Last week, Zara was sued after a shocked customer found a decomposing rat sewn inside the hem of her dress. Though the thought of a rodent hanging against one’s thigh is more than just a little disturbing, I’m more interested in the reasons behind the rat’s existence in the dress. Was it sewn in there as an act of defiance, much like the ‘help me’ stitched into a Primark jacket which went viral a few years ago? Or, are the conditions the machinists work in for Zara so inhumane that the rat went simply unnoticed? Unfortunately, I think the answer is both, and today’s consumerist culture is to blame.
The problem is that cheap clothing is just so very convenient nowadays, particularly for us students. Primark is the automatic go-to for a white T-shirt social, as is New Look for a cheap pair of underwear, and although I usually hang up my left-wing shoes and accept capital consumerism as societal norms, I will not, and simply cannot, accept our garment industry as it is. In Bangladesh, 3 million people, 85% of whom are women, work in this industry with an average income of £25 a month, which is less than a third of the cost of living. 80% of them work over the legal limit of working hours, and most work 140 hours overtime each month. How can we simply push this aside from our minds with distaste, like we do with so much horror in our world when we as consumers are directly responsible? Any involvement in union activity, which has gained popularity since the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster killed 1121 workers in the collapse of the factory linked to Walmart, is punishable by beatings, abuse and the sack. As we know, entire global economies are based on sweatshop labour and it isn’t as simple as making them just disappear.
“Today’s consumerist culture is to blame. The problem is that cheap clothing is just so very convenient nowadays, particularly for us students”
However, the UK government can force retailers to establish better working conditions and a fairer wage with economic sanctions. Foxxcon, for example, has recently improved its working conditions after Apple threatened to use a different supplier. War On Want is an organization to encourage the government to regulate the operation of its companies, and in 2015 they issued a documentary called UDITA which follows the lives of female Bangladeshi garment workers. The women stress their complete incomprehensibility of how consumers keep on buying, despite the truth which emerges from the fires and accidents in sweat shops. Of course, the answer is that it’s cheap and easy. I get it, of course I get it, we’re students with an average budget of £60 a week and it wouldn’t particularly be appropriate to go out in the Northern winter in the nude. I’m not suggesting that we should all take up knitting and crochet an entire wardrobe either, but there are things that you can do: buy local, shop in charity shops, Depop or even eBay. In a time where an evil wotsit is in control of the world’s most powerful empire, we can’t rely on men in suits to make these changes: we must change our consumerist behaviour first.