Inequality and the Global Garment Industry: Blog Action Day 2014

The return of American manufacturing jobs is creating increased wealth and prosperity for our nation. Thanks to the manufacturing industry having the largest multiplier effect of any other sector of our economy, every dollar spent creates an additional $1.48 in economic activity. This benefits domestic workers with higher employment rates, increased standards of living, and upward mobility.

Outsourced jobs in developing countries create no such benefit for their workers. The global garment industry is a prime example of this inequality in wealth, human rights, and gender.  We as Americans are dependent on cheap goods, particularly clothing, made in overseas sweatshops. We benefit from the unfair labor conditions, including slave and child labor, in the resulting cheaper prices.

The Triangle Fire, History of the Needlecraft Industry Mural

Human rights

Struggling to feed our need for an endless influx of new apparel, garment workers are subject to dangerous labor conditions, often ending in tragedy. Most corporations have no idea where their outsourced products are being made, or under what conditions. The result is rampant human rights violations and products being manufactured without environmental regulations or safety standards.


For every pay cut, safety violation, and human rights atrocity committed in these factories, large American apparel labels generate more wealth, and citizens save more at the register. In fact, after the deadly factory fire last year in Bangladesh, the country actually increased its number of exports. The allure of cheap, disposable clothing has created a pattern of increased consumption and waste. While the demand for the latest trends has grown exponentially, creating wealth for large clothing brands, the wages of the garment workers making these products remain stagnant. In final form, less than 10% of the retail price of a piece of clothing was spent on the labor creating the garment.

Skirt Cost Breakdown


Most of the garment industry workers in countries like Bangladesh, India and Cambodia are young women. Rather than increase women’s equality, these jobs further exploit women by restricting them to low paying, dangerous, dead-end jobs. The low wages earned by these women offer no opportunities for a better life, continuing the cycle of poverty as their children must also join them on the job and forgo an education.

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