The high cost of cheap clothing | Trisha Striker | TEDxTownsville

if I asked you do you support child labor or sweatshop labor do you think human trafficking is evil I am quite certain that 99.9 percent of you in this room today would say I do not support child labor or sweatshop labor I think human trafficking is terrible so let me ask you then how many of you can say with certainty that the clothes you are wearing right now have not been made in a sweatshop or by child labor how many of you can say for sure that the cotton in your clothing wasn't picked by children who were trafficked on to work in cotton farms the truth is it's very hard to know where the material used to make our clothing comes from how our clothes were made the clothing supply chain is a complex system perhaps this is what our clothing label should look like currently only 5% of companies know where all their inputs come from so how then can you make sure that your purchasing decisions do not contribute to child labor human trafficking or environmental degradation the answer is ethical clothing an idea that has been widely discussed over the last ten years ethical clothing can be defined as an approach to the design sourcing and manufacturing of clothes that maximizes benefits to people in communities while minimizing the impact in the environment ethical clothing is even more relevant today due to the emergence of a new trend called fast fashion now when I say fast food what words come to mind for me I immediately think fast cheap and bad it's similar with fast fashion where fashion has changed from seasonal styles to something new nearly every week prices of clothing has also dropped substantially over time you can now buy a t-shirt for as little as seven dollars and a pair of jeans for 15 to keep these prices low companies outsource their clothing production to countries such as Bangladesh where wages are very low currently over 92 percent of clothing sold in Australia is made overseas they don't just absorb this loss of profit resulting from lowering their prices they try and pass it down the supply chain in an attempt to offset their loss until it reaches those who cannot pass it down anymore they are your most vulnerable those who have no voice they are your garment factory workers in Bangladesh China Cambodia the poor cotton farmers in India and the child slaves working in cotton farms in Uzbekistan there are currently 14 point 2 million people in forced labour and a hundred and sixty-eight million child labourers scattered across the globe more than half the population of Australia works in forced labour and seven times the population of Australia in child labour most of these people are forced to work in the farms and factories that produce the inputs for our clothing industry their wages are so low that they're unable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and thus the cycle just continues apart from lowering wages firms also try to offset their loss by asking suppliers to cut their wholesale prices suppliers say that because they're desperate for business they don't really have a choice either cut their prices or lose out on business supplies then try and offset their losses by cutting back on maintaining a safe work environment which can lead to tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 where 1130 people died four times the number of people in this building today lost their lives because of someone else's negligence but people say are we not doing them a favor by giving them business and stimulating their economy isn't working in a factory at any wage better than the other alternative is available to them for example it's working as a prostitute or selling your child into slavery or leaving your village your family and your children behind for months on end to work for wickedly low wages and unsafe working conditions this is not a choice this is the exploitation of vulnerability companies are profiting of their need to work we need to respect these people treat them like we would treat workers in Australia because this would not happen in Australia we have strong unions and Fair Work practices when we speak people listen but you can be their voice by being mindful about what and how often you buy you are saying that you value the lives of these people enough to pay a little extra to ensure that they taken care of to ensure that a Bangladeshi garment factory worker is paid a living wage adds an extra three to five percent on top of the retail price that you pay in the shops for example that adds an extra 70 cents to a dollar to your $15 pair of jeans in addition the amount that is played paid to suppliers and garment factories accounts to only 10 to 20 percent of the total price that you pay as a customer in the shops this 10 to 20 percent includes everything up to the point of shipping such as sourcing of raw material the manufacturing of the garment and the payment of middlemen profits so then I know that if I paid $7 for a t-shirt the supplier was paid between 70 cents to a dollar 40 commonsense then tells me that his workers were not paid a whole lot Nick's evaders the founder of the Australian ethical fashion brand at eco talks about moving from a conscious to a conscientious shopper in other words moving from being just aware of a problem to actually doing something about it he says that managing an ethical supply chain is challenging but nowhere near as hard as getting individuals and organizations to change their values and beliefs according to a low house report only 10 percent of Australians make consistent Green or ethical purchasing decisions this is a huge discrepancy to the 90% of Australians that said they care about an issue in addition clothing brands say that they're unwilling to stock ethically made clothes because a they're not convinced that customers actually care and be that by stocking ethically made clothing they worry about what it might say about the other presumably non ethically made clothing in their shops this just highlights to me the power that we have as consumers now I acknowledge that this issue can seem really overwhelming perhaps you're feeling helpless but there is hope your everyday purchasing decisions and choices can help lift a person and their family out of poverty I suggest starting with three simple steps number one buy less when you go into a shop ask yourself do you really need that item of clothing British journalist Lizzie seagull calls it getting a more fashioned mileage out of your clothing she says that if you cannot commit to wearing something for a minimum of 30 times don't buy it number two look for brands that have a Fairtrade accreditation for stop clothing brands won't supplies won't stop clothing brands that are not selling you the customer are in charge buying from companies that treat their workers in the environment well not only affirms their ethical decisions but it also encourages other companies to take similar action thirdly research do some research on the company that you want to buy from from where did they source their raw materials how much do they pay their workers but it sounds tedious and time-consuming doesn't it well it is but the really good news is that there are many organisations working hard to enable us to make every day ethical purchasing decisions for example baptist world aid an australian NGO published an annual ethical fashion guide that grades around 300 companies that sell in Australia against criteria such as payment of a living wage not as a knowledge of supply chain they make this indispensible resource available to everybody for free you can download it off their website or from the TEDx page you can also download an app called good on you that enables you to compare and rate different companies there can be a very happy ending to this story since baptist world aid released the first ethical fashion guide in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy the number of companies working to keep track of their inputs has increased from forty nine percent to seventy nine percent thirty two percent of companies are now paying minimum wage or higher this is so encouraging because it's it demonstrates how much influence our voices can have I used to think that the elimination of the fashion industry was the only answer but as I did my research I realized that we can use this very same industry as a tool to lift the country's living standards it's one of the fastest growing industries in the world today 40 million people in Asia alone work in garment factories the fashion and clothing industry can play a huge role in reshaping the economy of a country however it is clear that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done this industry still fuels child labor forced labor human trafficking environmental degradation especially in developed developing countries exploitation and unsafe working conditions your voices and your purchasing decisions have so much power to change the direction in which the fashion and clothing industry is taking the world you are all now aware of this issue it is my hope that after today a hundred percent of TEDx Townsville will move from conscious to conscientious and contribute to a world free from poverty and exploitation thank you you


  1. Stop mixing forced labour with sweatshops.
    And star wearing sweatsop clothes proudly,
    its this or bottom powerty for milions of people.

  2. Why aren't we looking to the governments of these 3rd world countries to enforce higher standards of wages and working conditions. You mentioned that these poor working conditions and low wages would not happen in places like Australia, why is that?

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published