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Ending fast fashion and extreme poverty

Ending fast fashion and extreme poverty

Ending fast fashion and extreme poverty
September 16
12:00 2020

Fast fashion refers to clothing and accessories made to mimic high-end products sold at affordable prices. Targeted at the average lower-middle-class consumer, these products are sold at stores like H&M, Forever 21, Rue 21 and TJ Maxx. In order to keep up with the ever-evolving high fashion industry, factories manufacturing fast fashion products engage in unethical production practices which include exploiting poverty-stricken communities and the utilization of child labor.

Fast fashion initially emerged as a way for companies to profit off the lower-middle class, and it has truly served its purpose. Despite the moral boundaries the industry has crossed, fast fashion gave those consumers the opportunity to afford new, trendy clothing. Ethically produced clothing brands targeted toward the average consumer, like Patagonia and Fair Trade Winds, have price points that simply do not appeal to customers on the lower spectrum of income.

Nevertheless, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the harmful social and environmental side effects of fast fashion production. Many activists insist boycotting fast fashion companies and shopping second hand will lead to the end of the industry as we know it. Putting a stop to unethical textile production practices is necessary, but it is not the answer to the underlying issue of extreme poverty.

Fast fashion distributors keep products affordable mainly through maintaining cheap labor costs. It is easiest to get away with paying low wages when workers are not aware of their rights and have no choice but to endure unfair treatment, so the industry exploits children who come from poverty-stricken families.

The International Labor Organization states there are approximately 170 million children who are far too young engaging in work, often in dangerous environments. In textile factories, children are constantly being exposed to hazardous chemicals like lead, and are not given access to personal protection equipment. According to the CDC, lead has more of an effect on children than adults, and prolonged exposure can cause kidney and brain damage, cancer, fertility issues and death.

Children work in these factories because their parents’ income is not enough to support them, or because their parents are too ill to work themselves. Although they are being exploited and exposed to harmful chemicals, their family relies on their wage for the bare necessities.

Perhaps boycotts do lead to a ban of fast fashion, consider the families who need on their children’s wages from working in textile factories to make ends meet. They will need to find another source of income, or they may face starvation. 

Putting an end to the fast fashion industry’s exploitation of children and poverty-stricken communities is necessary, but shopping at Goodwill instead of department stores is simply not enough. The focus must be put on bringing awareness to programs fighting against extreme poverty, like the United Nation’s Decade of Action initiative.

The initiative’s goal is to eradicate extreme poverty in the world’s least developed countries by 2030. The UN hopes to deliver resources including the distribution of food, clean water and education materials starting with the communities most affected by poverty. Monetary support and raising social consciousness is imperative to the UN’s plan coming to fruition.

Families living in severe poverty should not have to sacrifice their children’s safety, health and childhood for their next meal. The fight to end fast fashion is only truly effective when it is working hand-in-hand with the efforts to end extreme poverty on a global scale.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Rhema Joy Bell

Rhema Joy Bell

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