Last month I had the honor of sitting as a panelist during the San Francisco screening of groundbreaking fashion documentary “The True Cost” exposing the massive impact of fast fashion in developing countries.
Although I had heard about the movie before that night, it was my first time watching it along with the attending audience. After the movie, spectators where faced with a new reality and asked many questions about fashion production, working wages, textile toxicity… coming to the realization that is very important to know ‘Who Made Your Clothes”, a question that became the mantra of the Fashion Revolution Organization, established in London in 2013 after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where over one thousand people were killed and over twenty-five were injured.
The movie is a concentrate of mind-blowing information, exposing how western fashion brands are taking advantage of the current system to produce clothing at the lowest cost possible, disregarding safety, health and lifestyle conditions of factory workers, how toxic chemicals and pesticides are depleting our planet soils, harming thousands of farmers and their families, and we’re not talking about headaches, but very serious conditions such as cancer and mental illness. This is a reality even in our own USA. Texas hosts the biggest cotton patch in the world. In just the past 10 years, 80% of that patch is now GMO, genetically modified cotton.
Among the numerous reasons I encourage you to watch this powerful documentary, a story in particular made me wanna write this blog. One woman. One single woman’s story I can’t shake off my mind. Shima Akhter, 23 years old, is among the 40 millions garment-factory workers in the world. She has been working since she was 12 years old. As a child, she earned $10 a month, now Shima’s minimum wage is lower then $3 a day, and she’s among the lowest paid garment workers in the world. Shima has now a child of her own now…
“I take her with me to the factory some days, but it’s terribly hot inside the factory, and there are chemicals inside the factory, which are very harmful to children. So I can’t keep her here in Dhaka with me, because I don’t have anyone to take care of her. Of course i feel bad, but there’s nothing to do. With a job here, I’m forced to leave her in the village. In the last two months, she never sat with her books. She only watches tv or cartoons and music videos. But if she stays in the village, she goes to school in the morning , comes back at noon and at 3pm she goes for private tutoring”.
In order to give their children and education and a chance of a better future then life in the factories, many garment workers, like Shima, are leaving their children to be raised by family or friends in villages outside the city, only getting to see them once or twice a year.
Hearing Shima tell her story on the screen moved me to tears. In spite of her dramatic situation, she looked fierce, strong and determined to make a difference. She continues…
“I have formed a union at my work. I’ve been the president of the union since its formation. We submitted a list of demands and the managers received it. After they received the list, we had an altercation with the managers. After the altercation, the managers locked the door and along with them, 30-40 staffers attacked us and beat us up. They used chairs, sticks, scales, and things like scissors to beat us up. Mostly they kicked and punched us and banged our heads on the walls. They hit us mostly in the chest and abdomen.”
Is this what happens if someone speaks up for their rights? Is this the cost for a cheap dress or t-shirt? Anyone of us, if we’d be born in Bangladesh, could be Shima.
In a broken voice, but still smiling, Shima introduces us to her parents she hasn’t seen in a year. She’s visiting her native village to leave her daughter behind before returning to work.
“There is no limit to the struggle of Bangladeshi workers. Every day we wake up early in the morning, we go to the factory, and work really hard all day. And with all the hard labor we make the clothing and that’s what people wear. People have no idea how difficult it is for us to make the clothing. They only buy it and wear it. I believe these clothes are produced with our blood. A lot of garment workers die in different accidents. It’s very painful for us. I don’t want anyone wearing anything, which is produced by our blood. We want better working conditions, so that everyone becomes aware. I don’t want another owner like the owner of Rana Plaza to take such risk and force the workers to work in such conditions. So that no more workers die, so no more mothers lose their child like this. I want the owners to be a little more aware and look after us.”
And finally tears run down her still young cheeks.
If we can’t grasp the idea of our planet being in peril, or if we feel so powerless to concretley crash this ruthless fashion system and help these courageous workers, perhaps we can take a smaller action, perhaps we can put ourselves into Shima’s shoes, and just think of this one amazing person that deserves a better chance in life for her and her children next time we go out shopping. If you could help Shima, would you?
“We’re actually profiting from their need to work, to use them as slaves. We need to give them work but they have to be treated with the same respect that we treat our children, our friends. They’re not different from us” – Livia Firth, Creative Director, Eco-Age
Photo stills and source from “The True Cost”