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  • Writer's pictureSarah Taal

The True Cost

This film came out this year, and took me back to my first year at uni, watching a film on factory workers in international politics. Its a stark and persuasive film, investigating the links between consumer pressure for low-cost high fashion and the meager existances of the sweatshop workers who produce those goods.

Starts with Lucy Siegle, journalist, environmental and social impact of fashion insustry. Communication of clothes, models on a runway, nice clothes and the face of fashion, Topshop, H & M, Zara, shows London Fashion Week, Vogue.

Moves onto China and Dakha Bangladesh, and how the international industry buyers are squeezing lower wholesale prices, and companies are left undercutting each other, with workers paying the price.

The reality of working conditions hits you, an 8 story clothing factory, the Rana Plaza building collapsed, over 1,129 workers were dead, owners ignored cracks in walls and workers concerns about this, they forced back into work the day the building collapsed. Workers earn $2 a day. They show a factory fire that killed 100, another one that burned killing 8, at Tazreen fashion there were 112 dead... how can a 3 trillion dollor annual industry justify this?

Western market justification made me want to vomit, Powell, Director of Free Market Institute: 'this is part of the development process that rasies living standards and higher wages over time.. human capital of workers, getting the process going... FOX TV presents it as a jolly debate of 'are sweat shops good?' Sourcing Manager from Joe Fresh, 'does it bother me that people are working in a factory making clothes for Americans or Europeans? No, they are doing a job, there are a lot worse things they can be doing.' Powell again 'Poor working conditions, very low wages, maybe children, places that do not obey labour laws, but these are places where people chose to work, from bad set of other options...' at least he adds but doesnt elaborate on what other conditions are, sex work, starvation? Not exactly a choice. Joe Fresh: 'Nothing instinsically dangerous with sewing clothes, safe industry' Powell, 'Horribe working conditions and wages, to wealthy west, but alternatives available for these workers, arent our own alternatives, theres much worse than factory jobs that people have. it seems that some people are more human that others. The system supportors explain bad industry as god because the alternatives are worse.

When Galeano discribes the Huancavelica mercury mines (39: 2009 Open Veins of Latin America), where poison penetrated the very marrow, debilitating all the members and causing a constant shaking, workers usually died within 4 years... or Potosi's Cerro Rico mines that consumed 8 million lives, Indians, including women and children, torn from agricultural land of 10 who were forced up 7 did not return. He then adds the economic justification of that day, from Engels 'that silver and gold penetrates like a corrosive acid through all the pores of Europes moribund feudal society, and for the benefit of nascent mercantilist capitalism, the mining entrepreneurs turned Indian and black slaves into teeming 'external proletariat' of the european economy'. It was seen as worse to be alive than dead for some, Indian mothers killed their babies to save them from the mines. Today, the abuse is explained as a needed part of development that makes the rich rich and the keeps the developing world alive to fuel their wealth. Capitalism has developed but its essence is the same exploitative dirty business.

People Tree, a fair trade fashion brand is shown as a model of how the industry could work. Think who is going to make the product, how can producers or suppliers eat, design the collection from whose going to produce it. Women, social, environmental devlopment central to their working ethos.

The film turns dark again looking into agriculture, GM crops, the monopolization of seeds. How farmers have been manipulated to come to huge corporations to buy seeds, poor farmers start with cheap seeds and are promised of high yields, then end up buying expensive seeds, promise of controlling pests, but doesnt do it, ecological narcotics, contaminate the soil, lose their potancy after a few years. In the Punjab India, 70-80 children per village are physically and mentally retarded, cancers are rife, people cannot afford treatments for their diseases, mothers are just waiting for death of their children. Companies make and control the seeds, also make the drugs that treat the diseases. The day the agents of these companies come to the farmers and say you havent paid their debts, now you give me your farm, that farmer goes into his field and drinks the pesticide. In last 16 years, there are 250,000 recorded farmer suicide in India, 1 farmer every 30 minutes.

How fashion advertising is a species of propoganda is powerful. Tie the product to your belief you will be wonderful in what you buy, then when your not, you can buy another. Solve problems of life through consumpsion. Clips of teenage girls, loving cute cheap new clothes, love them, love them, pretty, i dont know if im going to wear it now i have it i dont know i like it that much....

People tree grew organically, 7000 jobs today, but trading practices dirty, how to grow this type of business hard, but a work in progress. Also Texas organic cotton cooperative, our world, air, planet, awareness needed of what pesticides do to the land cotton is grown on. The farmer there died of a brain tumor after spraying pesticides throughout his life. The current model problem is profit, people only think about profit.

Kanpur India, is shown as the leather export capital of India. 50 million litres a day of waste water, containing cromium 6, straight into local farming and drinking water, major western brands source cheap materials with no accountability of costs to human health or the environment. Soil, ground water, contaminated, vegtables, salads, all conaminated. Skin rashes, boils, stomach, cancers, jaundice, cause by cromium. It reminds me of Julia Roberts film Erin Brockovich again.

Fashion is accused of being the second world polluter only to the oil industry. GDP as only measures the trade, not the costs of producing the clothes. Costs on land, costs of chemicals, outputs as jobs, clothing, pollution, toxisity.

Workers leave children in villages and send money home, maybe see their kids twice a year just to send them to school and give them a chance of not being a factory worker. A worker discribes her situation: no limit to struggles, wake up early every day, work hard, make all clothes peole wear, no idea how difficult to make, people just buy and wear, these clothes are made with our blood, a lot of garmet workers die in different accidents. its very painful for us, i dont want anyone wearing anything producted by our blook, or another owner to take risk in working conditions, no more mothers to lose their children, i want the owners to be more aware and look after us'.

Livia Firth, campaigner / director of Eco-Age. Passionately talks about how fashion brands profit from peoples need to work, they should treat people with same respect as you would your family and friends. No big brands are interested in commenting on this.

Cambodia has had recent protects against working conditions, police reacted by firing off live rounds against people, a woman from the factory died on the streets. Workers were demandng minium wage of £160 a month. One factory worker beaten to death, basically tortured for ring leading, asking for better living conditions. Government holds down wages so keep the trade from big business.

War on want talk about mass impoverisment of millions of people. There are many many messages about the human and environmental cost, and the possibilities of living in a way that celebrates creative power and creative work not labour, land is not a commodity, but mother earth. For consumers to say its not ok for people to die to make my clothes would be a powerful step forward and one that possible.

This is a must watch.

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