At first glance, the fashion industry seems glamorous, and working in it sounds like a dream. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The ugly truth of the fashion industry and the need to create sustainability:
The fashion industry is profitable but unpredictable. Resource shortages, climate changes, demographic changes, new technologies and seismic shifts in the global economy all negatively affect the fashion business. In order for a garment factory to last, the owners must think about sustainability on multiple levels: the necessary supplies, the operating and distributing processes, and consumer interest. Within the operating process, the treatment of workers requires a complete overhaul.
Garment workers, 90% of which are female, are severely mistreated. In Cambodia, workers experience adverse working conditions, no benefits, and forced overtime, in addition to low wages. Since the fashion industry makes up approximately 80% of the country’s total exports, the workers are supposed to receive a reasonable wage, but this is not the case. In 2014, Cambodian workers employed by H&M campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $177 per month, which is still lower than the cost of living. To put it into perspective, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment outside of the city is about $185 per month.
Intersectional Feminism and the sustainability of fashion business:
Intersectional Feminism fights for women’s equal rights with a focus on overlapping discriminations. In the garment industry, the majority of workers are abused women living in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Those who are of a different nationality or ethnicity than their overseers face additional discrimination. Since the workers suffer both racism and sexism, Intersectional Feminism has the potential to influence the development of sustainable fashion.
Three levels of influences of the Intersectional Feminism on the garment workforce:
a. The influence at operating level:
The garment workers know that they are treated unfairly, and yet they are not speaking out. So why are they staying silent? Peer pressure is a powerful phenomenon: those in a group can either extend the rights of the members or diminish them. Most of the garment workers are women, and women tend to respond to conflict differently than men: they prefer to resolve it in a peaceful manner. As a result, the overseers see them as weak, which leads to further mistreatment.
One solution to the abuse female workers face is adding diversity to the workforce, which reduces stereotypes and cultivates empathy. By collaborating with people from different cultures, the underprivileged workers’ perceptions of their own rights develop appropriately. Diversity is the stepping stone for Intersectional Feminism. Once a person becomes aware that women of all different cultures experience sexism, she understands that they are all fighting the same battle for better treatment in the workforce, which creates solidarity. No movement has been successful if the members are not on the same page.
In addition, diversity forces the employers to be more reasonable in the way they treat their subordinates. They have to pay more attention to insurance, benefits, reasonable salary policies and safety measures in the workplace. This will help improve the working conditions for the garment workers.
b. The influence on the big brands (H&M, ZARA…):
In the fashion industry, any adjustment related to the clothes-making process affects the whole brand directly. Social issues, such as those addressed by Intersectional Feminism, draw attention to a brand’s corporate social responsibility. The companies need to look at their strategies carefully and develop a plan for sustainability in the fashion industry as a whole and, especially, in the workforce.
c. The influence on the whole industry and the general perception:
Going further, Intersectional Feminism can change the fashion industry as a whole and society’s general perception. Step by step, by affecting the labor workforce, the movement attracts the attention of managers. This generates awareness of big brands to the sustainability of the garment workforce. Once the big brands make their moves, the smaller ones are obligated to follow. This movement will change the entire industry in the long run.
The change of the industry draws awareness to the issue of worker mistreatment. The fashion industry and its ugly truth will be fully exposed. Gradually, the sustainability of the workforce will be appropriately perceived by the whole community. This is the scenario we are all heading towards.
In conclusion, garment workers as a whole play an important role in the movement of sustainable fashion. By utilizing the powerful potential of Intersectional Feminism, the movement can make a transformational step towards a promising future.