The unspoken price of “cheap” clothing

Jency Clement, Beyond Liberty Editor

In Cambodia, a young woman slaves in a garment factory—it’s dry season, so the factories are especially hot, much hotter than they should be. She’s been painstakingly sewing shirts for 13 hours. She needs water and a break, but garment workers are rarely given these necessities. She collapses, joining over 500 workers who have been hospitalized within one year.

In India, a factory worker lives in fear, not looking up as she hunches over the ties she stitches. She receives low wages from her employers and faces physical and mental abuse. On top of that, she has heard about the factories that have caught fire. Despite pleas from workers, her building doesn’t have accessible fire exits.

In Bangladesh, a 12-year old girl is forced to let go of her dream: becoming an engineer. Her mother told her that there isn’t enough money for food, much less an education. The young girl is sent to the garment factory, where she will stitch clothes for 32 cents an hour.

Meanwhile, we complain about having to go to school and complain about our jobs that pay 11 dollars an hour.

Or, we get excited about one dollar t-shirts at Forever 21 or H&M. We don’t even stop to consider where that shirt came from. Over time, the prices of most goods have increased; for instance, it costs more money to buy a house today than it did even five years ago. But clothing has gotten cheaper—for us. However, that “cheap” t-shirt came with a terrible price: physical abuse, unethical working conditions, and a paycheck that’s nearly impossible to make a basic living off of.

In the 1960s, 95 percent of our clothes were manufactured in the U.S. Today, that number has decreased to three percent.

We have a significant role in the global community; many of our clothes are made outside of the country and we are the world’s largest consumers. Since we live in such a consumerist society, we frequently purchase clothes without the knowledge that our clothing is manufactured in an unethical manner.

We need to be aware of who makes our clothes and what conditions they are working under. Not only do we need to be aware, we need to care. We need to think about the people who don’t get paid enough to support themselves, the people who are exposed to harmful chemicals, and the people who lost their legs, arms, or lives in textile factory fires.
I realize most of us don’t want to think about the injustices people face; we want to buy shoes from Nike or buy clothes from Forever 21.

But it’s immoral and inhumane to ignore the people who do not have a voice. We should no longer be complacent about the repercussions of buying clothes that are made by people suffering under excruciating circumstances.

Perhaps we should look at life with a more global perspective; the clothing we buy here has a significant impact on people across the world. Although inexpensive clothes are appealing, the circumstances surrounding them come at a much higher price.