Clothing labels expose the danger of cheap fashion

Hilary Hagerman
Managing Editor
Shine On

Unless you’re looking at a size or washing instructions, you’re usually not examining the tag on your clothing. But a new advertising campaign is trying to change that.

The powerful campaign, produced by Toronto-based creative agency Rethink and the Canadian Fair Trade Network, is trying to highlight what goes into producing the $5 T-shirt you just picked up on sale.

"The Label Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story" is a series of three print ads that illuminate the danger of sweatshops and the poor working conditions that workers endure.

"To help the Canadian Fair Trade Network draw attention to the people around the world working tirelessly in unsafe conditions, we added their stories to the label," reads a mission statement for the ads.

Courtesy Rethink Canada

The ‘Long Tag Sweater’ looks like a comfy hoodie you’d wear to lounge around home, but its tag draws attention to the unethical production of clothing in Sierra Leone.

"100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family,” reads the tag. “They couldn’t afford medical treatment and he couldn’t risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing has left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts work at the factory next year. The label doesn’t tell the whole story."

Courtesy Rethink Canada

The second image in the series relates to Bangladesh – the country that made headlines in 2013 when a garment factory collapsed, killing 1,135 garment workers and injuring more than 2,500 more. One of the major retailers operating from the factory was Canadian brand Joe Fresh.

"100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he works. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes everyday. The label doesn’t tell the whole story."

The final image is of a cozy fisherman-style knit sweater.

Courtesy Rethink Canada

"100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works,” the tag reads. “It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works in reaches 30 degrees. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story."

Last year, Cambodian workers petitioned fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Zara to raise wages from $100 to $177 per month. But according to TakePart, worker advocates say the wages in the country never actually increased.

While the tags may seem shocking and depressing, it’s an eye-opening look at what can happen to sweatshop workers.

What do you think of these ads? Do they go too far, or are they simply drawing attention to an issue many people choose to ignoe? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @YahooShineCA.