There is No Climate Justice Without Women's Liberation in Fast Fashion

By Alejandra Tolley

When we look at what we can do to help the planet, we often look at what is the easiest approach and what’s currently trending: refusing plastic straws during our everyday coffee run, using bamboo toothbrushes and package-free shampoo. Yes, all of these things can help, and everyone should do what they can. But what we really need to do as a society is to look at injustices that the climate movement is not paying enough attention to: the systemic abuse affecting garment workers in the fast fashion industry. 

Illustration by Aya Lechin, @towhxmitmayconcern

An increasing number of fashion brands are pushing for greener initiatives in their operations. Consumers are becoming more curious about the sourcing of their clothes and workers’ rights within the fast fashion industry. According to Open Society Foundations, Asian women comprise about 80% of garment workers globally and are at the center point of exploitation, abuse, and gender-based violence. Global Fund for Women reported that they are met with poverty-level wages along with inhumane working conditions. Due to their gender, many of these issues have become normalized within the fast fashion industry. It’s reported that 68% of Cambodian women face harassment in their workplace, and over 60% of Bangladesh women are threatened with violence.

There is a weakened power dynamic between garment workers and their factories. Essential healthcare for workers is denied, including maternity leave and childcare. This action causes them to work 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, making sure they can provide for their families. Due to the lack of regulation and labor laws in fast fashion, garment workers have zero protection systemically. In addition, Freedom of Association is purposely denied to garment workers, not allowing them to leave their jobs freely without consequence. 

Even though they face intimidation and threats when speaking up against this abuse, it doesn’t stop them from organizing and protesting. Bangladesh women are a leading force in this movement. In January 2019, H&M garment workers protested and demanded a wage hike for fast fashion workers. According to Human Rights Watch, this demonstration led to a violent confrontation with police who shot rubber bullets and tear-gassed multiple protestors. This only shows the complicity of the fast fashion industry. It led to unnecessary violence for brands like H&M to confront the demands from their employees. Multiple union leaders from this demonstration reported over 7,500 employees were dismissed from their job, and many more were accused of looting and rioting. Still, several of these claims are reported vague and inconclusive. 

COVID severely impacted their wages as there is an increase in canceled orders and refunds. This led to delayed payment to workers, and many factories have not paid their employees since March 2020. Cambodian women have called to action after not receiving payment from their workplaces and demand that they obtain their wages and benefits promised to them. Due to these broken agreements, the Cambodian government has minimized its impact on garment workers. 

To truly shift our planet into a greener world, we must hold these fashion factories accountable and demand transparency in their productions and operations. There is no climate justice without women’s liberation in fast fashion.  

For Earth Day, make sure you support these incredible groups that ensure the safety, rights, and respect of garment workers and continue to dismantle abusive tactics in the fast fashion industry. Never forget to always question where your clothing comes from and who it’s impacting. 

Asia Floor Wage Alliance - @asia_floorwage  

Clean Clothes Campaign - @cleanclothescampaign

Anti-Slavery International - @antislaveryinternational 

Fashion Act Now - @fashion_act_now

Garment Worker Center - @garmentworkercenter 

Labour Behind the Label - @Labourbehindthelabel 

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