‘The True Cost’ film – a review of the documentary about who’s paying the ultimate price for our clothing.
The documentary by Andrew Morgan is a harrowing account of how globalisation is failing when it comes to the fast fashion business. Its purpose is to raise awareness of what scenes can lay hidden behind the glitz and glamour of a fast fashion driven world. It wants every person to feel compelled to take responsibility in choosing to buy and trade ethically, they want us to think about the clothes we wear, the people who make them and the impact it has on our world.
STATED FACT: The USA alone used to produce 95% of its own clothing in the 1960’s, today it’s only 3% as everything is now outsourced to developing countries.
The current business model is stated as unsustainable and the true cost, at its ugliest being the lives of workers in factories and the contamination of the land they inhabit which can have devastating affects on local villagers’ health. The film itself has a PG13 rating as some footage is so upsetting; scenes of violence on the streets in Cambodia during worker protests, lifeless bodies in the rubble of Rana Plaza, sick babies and children who are suffering both mental and physical illnesses as a direct result of the polluted environment in which they struggle to survive.
Journalist and author Lucie Siegal talks about how fashion production over the years has dramatically changed; it’s not just about 4 seasons a year anymore but 52 seasons with new stock planned to hit shelves every week in order to sell more stock. As the cost of basic needs, such as shelter and food, in the western world increases, low cost fast fashion is described as a form of ‘consolation’ as we can buy more for less in order to make us look and feel successful in a world where everything else is becoming more expensive. Today, consumers have moved toward a culture of throw away fashion where we buy so much that it holds so little value and throwing it away is something we don’t think twice about.
The film evokes feelings of shame and embarrassment with the inclusion of reels and reels of YouTube videos from youngsters video blogging about their recent ‘bargain’ purchases, along with clips from frenzied shoppers practically trampling over one another in shopping malls on ‘Black Friday’ in order to get the best ‘stuff’ they don’t really need. All damning viewing following the blood, sweat and tears workers endure in developing countries just to earn a dollar to feed their families or buy medicine to treat cancers and sickness as a result of the environment in which they have to live.
As we experience deflation in the price of our clothing, costs to produce are still going up so the wages of factory workers in countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh and China are supressed. Dangerous corners are being cut in order to service the required profit margins of multinational corporations. It can be argued that this cutting of corners contributed to the 2013 Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster where over 1000 people lost their lives, despite workers pointing out severe cracks in the building which owners chose to ignore and prevented them evacuating, costing them their lives. The risks therefore are undoubtedly being carried by the most vulnerable and worst paid people in the supply chain.
STATED FACT: The year following Rana Plaza in 2013 saw the fashion industries most profitable year.
STATED FACT: 85% of textile factory workers are female and paid less than $3 a day and are the lowest paid workers in the world.
The film follows a 23 year old mum and textile worker in Dhaka who tells the story of how she formed a work union and made a list of requirements for fairer working conditions which resulted in an altercation where all union members were physically attacked.
The film also shows that it is possible to produce fashion through more ethical and sustainable ways of working. During filming and interviews with the CEO of The Fair Trade Fashion Brand ‘The People Tree’ you learn of the brands approach. It first looks at the skills of its workers whom they describe as partners, along with the raw materials available to them in order to see what’s possible before they develop a fashionable concept.
The film also exposes the many problems within the cotton farming industry. Cotton farms are becoming ever more industrialised, with whole landscapes being treated as factories, using more and more chemicals and pesticides without understanding or measuring the true cost to the environment for generations to come.
Corporate adverts are shown from Monsanto, who are a producer of chemically enhanced seeds. Companies like this are contributing to the factors causing farmers to spiral into vicious circles of debt with little opportunity to escape. Farmers buy these chemically enhanced seeds to help them grow bigger and better crops, but when they do not deliver against advertised promises, farmers need to buy more and more pesticides, furthermore contaminating the soil, which requires further chemical treatment. This perpetuates the farmer’s debt, eventually giving them little choice other than to relinquish their land to such corporations to pay off their debt.
STATED FACT: In 16 years there have been 250K suicides in India and 1 farmer ends their life every 30 minutes – the highest number ever on record.
Similarly in Punjab, India one of the world’s largest cotton producers, the land is suffering from contamination to the point that 70-80 people in each village are born with mental and physical defects as well as cancers as a direct result. Local villagers struggle financially and further get into debt to pay for treatments for their loved ones.
During the film you also hear from a Texan cotton producer who’s made it her life’s ambition to farm organically following the death of her farmer husband to a brain tumour, with credible evidence pointing to the cause being side effects from chemicals used whilst at work in the farming industry.
The film takes us through the journey of our unwanted or ‘throw-away’ clothes all the way to one of the largest known landfill sites in Haiti, where it describes the textile landfill sites as “the dirty shadows of our careless consumption.”
STATED FACT: Only 10% of clothes that go to charity get sold, the rest gets bagged and shipped to landfill sites in developing countries, which can take up to 200 years or more to decompose, all the while emitting harmful gases.
STATED FACT: The average American throws away 82lbs of clothing a year, a total of 11million lbs a year.
Moving to the Kanpur region of India, we are shown footage from one the largest leather tanning sites in the world and the pollution generated that’s impacting the rivers in that region. Pollution from chromium that is poured from local factories directly into nearby rivers which inevitably reaches drinking water, washing water and the water being used to grow vegetables and salads that local villagers survive on. The polluted waters are attacking villager’s livers, causing jaundice and other serious skin diseases.
STATED FACT: Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world – behind oil, but its impact on the environment is not being measured.
The problems of a ‘throw-away and fast fashion’ driven society are documented as wide and far reaching and the film offers no simple or quick resolution to the problems. Ecological and Fair Trade Activists shown in the film express how there needs to be a systemic change to how the fashion business is run and what aspects related to fashion production these large organisations are to be held accountable for.
Governments and businesses need to vote for ‘real’ change and to have Fair Trade Acts enforced, however to date businesses opt to follow only voluntary codes of conduct and have voted against new Fair Trade laws because they are seen as an impediment to ‘Free Trade’.
The film explains the need to move away from a ruthless capitalist culture whereby profit is to be gained and increased at any cost, in favour of a move towards a fairer culture where all workers are rewarded rather than exploited.
The film hopes to assist in opening up a world-wide debate in stating that the current trading system undermines basic human needs and values. It positions every single person accountable for making a change to allow us to all live and work in a truly global economy that cares for everyone and protects the very land which we need to survive and prosper.
Its stance is that the customer is ‘King’ and is in charge to bring about a change which rejects careless production and endless throw-away consumption. Underlying all this, the consumer is a big part of the problem as the fast fashion industry is responding to what the customer does, so only we can be the catalyst for change.
The full version of the fashion documentary can be downloaded and viewed here: