Fashion Brands Can Help Level the Playing Field of Globalization

As countries fall short on protecting their workers, companies buying from them can make a difference.
May 28, 2015·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

Unfair working conditions may not be tolerated on U.S. soil, but as globalization has rapidly increased sourcing of production workers in other countries, it has become nearly impossible to police such conditions throughout the rest of the world.

For the fashion industry, sweatshops are alive and kicking in places such as Bangladesh, where a 2012 garment factory fire killed 112 and a building collapse in 2013 took 1,100 lives. While those events shed light on the horrific working conditions laborers are forced into every day for a pittance of a wage, there’s a long way to go before these unfair practices are eradicated.

“Globalization is not regulated enough,” says Conor Boyle of Better Work, whose focus is building partnerships throughout the international garment industry. “It happened so quickly. The countries that they source in don’t have the basic infrastructure in place to ensure that their laws are enforced. They should, and we need to make sure that happens over time and parallel to everything else that’s going on, but they don’t.”

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If these impoverished countries don’t have the foundation to enforce labor laws, who should come to the aid of the workers? Boyle thinks it makes sense for the companies reaping the benefits of that labor to step in and regulate, either through Better Work or a similar organization. These people may not receive a paycheck with the company’s name on it, but they are working for them indirectly—and it counts.

“For me, that’s the ultimate challenge and opportunity in our industry, is to build that bridge between the young woman from Haiti who is making our garment and the young consumer from San Francisco that is wearing that garment,” he says in an interview with the team behind the fashion documentary The True Cost. “We need to find ways to build that bridge, and if we can, I think that’s when we’ll be highly successful.”

Boyle feels that any consumer would be willing to pay an extra 20 cents for an item of clothing if there was a guarantee it went directly to the person who made it. Add up 20 cents from each purchase, and that has the ability to remove the individual from poverty forever.

“Every one of us would say, ‘Absolutely, where do you want me to sign?’ ” he says. “So in some ways it’s just trying to build that bridge. If we do that, then we would be really successful.”