The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry

The True Cost

By Andrew Morgan (2015)

Film Review

The True Cost is about the immense environmental and human cost of the fashion industry – all for the sake of a few people raking in immense profits.

The modern trend of “fast fashion” is the most destructive. Over the last few decades, the big fashion brands have sought to make clothes so cheap that consumers only wear them a few times before discarding them and buying new ones.

The average American purchases 80 pieces of clothing a year, 400% more than two decades ago. The US disposes of 11 million pounds of textile waste a year, an average of 82 pounds per person.

Reliance on Sweatshops

Lowering the cost of clothes has necessitated moving 97% of clothing manufacture overseas. Bangladesh, where workers (who are 85% women) earn less than $3 a day,  is the favorite of most big name brands like the Gap.

The women work and live in total squalor. In the past few years , 1,000 workers were killed when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed. Hundreds more have died in a series of fires. The pay is insufficient for the women to provide housing for their children. They remain with relatives in the countryside and see their mothers at most once or twice a year.

Thanks to Global Exchange and the anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s, all the big fashion brands sign voluntary codes of conduct to makes sure their local contractors respect the human rights of their sweatshop workers (which they never enforce). The big brands also systematically obstruct federal legislation that would make such codes compulsory.

The Second Most Polluting Industry in the World

The environment degradation caused by “fast fashion” is equally horrific. The garment industry is the most polluting in the world (second only to oil). The global proliferation of GMO cotton has had devastating health effects in India and the Lubbock Texas area. Until I saw this film, I was unaware that Lubbock is one of the largest cotton producing regions in the world.

In Texas most of the GMO cotton is Roundup Ready, Monsanto’s best selling pesticide. Heavy exposure is responsible for a large cancer cluster among Lubbock area residents.

In India, both Roundup Ready and Bt Cotton are grown. The former is responsible for a significant increase in birth defects, cancer and mental illness. The latter is responsible for a serious reduction in crop yields (the pesticide Bt Cotton produces kills the soil bacteria responsible for soil fertility). The loss of soil fertility has led to farmers losing their land and livelihood, as well as over 200,000 farmer suicides in the last 15 years.

India is also experiencing massive chromium contamination of the Ganges River and surrounding groundwater, from chemicals used in tanning leather for the western fashion industry.

Spin, Propaganda and Lies

The fashion industry pumps out propaganda that sweatshops are good because they create jobs for people who otherwise would have no alternative. This ignores the deleterious effect of “free trade” treaties that have destroyed the rural economies of many third world countries.

The official narrative also belies collusion between the fashion industry and the Vietnamese government, known for brutally beating and killing garment workers during peaceful protests demanding a minimum wage.

The full film was available on YouTube last week but has been taken down. You can rent it from VHX or iTunes for $3.99: Watch now

11 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry

  1. I just watched the following video on PBS last night:

    What you have written here, sounds very much like what poor women, and a few poor men, faced before the women organized textile unions in the early twentieth century, and the “The Triangle Fire,” which finally got the attention of the public. It always takes a horrible catastrophe like this one to make the elite-swine do what is right, or at least pretend to do what is right, when it comes to their employees’ safety and ability to live a life worth living.

    It would seem the corporations have just moved this travesty overseas, where it is most likely impossible to enforce any laws that might be set up to protect the worker.


      • Good! I’ll be looking for it.

        The video I watched the other night infuriated and sickened me. I had seen a documentary about the Triangle fire years ago, but no mention was made of the union organizing struggle or how the women were harassed and beaten by hired thugs and the police. Nor how the male management rushed out of the building before informing the women on the 9th floor that was there a fire.

        Documentaries today, like “The Men Who Built America,” make me vomit! These elite pigs built nothing but massive fortunes, and did so on the breaking backs of disenfranchised, working men, women and children.

        This country was built on the blood, sweat, tears and lives of the indigenous peoples, first and foremost, and the poor who came to America to try to find a better life for themselves and families.


  2. I buy most of my clothing used, I’m appalled by the lack of quality of today’s garments that seem to only last a few months/weeks. The Garment industry has a long history of sniffing out cheap labor, and have no regard for anything but € or $.


  3. Pingback: Organizing Bangladeshi Sweatshops | The Most Revolutionary Act

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  5. Pingback: Corporatization, Globalization and Indian Farmer Suicides: Film and Review | Talesfromthelou

  6. Pingback: Relocalization: “Reshoring” the US Garment Industry | The Most Revolutionary Act

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