A new buzzword in our industry has surfaced recently – sustainability. More and more clothing brands are realizing that they will have to be kinder to the planet if they are to remain relevant.
They encourage recycling and upcycling, they use blockchain technologies that can prove that their garments are actually made from organic/recycled fabrics. Their sustainable clothing manufacturers use filters, alternative energy sources, you name it. And that is all great. But it’s missing one key component – the human factor.
According to the paper from the McGill University, the 3 pillars of sustainability are environment, economy, and society.
We, the people, are an important factor in sustainability. So how do we contribute to its overall presence in the world around us?
By learning about what we can do to increase our positive and reduce our negative impact on the environment and then acting upon what we’ve learned. Right?
Now, there’s one very important prerequisite for starting to learn about sustainability and starting to take sustainable actions as individuals.
And it’s called decent living conditions.
No Decent Living Conditions, No Sustainability
When we don’t have to think about whether we are going to have 0, 1, 2, or 3 meals tomorrow, we can unzoom from our day-to-day survival and start measuring our impact on the world around us. It is only when we’re not concerned about our own wellbeing, that we can think about the wellbeing of our environment.
That’s when we start reducing our carbon footprint, recycling, buying free-range eggs, driving an electric car, and so on.
Also, we have to have enough free time in order to do more than work, eat, sleep, repeat.
So let’s agree on this – decent living conditions mean that we’re earning enough to lead a dignified life and that we have enough free time to enjoy its benefits.
Now ideally, a company that is strong about sustainability would like for all of its representatives to be able to have a positive impact on the environment. And in the textile industry, that must include the SUPPLY CHAIN.
Image of your average clothing factory. Do these people work respectful hours and earn enough to have a decent life?
The Life of Garment Workers
According to the report from the Clean Clothes Campaign, the current situation in the vast majority of supply chains is as follows:
- – The workers that have decent working hours, earn well below the living wage threshold
- – The workers that meet the living wage threshold are forced into illegal overtime
A person working in such conditions can’t lead a dignified life, let alone think about the environment. It doesn’t have the luxury of zooming out of their day-to-day survival maze.
With that in mind, most garment workers are more likely to take actions that are harmful to the environment.
Actions like buying cheaper food that is almost always produced in a very harmful way for the environment (fruits and vegetables full of insecticides and pesticides, cage-bread livestock).
Or they won’t recycle, as they don’t have enough time to think about anything else other than their work-eat-sleep-repeat routine. The list could go on and it would only get uglier if it did.
So instead, let’s talk scope.
Garment Workers as a Very Relevant Demographic
In 2014, there were between 60-75 million people working in the garment industry. That’s about the same as the population of the UK. An impactful number of people, indeed.
Now, if clothing brands cared as much about the environment as their marketing campaigns are claiming they do, they would look to improve the livelihood of the workers in the supply chain.
This woman is one of over 60 million garment workers that, if not provided decent working hours and a living wage, won’t be able to care about the planet as much as you (say you do).
Forcing lower prices on the factory owners for decades has made a horrible culture in the industry. The one where suppliers are competing with each other on who will provide a lower price to get a job.
A job that a lot of them weren’t paid for in 2020. And that’s a whole other story. The one that the people from the Clean Clothes Campaign can say a lot more about.
A perfect example of inadequate working conditions. This man doesn’t have nearly enough light to perform his job adequately. Another situation clothing manufacturers and brands that use their services choose to ignore.
So next time you buy an organic, vegan t-shirt with an impact receipt, stating how much water, energy, and CO2 it takes to make that t-shirt, stop for a second. And then be a Karen. Ask their manager, why aren’t the wages of people that made that t-shirt shown on the receipt.
The human factor has as much impact on the environment as water/energy consumption and CO2 emissions. So how about we finally treat the human factor more kindly?