The True Cost, a documentary by Andrew Morgan, explores the intricacies of the fashion industry from the cotton fields to the leather tanneries, from the mills to the garment factories, from the garment worker slums to department stores. Narratives from fashion designers, economists, and laborers are woven together to provide the true story – and the true cost – of fast fashion.
It may be true, as one reviewer pointed out, that the very people who most need to hear this story are unlikely to seek it out. If you’re here reading this, you’re already aware of the horrors of the fashion industry and have come to terms with your part in it. But The True Cost may be just the tool we need to get more people on board – if we’re willing to put in the work to get people to watch it. You feel the gravity of the despair impressed on garment workers by the insatiable demands of western consumers, but you also get a sense of the way the whole system works and what you can do to change it; its a relatively succinct primer on the ethical consumerism conversation and Lord knows that conversation can get really long and really complicated rather quickly.
I was particularly impressed with the film’s coverage of the flimsiness of Corporate Social Responsibility standards (which talk a big talk without affecting safety and labor standards in the factories they claim to protect) and its blatant critique of Capitalism, which “must be able to expand infinitely” in order to be successful. Both points speak to the need for federal regulation that holds corporations accountable for the way workers are treated.
I took a few notes during the second half and was struck by a few quotes and statistics:
Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil.
Leather tanneries release chromium as a byproduct, often into local river systems and ground water. Chromium poisoning causes jaundice and can lead to liver cancer if left untreated. Families in rural Indian communities can spend their entire household income paying for medical treatment for ailments caused by chromium poisoning.
Garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh often have to leave their children with friends and family in villages because they are unable to support them in the city. Workers may not be able to see their children more than twice a year.
“My God, we can do better than this!” – Richard Wolff
When workers peacefully protested for higher wages in Cambodia, police opened fire to break up the crowd. Five people were killed, at least one of them by severe beating.
“The only person [in the current fashion industry] who’s becoming richer is the owner of the fast fashion brand.” – Livia Firth
The fashion industry is “a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside it.” – Andrew Morgan
Did The True Cost change my life? No, but it reinforced my resolve to not turn away from the people and resources affected by an unsustainable and inhumane clothing industry. It reminded me, too, that the industry hurts me directly by exposing me to harmful chemicals and encouraging me to be a rabid consumer of throwaway goods that will never leave me satisfied.
As ethical consumerism activists, we have the opportunity to use The True Cost as a launching pad to tell our own stories and to help people find the resources they need to change their consumer habits.
Photo Credits: first and third image – The True Cost press kit; second and fourth image – screenshots from film pulled by me.
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