Opinion | How can a piece of clothing be cheaper than a sandwich?

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Several clothing factories in Leicester stayed open during the pandemic regardless of social distancing measures, according to Labor Behind the Label, a nonprofit advocating for workers’ rights; Some employees said they should go to work even if they tested positive for Covid-19.

Overall, the outlook for low paid workers is bleak as the world battles a deadly disease. A study by researchers at Imperial College London shows that in low and middle income countries Poor people are much more likely to die of Covid-19 than wealthy people. In the United States, the economic effects of the pandemic were worst for low-income adults.

In 2016, the Dutch trend researcher Li Edelkoort asked at Voices, a meeting of fashion innovators organized by The Business of Fashion: “How is it possible that a piece of clothing is cheaper than a sandwich? How can a product that has to be sown, grown, harvested, combed, spun, knitted, cut and sewn, refined, printed, labeled, packaged and transported cost a few euros? “

A question that has preoccupied me ever since.

The cotton, textile and clothing industries were associated with Labor exploitation long before Covid-19 exposed the putrefaction. The fashion industry has long been complicit in a system of paying people below subsistence wages in order to maximize profit. This business model, which focuses on selling mountains of clothing at intrinsically intolerable prices, has paid back less and less to those who make them.

Take Bangladesh, where four million women textile workers live. Many of them earn little more than the government-mandated minimum wage: just 8,000 taka or less than $ 100 a month. Fair wage activists say double that amount would be needed for workers to live comfortably.

Even the most sublime fashion brands participate in the exploitation of the most vulnerable workers in their supply chains. Luxury labels like Dior and Saint Laurent often turn to subcontractors in India to produce intricate embroidery and embellishments at a lower cost. The highly skilled craftsmen who are hired get little credit or money for their work. In fact, some rental companies often do the final assembly of the garments in Europe and mistakenly label them as “Made in Italy” or “Made in France”.

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