11 Of Your Favorite Clothing Brands That Use Sweatshop Labor

It’s harder than ever to avoid buying clothes that were made unethically. We’re living in a world of fast fashion, and to keep up with consumer demand for new trends every couple of months, clothing companies are producing more product than ever. But how do stores like H&M manage to sell their clothes for such cheap prices? How are designer labels able to mass produce some of their products so swiftly? Why are so few garments made in the US? Well, a lot of that is due to a little thing called cheap, exploitative labor.

Honestly, things get really complicated really quickly when it comes to a company’s ethical labor practices. Back in the ’90s, there were tons of protests directed toward companies like GAP and Nike for their use of sweatshop labor. Now? There’s a lot less clamoring about that than there used to be. There are a lot of reasons for that, including different economies and less clothing brand options. It’s a whole new ballgame. Then there’s cost to consider. Look at it this way: If the average person has to choose between spending $54 on a mini skirt at American Apparel–sweatshop free and made in the USA–versus spending $10.50 at H&M–prone to labor violations and sketchy clothing origins–where will they buy the skirt? Uh, definitely not American Apparel.

Many companies are doing little things here and there to gain better reputations about their labor practices, but something still stinks. Company websites tout cleanliness and fair practices of the factories of their suppliers, but lets be real: how vigilant are the folks at the top of the food chain at H&M really going to be about a factory in Bangladesh? Especially when their clothes are made in Bangladeshi factories that catch fire and cause the deaths of over 100 people thanks to poorly designed working conditions? What about a factory collapse that kills over 1,000 people? LOL, as if.

A while back I wrote a post about ethical clothing companies that are producing clothing that isn’t made under back breaking, inhumane conditions. What I didn’t mention was how hard it was to find many companies that were a) sweatshop free b) transparent about how their clothes were made and c) didn’t have items that cost hundred and hundred of dollars. Unfortunately, some of your favorite clothing stores have had a nasty habit of allowing their clothes to be made in sweatshops, underpaying and mistreating factory workers, and generally being sketchy af. Does that mean you’re evil if you shop at these stores? No, and it takes a lot more than not shopping at Forever 21 to change this messy system. But if you want to avoid giving so much of your money to companies that product their clothes unethically, avoid these 11 clothing stores and brands.

 

1. H&M

A photo posted by H&M (@hm) on

When you Google sweatshop brands, it’s impossible to come across one that doesn’t mention H&M. H&M’s clothing is made primarily in Bangladesh, a country with a dark history when it comes to labor practices of its factory workers. The brand’s suppliers have consistently skimped on safety regulations for their employees, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of factory workers in the past few years alone. Yes, people who probably sewed the hems on your H&M jeans might have died in a factory fire, for disgustingly low wages. H&M claims that it will make sure its employees are paid a living wage by 2018, and their “green” friendly lines attempt to make their customers aware of the importance of environmentalism, but time will tell if H&M actually gets its you know what together so that more people don’t end up, uh, dead.

 

2. Zara

A photo posted by ZARA Official (@zara) on

Zara keeps getting into hot water. In 2011, they were accused to using “slave labor” to produce its clothing, paying far below minimum wage to its employees. Not long after that, nothing seemed to have changed, because they were once again in trouble for rights violations, employing children, and forcing its employees to work for over 12 hours straight. Yikes.

 

3. Forever 21

A photo posted by forever21 (@forever21) on

Most of Forever 21’s clothes are made in Asia, and about 20 to 30 percent are made in the United States. But having clothes made in the USA hasn’t avoided “sweatshop-like” conditions. Back in 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor discovered that a Los Angeles factory producing clothes for a variety of companies, including Forever 21, was underpaying its workers and often forcing them to work for over 10 hours without overtime. One employee even claimed that she wasn’t paid by the hour, but rather per item sewn; she was allegedly paid 12 cents for a vest that sold for $13.80. Honestly, there seems to be quite a few stories of Forever 21 being beyond sketchy.

4. Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters was another one of the brands that had clothing made in those sweatshop-like factories that I just mentioned. Surprise surprise.

 

5. Aldo

A photo posted by ALDO shoes (@aldo_shoes) on

And so was Aldo. Yeah, your shoes aren’t safe either.

 

6. GAP (w/Old Navy and Banana Republic)

A photo posted by Gap (@gap) on

GAP has been at the center of this anti-sweatshop fight since the ’90s. GAP is more transparent than it used to be and has made more of an effort to make sure that its garment workers are treated humanely. GAP even donated millions of dollars to the victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed over 1000 people. But garment workers at factories that make GAP clothing still protest and strike. Why? Their wages are absolute garbage. Plus, they can’t even unionize. GAP has a long way to go before it is as humane as it seems.

 

7. Primark

A photo posted by Primark (@primark) on

The Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1130 people, many of whom helped make clothing for UK fast fashion brand, Primark. While Primark was one of the first companies to come out and donate money to the victims of the tragedy…but even then, victims could only obtain Primark’s money if they provided DNA evidence that their loved one was killed. Uh, harsh.

 

8. Adidas


It’s not just Nike or Puma that gets a lot of flack for producing sportswear in harsh conditions. According to Oxfam, Adidas supplies thousands of its garment workers with poverty wages. On top of that, they’re bad at, upholding trade union rights.”

 

9. Victoria’s Secret

Apparently the higher ups of Victoria’s Secret didn’t know that the cotton that was picked for the company’s organic, free-trade cotton program was picked by…wait for it…children! Yes, allegedly, a dash of forced child labor went into your fave organic VS undies. Honestly, I wish I was surprised to hear this, but given how awful VS is for things as simple as a bra fitting, I’m not surprised that their oversight is evident in more pressing matters as well.

 

10. Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart has–fairly–been called out for its history of underpaying and exploiting employees, but little is known about the origins of its cheap clothing. Well, unfortunately, Wal-Mart brand clothing was also made at the site of the Rana Plaza collapse, though Wal-Mart claims they had no idea that its clothing was made there. In the company’s defense, it has, in the past, decided to opt out of producing its clothing at sites that it deemed inhumane and unsafe, but who knows what else slips between the cracks.

 

11. Uniqlo

A photo posted by uniqlousa (@uniqlousa) on

Uniqlo, a Japanese based fast-fashion company, has its eyes set on conquering the US market. A few years ago, its only US location was in NYC. But now it is expanding, but at what cost? Well, apparently at the cost of garment employees, because they work in really crappy conditions. The Chinese factory where many of their clothes are made features disgustingly long hours, low pay, awful working environment, cruel treatment from management…yeah, sounds like a sweatshop to me. Employees claimed that they were paid just a third of their average monthly salary. Uh, WTF, Uniqlo? Screw your cozy clothes, pay your workers.

 

What other brands use sweatshop labor? Do you avoid certain brands due to their sweatshop labor practices? Why or why not? Do you have any recommendations of brands or stores that don’t use sweatshop labor? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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