“This is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make these clothes, and the impact that it’s having on our world. It’s a story about greed and fear, power and poverty. It’s complex, as it extends all the way around the world. But it’s also simple, revealing just how connected we are to the many hearts and hands behind our clothes.” It opens with these words ‘The True Cost‘, the documentary by Andrew Morgan that investigates and shows the real cost of the many garments hanged in our closet and the many shoes we collect in our shoe racks and that we often accumulate until nausea without any real use, since then we end up always wearing the same things, those with which we feel better.
‘The True Cost’ came out in 2015 but it seems to me a good idea to take it out and talk about it, not just because it is a very current film but also and especially because this week of the Fashion Revolution marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy and the documentary is a clear indictment against the causes behind the collapse in which 1138 people died, all textile workers exploited by the Western fashion industry, in particular the so-called ‘fast fashion’.
Watching ‘The True Cost’ is a big punch in the gut because it rubs in face our greed of compulsive and continuously dissatisfied consumers, our being part of a society based on profit and “corporate interest”, our uncontrollable thirst for possession of cheap goods, which we buy only because they represent a good deal, for the low cost. And we do not think that cost, the real cost of that dress or that pair of jeans or those pumps are equal to the sweat, fatigue and blood of a human being like us born but the ‘wrong’ part of the globe , the poorest and most marginalized one. Like Bangladesh, where the tragedy of Rana Plaza took place and where Andrew Morgan follows and interviews Shima Akhter, a 23-year-old textile worker forced to leave her child to her parents in her native village where she returns one / two times a year. Shima works in Dhaka, is moved tenderly when she talks about her daughter but cries of anger and pain when she remembers the massacre of Rana Plaza and says “I do not want anyone wearing anything, which is produced by our blood“.
Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothing after China and is chosen by the big Western chains because the production has a practically nil cost, the trade unions have limited power, impeded as they are by the local government that has its own advantage in the labor’s exploitation. And so the workers or better the female workers, because 85% are women and often unfortunately also children, are forced to suffer sewing in silence, perhaps with the newborn child or little more sleeping on a towel on the ground next to them because they do not know where to leave him.
Protests are repressed with the use of violence and even with blood as told by Shima, head of a trade union through which she presented some requests to the managers of the factory; the answer was violent beatings with chairs, sticks, scales, scissors, kicks and punches in the abdomen, heads slammed against the wall. Or as happened in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2014, when the police put down with bloodshed the strikes of the textile workers who demanded an increase in wages that was $ 80 a month. There, too, four dead and numerous wounded.
But the documentary by Andrew Morgan also deals with the equally thorny issue of intensive agriculture, of the “land treated as a factory”, of how the agricultural sector, to keep up with the fast fashion industry that is getting faster and faster with 52 seasons a year instead of the classic two, redesign the entire production cycle, as happens for example with the cotton plant. In Punjab, considered the ‘granary of India’, farmers get into debt to buy seeds and then pesticides that keep pests away: “the tragedy of chemicals, whether they are fertilizers or pesticides – says environmentalist Vandana Shiva – is that they are what has been called ‘ecological narcotics’ or that the more you use them the more you need to use them. For a while the yield of the single commodity climbs and then it starts to decline because you have contaminated the soil “. And at the end the farmer, deep in debt, will lose his land and take his own life drinking that same pesticide that killed his crop. Over the past 16 years, more than 250,000 peasant suicides have been recorded in India, the largest rash of suicides recorded in history. Not to mention the effects of these chemicals on health; in-depth studies have shown the increase in congenital defects, tumors and mental illnesses in the region.
In Kanpur there are the leather factories, responsible for the pollution of the Ganga, the holiest river; every day more than 50 million liters of toxic wastewater pour out of the local tanneries, heavy chemicals such as chromium 6 even end up in drinking water. The local environment is contaminated, soil is contaminated.
Punches in stomach, I said it. But the documentary also gives hope, represented by those people who believe in the possibility of change and in a kind and sustainable approach, such as Safia Minney, founder of the People Tree fair trade brand. Awarded as Outstanding Social Entrepreneur by the World Economic Forum, Safia says she is confident of a profound change that will touch the fashion world in the next ten years and that fair trade is the answer to correct social injustice. Meanwhile, she continues to take care of its ethical brand which, collection after collection, gives jobs and opportunities to the most marginalized communities, from Nepal to Peru, from India to Bangladesh, involving them in every single step of the production chain of a garment. LaRhea Pepper, a Texan cotton producer, is also firmly convinced that things must and can change; after her husband’s death at the age of 50 for a brain tumor caused by the use of chemicals in agriculture, LaRhea decided that changing the type of agriculture was “imperative”, “imperative to the planet in which we live and our children’s life“. And since then she has been converted to organic cotton.
How ever up-to-date, ‘The True Cost’ really invites a deep reflection on our lifestyle, on our most unconscious desires and on the reasons why all of us, after all, seek happiness in the consumption of things.
I recommend it to those who have not yet had a chance. Below the trailer: