How does one begin to address the many social justice issues that plague modern society? The first step is to educate oneself on the issues. One way to go about this is to learn about Catholic social teaching: how the themes relate to individual problems and how they propose we can make a change. Fast fashion is one issue that spans across many themes of Catholic social teaching, including Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Rights and Responsibilities, Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, The Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers, Solidarity, and Care for God’s Creation. By definition, Fast Fashion is “inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends” (Investopedia). However, fast fashion is truly not that simple; it has certain harmful effects that are often hidden from the public, and especially the consumers, “The fast-fashion industry is built on pumping out cheap, poor-quality goods—subsidizing its low prices with tolls on the environment and, often, human rights” (Limbach).
Today, the demand for fashionable clothing is much higher than ever before in history, especially in developed countries, “As a result (of fast fashion), we’re shopping more, 400 percent more than 20 years ago, according to the documentary The True Cost” (Limbach). This continues to drive the demand for fast fashion, in a cycle. In order to produce such fast fashion and in such large quantities, wages are not fair, and several companies discreetly use child labor.
According to The Guardian, “The ILO estimates that 170 million are engaged in child labour, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond” (Moulds). It has gotten to the point where there is a rising rift between those who make the clothes and those who buy the clothes, “We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our clothing as 97% of items are now made overseas” (truecostmovie.com). It is easy to slip into the habit of buying a cheap shirt every time one goes to the mall; however, it is important to remember that that shirt is not so cheap after all. The issue of fast fashion spans across almost all of the seven themes of Catholic social teaching; however, the most obvious theme that is brought to mind in the forefront of fast fashion is the “Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers.” This theme, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, states that the economy should be serving the workers, and that in order for this to happen, basic rights need to be protected, “The right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative” (USCCB).
This theme also explains how work is often viewed as something we are forced to do, to survive, and is seen as punishment; however, Catholic social teaching views work as, “intrinsically good, we are co-creators of God’s world and work is part of our contribution” (catholicsocialteaching.org). In the practice of fast fashion, the workers’ rights are often abused, living wages are not attainable, and the work would certainly feel like punishment. Young people, especially women, are promised respectable working conditions, but in reality that is not what they get. According to The Guardian, a report sent out by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations brought out a trend in which recruiters for fashion brands in India will convince parents in extremely poor areas to have their girls go to the spinning mills. They promise fair wages, food, schooling, and comfortable living areas, however, “Their field research shows that in reality, they are working under appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour” (Moulds). The threat of fast fashion to the dignity of work and rights of workers is very closely linked to a threat of another theme of social catholic teaching: “Life and dignity of the human person.
” Life and dignity of the human person is the most fundamental theme to Catholic social teaching and states that, “human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society” (USCCB). According to Catholic social teaching, every single person is born with dignity, “Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart” (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae). All human life is precious, and always more important than things.
(Catholic Social Teaching). Fast fashion is the epitome of putting the value of “things” over the value of the people that are working to make those materials and clothing. This is clearly demonstrated through the collapse of the Ranza Plaza factory in Bangladesh, “Just a day before the collapse, the building was briefly evacuated when cracks appeared in the walls. However, workers were later allowed back in or told to return by the factory owners” (BBC News). Over 1000 people died, and nearly 1000 more were injured, and it all could have been prevented if the factory owners did not selfishly send the factory workers back in the building to meet demands, or if the demands were not so high in the first place. The irresponsibility of the factory owners in this terrible event lead directly into another theme of Catholic social teaching that is perpetrated by fast fashion, “Rights and Responsibilities.
” Catholic social teaching explains that in order for human dignity to be achieved in society, rights must be protected, and responsibilities must be achieved, “Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society” (USCCB). Basically, as a human living on this Earth, no matter what country they are from, everyone has certain rights (life, freedom), and with those rights come the responsibilities of being an active member of society, “These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable” (Pope John Paul XXIII, Pacem in Terris). The men and women who work for the fast fashion industry are no doubt being active members of society be working, and contributing; however, their rights are not being met. According to The Guardian, the fast fashion industry takes advantage of developing countries in which the governments are unable to provide guarantees to rights such as safety, living wages, and fair hours. Some of these countries are Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and China. Through the exploitation of developing countries, rights are denied because in most of these countries there are little to no labor laws, such as those that are guaranteed in U.
S. and most countries in Europe. The majority of those working in the industry are very poor as well, and do not have the ability to form unions or protest in fear of being fired. This fact hits directly into the core of yet another theme of Catholic social teaching, “Option for the poor and vulnerable.” The theme, option for the poor and vulnerable, calls all people to challenge themselves to put the poor before themselves and to make sure, “when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration” (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum). This theme does not call for hate against the rich or certain institutions, but instead a stronger community, “The option for the poor does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, it calls us to strengthen the whole community by assisting those who are most vulnerable” (Notre Dame Center for Social Concern). The fast fashion industry makes it nearly impossible for a better option for the poor and vulnerable.
In fact, it specifically targets the poor and vulnerable. According to The Guardian, the poor often need jobs and will take what they can find; an unfair wage is better than no wage at all. The vulnerable, women and children, are also targeted, “Child labour is a particular issue for fashion because much of the supply chain requires low-skilled labour and some tasks are even better suited to children than adults” (Moulds). The article then goes on to say that women and children are, “seen as obedient workers who slip under the radar, making them easy to manage” (Moulds).
The exploitation of the poor and vulnerable would be reduced, though, if another theme of Catholic social teaching was better addressed: “Solidarity.” Through the theme of solidarity, Catholic social teaching demonstrates that we are all part of a larger human family despite any differences in race, gender, sexuality, or age. Pope John Paul II argues that solidarity is, “the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization” (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus).
As it becomes more possible to relate to several different parts of the world, this theme becomes evermore prominent, “Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world” (USCCB). This theme is obviously not being practiced as it should be, especially when related to the issue of fast fashion. If consumers in developed countries truly cared about the lives of those who work in the industry that provides their cheap clothing and generally felt a sort of love and compassion for fellow human beings, the entire issue of fast fashion simply would not be present. Without the high demand for cheap disposable clothing, the fast fashion industry would simply not exist, at least to the magnitude, that it does today (truecostmovie.com).
One last, very important issue that stems from fast fashion needs to be addressed: the impact of the industry on the environment. The theme of Catholic social teaching, “Care for God’s Creation,” states that all have the responsibility to care for all of God’s creation, including the land and the animals. “Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith” (USCCB).
In Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si,’ he says, “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish” (Pope Francis). One of the main reasons that the Earth is beginning “to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” is largely due to the fast fashion industry. An article from Alternet titled “It’s the second dirtiest thing in the world-and you’re wearing it” points out that, “The clothing industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world.
..second only to oil” (Sweeny). According to The True Cost documentary, the fashion industry pollutes the environment in countless ways. Firstly, simply in the form of waste, “The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone” (thetruecost,com).
Secondly, the fashion industry pollutes through the pesticides used on the cotton for clothing. Cotton consists of nearly half of the material used in clothing, and today, due to genetically modified cotton, vast amounts of pesticides are used, “Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use” (thetruecost.com). According to a Cancer Defeated Newsletter, these chemicals have been linked to cancer, as well as hormone disruptors and honeybee toxins. Lastly, the amount of water used in the clothing industry is extremely wasteful when the clothing is treated as disposable, rather than good for life (thetruecost.
com). The negative effects of fast fashion on the environment, as well as human lives, are horrific and calling out for attention. Although the issue is obviously very complex, and extremely far from being fixed, there are always steps that can be taken by an individual that will help improve the situation. The main, obvious step we can take to combat fast fashion is to buy clothing from ethical, organic brands that do not run off of fast fashion industries. Some of these brands include Patagonia, People Tree, KowTow, Kings of Indigo, and Nudie Jeans (racked.com). As a consumer, one has the immense power to demand what you truly want.
If there is a rise in demand for ethical, sustainable clothing companies that give fair wages and safe conditions, the industry will have to change. Although it is more expensive, it will last much longer and be cheaper in the long run. Another option would be to buy used clothing, say from goodwill. This will also reduce clothing waste. One second way in which you can make a change is through joining and working with an organization that stands specifically against fast fashion.
An example of this would be “Clean Clothes Campaign” where you can volunteer or donate to help those that are trapped in the fashion industry. Catholic social teaching, in regards to the issue of fast fashion, really does shed light on many ways that the industry is abusing human rights and the environment, which I agree with and think is very important for the public to be aware of. In every theme addressed in this article, I agree with what Catholic social teaching is saying: those working need their rights of fair wages, safe work, and a better life, and the environment needs to be taken more into account.
The only complaint about Catholic social teaching that I have is: Why have they not done more? Yes, they talk about it, but where is the action? Maybe the catholic church is doing more than I realize; however, I do not think so. The catholic church is such a vast force in this world, and I think if they made a larger effort, it would help issues in the world change more than we are seeing, especially fast fashion. Overall, fast fashion is a prominent issue in our world today. Through the developed world’s high demands and low considerations, the lives of those that work in the fashion industry are being belittled, and their human dignity is not being respected.
Likewise, our common home is being mistreated on levels that are almost incomprehensible, much to the fault of the fast fashion industry. However devastating this issue is, a change can and will be made because it is vital to the health of this planet and the humans living on it.