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Fast Fashion Companies Guilty of Human Trafficking

Written by Mrunmayee Jere and Edited by Emilee Kain

When it comes to human trafficking, unfortunately, there are many methods that traffickers use to buy and sell people. Surprisingly, this can happen in front of our own eyes, as seen with fashion companies who engage in this type of behavior for labor reasons (Human Trafficking in the Fast Fashion Industry). Fast fashion, or “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from ... celebrity culture and turns them into garments ... at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand,” is one of the prime reasons sweatshop labor from trafficked people is used (Rauturier).

Fast fashion clothing is cheap, and there is an apparent reason why that is the case. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a worker can only earn a fraction of the price that consumers pay for clothing, with fast fashion companies consuming almost 59% of all costs (Lunn).

As one can see in the image above, in a shirt that costs around 29 euros ($39 USD), the price that a consumer pays is distributed in eight ways, leaving the workers as last priority. This leaves the worker only receiving 0.6% of that total amount ($0.22 USD), which is not enough to sustain their living (Lunn). Plus, to meet the demand for fast fashion, companies are more likely to turn to trafficked labor to save money and pay workers less. This, in turn, increases human trafficking and decreases worker salary to keep the consumer supplied with readily available, cheap clothing (Human Trafficking in the Fast Fashion Industry).

According to the organization Human Trafficking Search, companies that

have been found guilty of using trafficked people as labor include, but are not limited to (Lunn):

  1. Zara

  2. Forever 21

  3. Dean Shoes Co. Ltd (supplies Nike)

  4. Uniqlo

  5. H&M

Forever 21 has explicitly been found to purchase cotton from factories in Uzbekistan, which employ trafficked child labor, unlike many other fast-fashion competitors like Gap Inc., Levi Strauss, American Eagle Outfitters (Hicken). Forever 21 has also been found to move most of its production to Asia after Americans complained about unfair working conditions, leading them to use trafficked labor (Lunn). Japanese-based company Uniqlo can be found in many shopping malls across the United States but has also been found guilty of using trafficked labor. Although they have put out campaigns against human trafficking, they have consistently ranked low on surveys examining the amount of trafficked work in companies and fail to disclose their cotton provider (Crespo). The Asia Floor Wage Alliance 2015 report has found H&M, in particular, to be guilty of many violations. One such breach is using trafficked women as labor and then firing them when finding out they are pregnant (White). Zara and Dean Shoes Co. Ltd have both been found to have also bought cotton from Cambodia in factories where human trafficking is used to bring workers, a practice that only fuels the human trafficking industry (Lunn).

One defense of fast fashion industries using trafficked labor is that the clothing these stores sell is extensively cheap, allowing those with not as much money to have access to clothes. However, the inherent problem is that human lives are being sacrificed to produce cheap and ever-changing clothing. Rather than spending money to buy many cheap garments from fast fashion companies, society should prioritize investing in only a few pieces of well-made clothing from fair-trade companies. This culture of having many clothes needs to be abolished across the world to reduce human trafficking and the carbon footprint. Of course, people may be in financial situations that do not allow them to do this, in which case, those people should seek out fair trade fast fashion companies with a quick google search. All of that information is readily available, so together, people can reduce this type of behavior to reduce human trafficking and help everyone lead a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Works Cited

Crespo, Rebecca. “A Complete List of 25 Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid (& WHY).”

Minimalism Made Simple, Minimalism Made Simple, 2 Nov. 2019,

Hicken, Melanie. “The Secret Behind Forever 21's Dirt Cheap Clothing.” Business Insider,

Business Insider, 27 Feb. 2012,

“Human Trafficking in the Fast Fashion Industry.” The Dunken Law Firm, The Dunken

Law Firm, 19 Jan. 2020,

Lunn, Sonia. “Shopping Slavery-Free.” Human Trafficking Search, Human Trafficking

Search, 1 Apr. 2020,

“Poverty Wages.” Clean Clothes Campaign, Clean Clothes Campaign, 23 June 2020,

Rauturier, Solene. “What Is Fast Fashion?” Good On You, Good On You, 22 Dec. 2020,

White, Joey. “H&M: A Corporation with a Conscience?” Human Trafficking Center,

Human Trafficking Center, 7 Mar. 2017,

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