I could make this a one-line post and just point back to the title. Get the message across in just a few words, make life easier for myself, stop waffling on for maximum verbiage. Yet, it’s early Sunday morning, the birds are singing, the dog is sleeping (nothing new there) and the coffee is strong and good.
So let me go a bit preachy on you and I’ll tell you why “The True Cost” is a film you should make an effort to see.
The premise of the film is naturally to enlighten the viewer to the actual, full and true cost of the clothing we wear, beyond the often surprisingly small number on the price tag. We’re talking the human cost and the cost to the environment. The human cost is of course in the exploitation of workers in low-cost countries, places where the price of labour is kept low by the lack of laws regulating working conditions, minimal wage, environmental laws and the lack of options for the workers.
It is poignant in the film where a representative for a major fashion company points out that working in the factory they use is voluntary, only to be countered with how it really works: The fashion companies don’t own factories there, they contract the factory that will produce the required quality for the least money. And if the price is not low enough the work goes elsewhere, hence why the “Made in” tag on your clothes keeps shifting from Poland, to China, to India, to Bangladesh, and ever onwards to wherever conditions dictate that workers are desperate enough to work for almost nothing.
The numbers quoted are quite staggering. Did you know that around 1 in 6 humans working in the clothes industry, worldwide? That 11 million tonnes of clothes are thrown away annually in the USA? That fast fashion chains such as Zara have introduced weekly micro-seasons to their collections, because we just weren’t buying enough of their stuff?
Consumptionism: The act of getting customers to treat things they’d normally use for a long time (i.e. appliances, houses, vehicles) as things they use up (i.e. food, alcohol, cosmetics).
For me one of the strongest moments was when they visited the Kanpur region of India to look at the tanneries. Tanning leather in India appears to be almost unregulated and the environmental impact is massive. The holy Ganges river runs through the area and has traditionally been vital for life, for humans, animals and crops. Seeing the skummy, chromium polluted state of it is depressing, and not helped by the segments from inside the leatherware factories. Piles of cheap leather shoes does not offset the lost river.
And if the polluted rivers aren’t enough, the level of pesticides needed to allow the production of all the cotton the industry requires is staggering. And very harmful to everyone living around there. The film includes segments with a Texan cotton-farmer who has moved to organic cotton farming due to the obviously harmful pesticides.
The film is well made and interesting, without giving a feeling of having an agenda to promote. To me it becomes more a case of showcasing the truth most of us don’t want to think too hard about. On the one hand you have the glitzy world of fast fashion, on the other you have a sweatshop filled to the brim of underpaid workers toiling away in deplorably conditions.
It’s not entirely dark though. There are people and companies working for change and it’s nice to see People Tree get deserved attention in the film. Change is possible, but it will come from us consumers, not from the companies.
The True Cost can be streamed from the website and is available on Netflix. Gather round and watch it.