The battle between those who wear fur for fashion, and those who fight for the rights of animals has been an ongoing public debate for over thirty years. Somewhere along the line it seems that people stopped caring and started wearing. Is this really the case? Are we as callous and unscrupulous as an activist would make us out to be?
On the subject of exploitation for the enjoyment of fashion privileges I think of human rights and the people who suffer to make cheap clothing. I wonder how many people who thumb their nose at the fur mongering fashionista, go out of their way to purchase garments sewn by people who never have to suffer inhumane working conditions. Would you gladly pay eighty dollars for a t-shirt that you can get for five? What if fur farms operated under stricter regulations for animal health and cleanliness than, let’s say, a textile factory where showing up for work is a life or death gamble for those who toil crowded into unsafe buildings.
The paradox of inhumane treatment; that which is lacking the normal human qualities of sympathy therefore being cruel and brutal and not human, is by very definition a treatment which comes from humans and therefore smacks of contradiction. Thus, I raise the question: which is the lesser of the two evils; animal suffering in fur farming, or human suffering in textile production?
The birth of the factory allowed for greater production and employment opportunities and using poor uneducated people to make things for the rich and educated was integrated into factory work. We applied this use to farming and began utilizing animals in greater numbers for food, leather, and fur production. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to point out that this exploitation of those who cannot resist or fend for themselves, human or animal, is lacking in compassion and sympathy. Has our societal need for consumption driven us all to the point of sociopathic behavior in our quest for food and clothing? Essentials; which so many are able to survive with so little of, are produced at the cost of human lives for a mass population to enjoy the benefits of disposable convenience.
Bangladesh garment production is a 20 billion dollar a year industry employing about four million workers. Purchasing companies require strict compliance to international labor laws, while simultaneously placing demands on factories to fill orders. Supervisors enforce harsh working conditions in order to reach the deadlines. Those who want to keep their jobs have the choice to work over-time hours in an overly crowded space with few windows, no air conditioning, and an inadequate number of emergency exits. On April 24 of 2013, an eight story garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. The death toll of over 1,000 people does not finalize the story of the lives that were lost. Survivors have been paralyzed, married couples and family members who shared a dream of working towards a better life lost their better half and their dreams were crushed beneath the rubble, children were rendered orphans, and many simply lost their jobs in a country where people outnumber employment opportunities and entire families are supported on the meager income of one. An investigation concluded that it was “an isolated incident, not a system failure” despite multiple deadly fires and building collapse reports which are now a common knowledge risk of working in the garment industry. A risk which is a result of standards set by the supply and demand of retail economics. And so the cycle continues. As the burgeoning world population provides factory workers to provide cheap textiles, and forests are cleared for factory farming because soon there won’t be enough meat to feed everyone, a small voice says “who cares, it’s just fur?”