A new buzzword in our industry has surfaced recently – sustainability. More and more clothing brands realize they must be kinder to the planet if they plan to remain relevant.
They encourage recycling and upcycling and use blockchain technologies that can prove that they use organic/recycled fabrics. Their sustainable clothing manufacturers use filters and alternative energy sources, you name it.
And that is all great. But it’s missing one key component – the human factor.
According to a paper from McGill University, the three pillars of sustainability are environment, economy, and society. Yes, society. We, the people, are a critical 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 impact and reduce our negative impact on the environment and then acting upon what we’ve learned. Right?
But what if our reality is focused on surviving another day? How can a person with that in mind afford to think about the environment?
No decent living conditions, no sustainability
When you don’t have to think about whether you will have 0, 1, 2, or 3 meals tomorrow, you can unzoom from our day-to-day survival and start measuring your impact on the environment. Only when you’re not concerned about your own well-being can you think about the well-being of the 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 you earn enough to lead a dignified life and have enough free time to enjoy its benefits. 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 are near the living wage threshold are forced into illegal overtime
People working in such conditions can’t lead a dignified life, let alone think about the environment. They don’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 would harm the environment.
They would buy cheaper food with fewer nutrients and more harmful additives. Or they might not recycle, as they don’t have enough time to think about anything 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, 60-75 million people worked 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 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 brought to life a horrible culture in the industry. The one where suppliers compete with each other on who will provide a lower price to land a job.
This culture reached a new low during the COVID-19 pandemic, where brands demanded unreasonable discounts or even refused to pay.
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 a fellow human being more kindly?