Don’t get me wrong, I love the #EqualPay jerseys and I fully support closing the gender wage gap. The BHS girls soccer team definitely deserves an applause for bringing the wage gap battle straight to their peers and working with organizations to promote equality and fundraise for Vermont women and girls. However, there is a degree of hypocrisy at play which stops me from buying one of these jerseys and which we would do well to acknowledge.
Many of our consumer goods are made in foreign countries where the fashion industry exploits their workers and do not give them equal pay to the profits they are gathering. Factories where this occurs are referred to as sweatshops. In this case, these jerseys are made in Nicaragua which is one of the poorest countries in the world. The two factories that produce Nike clothing in Nicaragua are New Holland Apparel de Nicaragua, owned by Tegra LLC and Annic LLC, owned by Gildan. Within the last decade, Nike, Gildan, and New Holland Apparel de Nicaragua have faced allegations for running sweatshops and mistreatment of workers according to reports from the Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium which can be accessed from their respective websites.
The jerseys, while relatively cheap, are made through a process called ‘fast fashion’ where fashion giants produce poorly constructed clothing that do not last as long. 100% made out of polyester, the production of these jerseys negatively impact the environment. Polyester is made using petroleum oil byproducts. The production of polyester heavily pollutes the air, harms the atmosphere, and releases thousands of plastic micro fibers that pollutes the oceans and the world’s waterways. When laundering, thousands of these microfibers escape into our waterways, here in Burlington, these microfibers go into Lake Champlain. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fashion industry contributes about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, UNECE reports that 20% of global waste water comes from the fashion industry which then releases micro plastic waste in the worlds’ oceans. Recently, American consumers buy more clothes but only use them for half as long and my concern is that these jerseys will become one of those statistics.
The #EqualPay jerseys are a commendable effort and pay equity needs all of this attention. If the BHS girls soccer team had not been carded and if they had not sacrificed their game, the attention they are garnering now would not have happened. Yet, these young women were able to make this sacrifice comfortably in comparison to the sweatshop workers who are risking their lives to bring into light their harsh working conditions. So better alternatives must be found. Supporting Burlington’s local businesses and working with them to have USA made jerseys using organic cotton or other sustainable materials. These jerseys should also be made with union labor where there are fair working conditions and wages.
Emily M, Burlington, VT