August 9, 2016 by Cláudia
The True Cost is a documentary that exposes the social and environmental consequences of the fast fashion industry. Mostly, when buying clothes, consumers don’t consider much besides the price, but this documentary shows the ugly background to these bargains that are so central to our lifestyle as everyday we are bombarded with new possibilities, new trends and, particularly, new and apparently indispensable lines of clothing.
The first reason we are able to constantly buy new clothes is how increasingly cheap they’ve become – while being well dressed used to be a privilege, now fashion is accessible to almost anyone. But that comes with a price: to lower production costs, major companies have relocated their factories to third world countries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that the constant search for profit has undermined the concern about the workers in this factory. These factories, sweatshops as they are called because of the horrible conditions they offer, are very prone to disasters, like fires and collapses. Despite causing thousands of deaths, the companies’ profit isn’t affected by these accidents (consumers keep consuming nevertheless) and the companies refuse to grant their workers safer conditions. In addiction to the poor conditions they face (such as poor ventilation, exposure to extreme temperatures or exposure to harmful chemicals), these workers have extremely low salaries (earning on average 10-20£ a month, which doesn’t even reach the also extremely low minimum-wages of these countries).
The third world countries are in no position to negotiate: the threat to relocate the factories keep the workers complacent and the local Governments maintain the low wages. When manifestations were triggered, the workers were violently beaten causing several injuries and deaths.
This is one side of it: people basically treated like slaves, being unnecessarily sacrificed. Many times, the low wages, the factory disasters and poor conditions are justified based on the lack of options these people have and their despair to find a job. However, it seems unreasonable that a company that makes millions in profit and cannot abdicate a part of that profit to make sure the workers that enable their own wealth have dignity and basic life conditions. It seems like we are purposefully blinding ourselves to the most obvious solution: just giving them better salaries and treating these people like human beings and not means to an end.
The new capitalist system focused on profit determines that both production and consumption must expand indefinitely, however, the natural resources are limited. By overstepping these limits, surely there will be consequences that, most of all, will ricochet and affect us in the first place.
GMO cotton is replacing old forms of farming. Land is also being treated like a factory and, as so, it’s supposed to produce the most in the littlest time. That has a deep impact on soils (as the chemicals reduce the richness of lands and infiltrate and pollute water) and on people as well. The chemicals that are used to eliminate plagues can be the cause of severe effects on human health – in farming villages, approximately 80 children are being born with severe mental retardation and physical handicaps.
On another hand, in order to increase consumption, fashion is getting treated like a disposable product. Buying new and getting rid of the old is something encourage if one wants to be trendy. This means non-biodegradable waste sitting in landfills for 200 years releasing toxic gases.
All of what is said above is just mere information – most likely there won’t be anything you can do to better this situation, so I will now address the part that the consumers play in this game. Advertisement is made in such a way that ties the consumption of a product to the satisfaction of the buyers’ needs. Basically, it gives us the illusion that buying something material will give us something immaterial that we are searching for – happiness, confidence, love, validation, relevance. Nowadays, it seems as though the way to solve the problems in our lives is through consumption and so we buy and buy and buy. Consumption can give us a brief feeling of satisfaction but when it fades out, we immediately think of another product we need in order to feel more confident/happy etc.
This system is flawed and it’s making a lot of people unhappy – starting by us! Focusing our lives on materialistic values, image and status is directly linked to the rise of depression and anxiety, as what really matters gets left behind – genuine human connections, passion, respect of nature and living in the community. There is no way we could feel truly happy living in a slowly dying planet, while exploiting our neighbours because we are so focused on money we can’t even see it hasn’t any intrinsic value.
So finally, it’s time that we, as consumers, change our habits and search for ethically-made solutions and environmentally friendly companies. We have the power to change. Companies are nothing without buyers and this situation only persists because we have been falling into their trap and neglecting our true values. We may feel powerless and that only the companies control these situations but we have the immense power to say no. So if you don’t agree with how these clothes are made, feel free to stand against it.