensive process that emitted dioxins and furans into the atmosphere? How much water went into the production of your stonewash jeans? There are so many questions here.

Where does it come from?
This is essentially a question with two points: product miles and human rights. Product miles are the total amount of travel taken by all the bits and pieces needed to make the product. It can be pretty ridiculous sometimes. China imports tomatoes from Italy, Italy imports tomatoes from Australia. America produces circuit boards and electronic components, send them to China for assembly, and they send them back. How much travel is that? How much energy goes into this strange to-ing and fro-ing?

Human rights comes in with the phrase 'you vote with your pocket'. When you buy a product, you endorse it and essentially 'vote' for it. It is thus important to know what you are 'voting' for, like any election.

Where will it go when it gets discarded?
What do you do with your old or unwanted clothes? You can donate some, sell some, use some for rags... or bin it. Waste dumps are pretty horrific places, especially if yours buys waste from other countries. What about electronic goods? Do you try to recycle them? Hell, sometimes governments don't care - electronics 'destined' for recycling have ended up in Global South (aka developing/third world) tips.

So now what? Essentially this post is a really really quick ramble about the importance of thinking about what you buy, from where, from who and what you do with the things afterwards. Here's a great little infographic to give you a start:


I could probably go on for days about this (I mean, come on, I studied it at university for five years) but I'll leave it there. Is there anything that you are particularly interested in that I could expand upon?


  1. If you're interested in labor exploitation, you have to read this comic strip about trade agreements. (Australia makes an appearance in the comic too, after it tried to take a stand against trade agreements with US tobacco companies.)

  2. Also, this is why I usually buy made-in-the-US clothing. Our factory workers are pretty well protected. (and everyone shits on American Apparel, but they've got some of the best factory conditions around.) I think Europe also has good conditions as well--I assume so because of the price point. How are Australia's regulation? should I buy Australian brands?

    1. Unfortunately, there's no catch-all that says one particular country is the best place to buy from because slave labour is a fact even in developed countries. The only thing I can say is, if you're not buying second hand, have a good long look at the brand.


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