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The Exploitation of Garment Workers: Threading the Needle on Fast Fashion

In a crowded workroom, a woman pushes red fabric through a sewing machine.With L.A. Fashion Week just around the corner and spring designs filling the racks at your favorite stores, you will need more than cash in your wallet to make good shopping choices. You also need information. Here are some facts: Garment workers who make the looks you love are paid some of the lowest wages in the nation, sometimes as little as $1.58 per hour – well below the legal minimum wage. These workers produce clothing for many retailers you know, including Lulus, Dillard’s, Bombshell Sportswear, Nieman Marcus, Stitch Fix, Socialite, Nordstrom, Von Maul, and Amazon, but many are criminally underpaid.   

Garment Survey Results 

Last year the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s Southern California offices embarked on an ambitious plan to investigate several contractors in the region’s large garment industry. We found that 80% of the contractors were violating minimum wage and overtime laws and we recovered over $892,000 in back wages and damages. We found one contractor paying garment employees $1.58 per hour in a state where the minimum wage was $15. 

Consumers Have a Real Choice to Make 

“Fast fashion” refers to trendy clothing that is quickly and cheaply produced to meet ever-changing consumer demand. Fast fashion garment makers copy ideas from high-end or celebrity fashion designers to sell the latest styles at cheaper prices.   

These garment producers are caught in the never-ending cycle to rapidly produce the newest clothes at lowest cost for consumers. As a result, many garment producers, manufacturers and retailers sacrifice workers’ wages to ensure that they can make a profit. So, what can you do about it? Investing in more expensive pieces may be costly in the short term, but the higher quality means it won’t be replaced as quickly, and you can’t put a price on the benefits of ensuring fair wages for your fellow humans.  

Low Wage Garment Workers Are Our Priority 

The Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate wage theft in the fashion industry. We are committed to protecting the workplace rights of garment workers and ensuring they receive the full wages they are due. We will use all available enforcement tools to hold manufacturers and contractors accountable when they violate those rights. The exploitation of workers is never an acceptable price to pay for the clothes on your back.  

We encourage workers, advocates and stakeholders in the garment industry to call us at 1-866-487-9243 to report wage violations. We can answer questions in over 200 languages. Visit or contact the nearest Wage and Hour Division office for assistance.  


Ruben Rosalez is the regional administrator in the western region for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL and LinkedIn

Sourced from Us Dept of Labor

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