The clothes and shoes are produced around the world, with the majority of exports coming from China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India.
In 2012, 112 workers died in Bangladesh after a fire broke out at a factory where they were making clothes for American retailers.
Four years later, a series of reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance found that despite promises to improve factory safety, retailers like H&M and Walmart failed to do so.
Los Angeles is the center of the U.S. garment manufacturing industry.
In 2016, the UCLA Labor Center reported that 42% of garment workers said exits and doors in their shops were regularly blocked.
Nearly 50% of workers also stated bathrooms were often soiled and unmaintained, among other health and safety issues.
Sexual violence is often used to dehumanize and control workers, about 80% of whom are women.
In 2019, an ActionAid report estimated that 80% of all Bangladeshi garment workers experienced or witnessed sexual violence. Last year, the Workers Rights Consortium reported rape and sexual assault were widespread in factories in the African country Lesotho.
According to WRC, over 120 women from three different factories said male supervisors forced them to have sex to keep their jobs.
Retaliation for organizing attempts was commonplace before. Now, WRC advocates say, workers are even more afraid of doing anything that would risk their jobs.
“What we are now facing is nothing short of a human rights catastrophe for millions of women...Now, as workers get more desperate to keep their jobs, they will be less able to speak out.”
Luckily, consumers are thinking more critically about their role in the fashion industry. There are a lot of calls to avoid fast fashion, thrift more, or generally buy less new clothes.
But overall, increased awareness puts pressure on politicians to protect garment workers in their states — and real change is happening.
The landmark bill ensures corporations pay garment workers in the state a $14 minimum wage.
With it, California became the first state to require an hourly wage for garment workers while banning piecework, a practice in which workers are paid per garment.
The Worker Rights Consortium is a labor-rights organization that continues to document abuses against garment workers.
The nonprofit Remake released its 2021 Fashion Accountability Report, detailing where several brands stand on issues like fair wages and environmental justice.
Human Rights Watch also does ongoing work around garment workers’ rights.
This Stuff, a newsletter about fashion by journalist Alyssa Hardy, often highlights crucial issues. Hardy’s book, Worn Out, will be published in 2022.