Fashion retailers like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 sell trendy products on the cheap. But does any great sale come with the cost of child labor? John Oliver explored this topic on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, taking aim at the fashion industry for its irresponsible “supply chain management.”
“Fashion: personality you can buy,” Oliver says to open the above segment. Citing an ApparelStats report, the host finds that in 2013, Americans purchased 64 items on average per person. “Trendy clothing is cheaper than ever, and cheap clothing is trendier than ever,” he says, thanks to “fast-fashion” companies that rake in profits with their high-volume sales. (Forbes ranks Zara co-founder Amancio Ortega as the fourth-richest person in the world, at $67.1 billion.) It’s a simple business model: In order to sell clothes for cheap, you have to sell a lot of them, so you have to make them quickly and cost-effectively.
“We produce clothes almost entirely overseas, where it’s much cheaper,” Oliver says, noting that – in order to reflect its production methods – American Eagle should really be named “Bangladeshi Swamphen.” The host examines the issue in detail, citing various news reports that show the horrifying use of international child labor for brands like the Gap and Walmart. “Sweatshops aren’t one of those Nineties problems we got rid of, like Donnie Wahlberg,” he jokes. “They’re one of those Nineties problems we’re still dealing with, like Mark Wahlberg.”
Oliver ends the segment by calling out the owners of Gap, Walmart, Joe Fresh, H&M and The Children’s Place, arguing that their own ignorance of child labor isn’t a proper excuse. To drill home his point, he offers to send the executives cheap, but suspicious-looking, lunches like mystery meat dumplings and “dirt-cheap rotisserie chickens.”