Modern Slavery in Fashion

Slave To Fashion cover

Slavery still exists. While it may no longer appear in its whips and chains form, modern slavery manifests itself in sweatshops, poor working conditions, and child labour. In accordance with the CNN Freedom Project’s definition, modern slavery is… “When one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away”. Thus, across the world, on an industrious scale, powerful individuals and multinational corporations are taking advantage of poverty and limited life opportunities in order to source cheap workers, and pay them next to nothing. And in recent years no industry has taken more flack for such gratuitous practices than the fashion industry.


For many years exploitation in the fashion industry had gone largely unchallenged, receiving minimal press coverage and ultimately, evading justified scrutiny by politicians or other public bodies. Well, that was until 2013, when the world was halted to the spot by the shocking images unfolding on our TV screens. In gut-wrenching horror we witnessed 1,129 innocent human begins lose their lives in the Rana Plaza factory collapse, in the most terrifying way possible – crushed to death. Bangladesh along with the international community more widely, were able to ascertain that the contributing factors behind the catastrophe were the defectiveness of the building and unsafe working conditions. Worse yet, the disaster was complete and utterly avoidable.

The dilapidation was known beforehand and subsequently, apartment tenants, shops owners, bankers and other business owners had been promptly expelled for their own safety, while the garment workers who were most at risk,  were still required to continue on regardless. Essentially, greed won over the cost human lives. But, who were the workers making clothes for? Small-scale Bangladeshi brands? No. Huge American Corporations, and chiefly among them were the likes of JCPenny’s, The Children’s Place and Walmart.

Fast Fashion

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Rana Plaza tragedy, despite the world realizing that stitched away into the seams of our cheap clothes was the blood, sweat and misery some of the world’s poorest people, five years on… not much had changed. Our ceaseless desire for fast fashion has continued to grow and increasingly made us complicit in this soulless exploitation. The clock is now ticking until we witness the next big heartbreak.

Predominately fuelled by social media and the internet more widely, the rapid speeds in which trends and styles pass in and out of the zeitgeist has forced fashion brands to submit to the whim of fast fashion. And of course, this dangerously coincides with our thirst for all things cheap. May it be high inflation outstripping wage growth, stagnating economies or just plain old greed, more and more of us are flocking towards lower prices and the best deals than ever before. Thus, when placed together – fast fashion and thriftiness, it is inevitable that another storm will brew on the horizon. And we’ll soon be in the eye of it again if lasting change isn’t afoot, sooner rather later.

Conscious Consumers

For the conscious consumers among us, how can we help solve these injustices? First of all – research. Knowing where our clothes come from is the most powerful weapon we can use in the war against exploitation. And the best way to do this is by supporting ethical fashion. What is it? Well, according to Victoria and Albert Museum, “Ethical Fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.” With ethical brands like Thought Clothing, People Tree, and ThreadUP you can be assured that they can tell you exactly where every stitch and fibre of their clothing came from. Which is certainly more than you can say for the likes of Walmart or Zara. Secondly, in our fight against exploitation? Slowing down. Instead of buying new clothes every couple of week or so, shopping on a quarter-yearly basis well help put a stop to fast fashion. Plus it’s better for the environment and your bank balance.

With the inner workings of multinational becoming less transparent and more unscrupulous in the desperate chase for our wallets, it’s more vital now than ever before, that WE the consumers continually hold these big businesses to account and ensure that OUR hard earned money goes to the people who deserve it the most – the garment workers.