Earlier this month the Sun broke the story that Ivy Park, Beyonce’s new line of activewear, was produced by ‘sweatshop slaves’ in Sri Lanka earning just 44p an hour.
The hook of this revelation is that Ivy Park claims to empower women, yet women make up the majority workforce in factories like those in which it was produced.
“The workers, mostly young women from poor rural villages, can only afford to live in boarding houses and work more than 60 hours a week to make ends meet” reports The Sun.
The fact that most of our clothes are made by underpaid women in sweatshops is incredibly important to be aware of, a subject that I’ve written about before on this blog. However, there is a real danger that this revelation will be turned into a witch-hunt, aiming to bring down Beyoncé and what she stands for, rather than those who are really responsible.
Pointing out the irony of one of the most famous people of our time producing a line of clothing claiming to empower women - specifically marginalised women of colour - made in a sweatshop by marginalised women of colour, is low hanging fruit that some individuals and journalists have found too sweet to resist. You only have to see a few references to Beyoncé’s use of sweatshop ‘slaves’ to see what’s going on here.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that The Sun, of all papers, is suddenly taking the moral high ground when it comes to protecting workers rights in developing countries. The implication of this story being picked up by practically every news outlet in the Western world could be huge, but whilst the world hates on Beyoncé for her hypocrisy, (let’s face it) white men in suits everywhere continue profiting off the exploitation of women in third world countries. Unless criticism at Beyoncé is redirected elsewhere (or at least replicated) we lose a crucial opportunity to affect real change by moving this out of the arena of celebrity scandal and into public consciousness.
And this change begins in our bank accounts and in our wardrobes. Anticipating huge public demand, the main players in the product development of Ivy Park (by the way, probably not Beyoncé) made the choice to take the production to factories in Sri Lanka where they knew they would get a very quick turnaround for relatively little cost. They may have cared about the working conditions in these factories, but they probably didn’t.
This decision was made to maximise output, and minimise costs. The masses (that’s us) then go out and spend £100 on these cheaply produced Ivy Park leggings in Topshop and go home feeling happy about ourselves. This is capitalism, and it’s a cycle repeated on practically every high street in this country.
Rather than posting angry Tweets or sharing articles centered around Beyoncé’s hypocrisy, we could all look to ourselves and what we can do to stop propagating this cycle. Sure, Beyoncé and Topshop should be held responsible, but so should all companies that produce fast fashion without a transparent supply chain or rigorous ethical trading standards.
The best way to do this is, simply, to just stop buying it.