Updated: May 1, 2020
“What is poverty?”, If you were to be asked this question, and if the first thing that came to your mind was related to income, you are not alone. The majority of people associate poverty with solely the economic aspect in mind. While this is true, it is important to address that the first sustainable development goal of the United Nations (UN) aims to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and is actually addressing the three conditions which define poverty: absolute, relative, and extreme.
Absolute poverty is measured by a low income that places limitations on basic necessities such as access to land, medical services, social participation, clothing, food, education, clean water, and safe living conditions (Alexander, 2020) (United Nations, 1995). The criteria of relative poverty varies and changes with economic growth. It is defined as “households receiving 50% less income than the average median income” (economicshelp.org). Today, our primary focus will be on the third type of poverty: extreme poverty. We will also hone in on areas in which the fashion industry can contribute to achieving UN SDG #1 and the role it plays within the current landscape of extreme poverty.
Poverty can be seen across every corner of the global, it is a worldwide phenomenon. The United Nations criteria for extreme poverty is set as those “living on less than 1.90 USD a day” (2015). While this issue is global, half of the world’s population which live in extreme poverty can be found in five countries: India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Sanchez, Keck, Sepehr, 2019).
Fashion’s Link to Poverty
The textile industry is typically a “starter” industry for entering global trade. Fashion has boosted economies, helped developing countries create a platform to partake in international business at a macro level, which are all good things. However, fashion also has an ugly side and a way of keeping costs low, this is sometimes achieved through exploitation, breaches of labor standards, and most relevant to SDG # 1, unpaid overtime and wages that often don’t come close to a living wage.
Poverty hinders the possibility for many of the garment workers to attain an education. Fashion is one of the most labor intensive industries and is often seen as an entry point into the workforce and a road out of poverty as it has many opportunities for entry-level jobs for unskilled laborers. Lotte Schuurman from the Fair Wear Foundation emphasizes that young children are more likely to be forced out of school and into the workforce if their parents are employed in low-paid work (Moulds, 2015). Lack of education is a factor that contributes to the cycle of extreme and generational poverty.
In a study published in 2018, researchers visited 540 workers from India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. The top three countries where fashion companies manufacture their clothing. The lowest paid garment workers were from Bangladesh. They worked 60 hours a week and their hourly pay was of 28 taka, which is equivalent to $0.95 (Muscati, 2018). The fashion industry can do more than just be idle and further perpetuate these norms, it can also support and help create a life free of poverty for its essential workers. In fact, if the people who are the heart of the supply chain got paid a living wage, it was found to only increase the retail price per article of clothing by 1% (Oxfam, 2017).
The results of an unjust and fragmented labor system are currently being felt by garment workers living in extreme poverty around the world. With much of the clothing production on halt due to COVID-19, fashion’s essential workers who were struggling to secure life’s most basic needs even before the global pandemic are now in destitution (Bramley, 2020). Now more than ever the fashion industry must take a step back to reflect on what it is doing to break away from unfair systems and take a step forward towards a more transparent and traceable supply chain.
HxN as a Changemaker
Hecho x Nosotros (HxN) works as a Changemaker, just like you. We advocate, promote, and educate on the tough, not so glamorous side of fashion. By bringing issues such as poverty, exploitation, supply chain data manipulation, and many more into focus, we aim to work together with our partners and people like you to find sustainable solutions for the betterment of the environment and those working within the industry. HxN’s consultative status within the UN gives us the opportunity to shape the industry from the inside out and make changes for the better on both the regional level but also internationally.
HxN puts their thoughts on sustainability into practice by working hand in hand with artisans, producers, cooperatives, and SMEs (small, medium sized enterprises). HxN combats poverty within their own experience with Animana by developing good management and implementing design and communication practices. In 2017 alone, under Fair Trade practices, HxN has invested $100,000 in Andean communities and has purchased 4,000 products made from 800kg of fiber. We are proud of the platform that we provide for local artisans in Andean communities to enter the economy.
HxN is dedicated to continuing our work on creating systemic change within the normative standards of the fashion industry to further promote social and environmental innovation. We have a sharp focus on applying Blockchain technology to shift towards a more transparent market for all involved. Let's make this shift together, let's continue the fashion revolution.
Note: Hailey Matarese & Alondra Magana HXN collaborators
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Bramley, E., 2020. 'Lockdown Has Been A Wakeup Call For The Industry': What Next For Fashion?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/apr/22/lockdown-fashion-wakeup-call-coronavirus-lockdown> [Accessed 30 April 2020].
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