#SWAAYthenarrative
8 min read
Politics

Have you ever thought about how privileged people are, myself included, to be born into G20 countries? How lucky are we to live in countries where one can quite realistically hope and dream for a bright future? Where possibilities are seemingly endless and freedom is already in our possession? Although there are flaws in our political systems, most people here do have basic human rights, our countries have significant economic power, and we always have at least a chance for justice.

Our ignorance has allowed us to buy into a system built on human rights violations.

Unfortunately, many people don't have this privilege. They don't get to explore the possibilities that freedom and economic power so easily offer us. In fact, it's the polar opposite. The reality is that we, as citizens of G20 countries, exploit (consciously or not) the lack of freedom faced by others across our world all in service of our own overconsumption of consumer goods. This system—that we are actively benefiting from—is modern slavery.

It's Time to Wake Up and Stop Being Ignorant to Modern Slavery

So what is modern slavery exactly? Modern slavery refers to situations where one person (or business entity) has taken away another person's freedom. Their freedom to control their body, their freedom to choose their work, or their freedom to stop working in unsafe or exploitive environments. It's slavery as we've always known it in an environment and time that we've never seen or been able to admit to ourselves. Technically the term has no legal definition but includes crimes such as human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, and the use of child labor.

These all may seem like faraway issues to you. You've never seen these people—the victims of modern slavery—nor do you have to think of them on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps this is the first time you're hearing about all of this. You must be quite shocked. You may even be horrified to learn that you are an active (if unwitting) benefactor of this system. But it's true. Because one of the largest perpetrators of modern slavery is an industry that you undoubtedly participate in: the fashion industry.

Modern slavery refers to situations where one person (or business entity) has taken away another person's freedom.

Let's take a closer look at the statistics. According to the Global Slavery Index's 2018 report, $127.7 billion worth of garments that are imported annually to G20 countries include modern slavery within their supply chain. These groups of nations account for 80% of world trade. In the UK alone, $18 billion worth of products are at risk of supporting modern slavery, these products are from UK brands that simply manufacture abroad. These imports help underwrite a global economy that has trapped 40.3 million people in modern slavery, 80% of, which are women and girls.

This means that in developed nations, you and I have, in one way or another, supported modern slavery through our purchases. Our ignorance has allowed us to buy into a system built on human rights violations.

Fast Fashion and Modern Slavery

The gilded veneer of fashion culture has always been a stage for socialites and other elites to bask in the glitz and glamour that masks the industry's true, insidious nature. But the reality is far from what this facade portrays. The reality is a dark underworld of misery, despair, and human rights violations.

Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory rocked the world and claimed the lives of over 1,000 garment workers, very little if anything has changed. Our clothes are still being made by some of the poorest, undervalued, and overworked people in the world.

Slave labor sneaks into the fashion industry in untold ways, from cotton pickers who are kept in debt bondage by their employers to children who are lured into coerced factory labor via promises of free education. Living a life of fear and violence, these people are exploited and made to work around the clock to meet the unrealistic demands of corporate consumerism.

The gilded veneer of fashion culture has always been a stage for socialites and other elites to bask in the glitz and glamour that masks the industry's true, insidious nature. But the reality is far from what this facade portrays. The reality is a dark underworld of misery, despair, and human rights violations.

The Human Rights Watch reported that In certain underdeveloped countries, governments pull over 1 million children out of school to harvest cotton for production. With "workers" toiling around the clock (up to 14 hour days), factories are still paying less than the national minimum wage. In places such as Bangladesh, that amount represents a fifth of the living wage and barely allows these people to survive and cover basic costs such as healthcare, food, and rent.

On top of their meager pay, these people are often working in facilities with no ventilation—breathing in toxic substances and inhaling fiber dust in already unsafe buildings. These are real people, particularly women and children, who are actively being exploited every day. There are 168 million children in the world, today, who are forced to work. They have no union or representation to address these inhumane working conditions. They are trapped.

The Marketing Machine Obscuring the Truth of Modern Slavery

Why does it not surprise me that during a worldwide pandemic major players in the fashion industry abuse their power and position in the market to continue exploiting workers and underpaying their staff?

Let's look at, for example, Boohoo. This brand is a social media phenomenon—paying influencers and celebrities alike to endorse their brand with a whopping £80 million annual marketing budget. The brand has grown each and every year and is now publicly valued at £5 billion. Along the way, they have also acquired majority shares in Pretty Little Thing, Nasty Gal, and Karren Millen. On June 19, they also snapped up high street brands Warehouse and Oasis from insolvency administration.

Additionally, just last month Boohoo was criticized by investors for the operation and timing of its new bonus scheme, which could see its executives receive a share of a £150 million bonus payout during a global pandemic and economic crisis. To add insult to injury, the executives already receive a £1.3 million salary.

With this much wealth, why does Boohoo prey on underprivileged, and often abused, workers when they clearly aren't short on cash? They do it because they can. It's as simple as that.

Modern Slavery is Closer to You Than You May Realize

I opened this article by discussing my privilege to have been born in a G20 country, but the fact is that this privilege only reaches some of us. Up to this point, I've addressed modern slavery as a somewhat far removed issue, one that we don't often experience or consider in our daily lives as G20 citizens.

However, it is not such a clear-cut case, particularly as it relates to Boohoo. Sweatshop slavery is happening right here—up north in the UK's "dark" fashion sweatshops. In this wealthy, powerful, privileged country, people are still being forced to work through lockdown to meet corporate demands earning between £3.50-4 per hour.

There are 168 million children in the world, today, who are forced to work. They have no union or representation to address these inhumane working conditions. They are trapped.

Where is the justice in this? Where is the freedom in this? Where is the hope for these people?

I just don't understand how influencers and celebrities are becoming increasingly wealthy through promoting these problematic brands without even considering who made these clothes. How can these companies think that paying a maximum of £4.50 per hour in sweatshops anywhere, let alone in our own backyard in Leicester, UK, is okay? And why are more consumers not asking these questions themselves?

The real question is, will the teenagers and young adults who are these brand's chief demographics wake up to this and publicly shift their purchasing behaviors away from brands like Boohoo. When will consumerism outgrow fast fashion and stop falling prey to the facade of marketing ploys that is obscuring a human rights crisis?

It's Time for Fashion Brands to Pay Up

And so the plot thickens. As if this issue wasn't big enough, in response to COVID-19, leading fashion brands canceled their prior factory orders and never paid for them, leaving in their wake financial devastation for the manufacturing workers themselves. Giant labels, like Nike, Gap, Levi's, Primark, Urban Outfitters, Topshop, Fashion Nova, Forever 21, Kendall and Kylie, and many more canceled orders as well as changing and delaying terms, therefore forcing many factories in Bangladesh and elsewhere to close. Millions of garment workers lost their jobs and were never even paid for the orders that got canceled.

Thankfully the #payup campaign launched by Remake caught global media attention. This attention forced these big brands to pay up for fear of losing public trust and faith in their companies and clothing.

This is just one example of the power of our voices. Don't forget, we do not need these brands. But these brands do need us. This power is so profound, it is a power that collectively raised $1 billion for suppliers in Bangladesh and $22 billion globally. There are still brands that haven't paid up, but when we stand united and fight for what's right, our world can change for us all.

The pay up campaign proves that we do have the power to change things, we just need to educate ourselves on this issue and hold brands accountable for their abhorrent labor practices. Modern slavery is real, and the very clothes in your closet are a testament to the fact, but they don't have to be.

5 min read
Health

3 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress Each Evening (Instead of Reaching for Another Cocktail)

When we envision a person who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)—defined by having a history of past misuse, experiencing increasing mental health symptoms, or having a family history of addiction—we often picture someone waking up and instantly grabbing their first drink. However, in my experience working with those battling SUD for nearly a decade, I've learned that everyone's relationship with alcohol looks different and having a few too many drinks at night can be just as dangerous.

The time of day, amount, or type of alcohol one drinks doesn't define if they suffer from SUD or not—it's the compulsion to drink. By focusing on healthy stress relievers and implementing them into your daily routine, you aren't just avoiding another glass at night, you are curbing any inclination for SUD that you may have.

While you may feel the desire to reach for another drink after dinner and putting the kids to bed to relieve some of the stress you incurred that day, there are other things that you can do that are much more beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Risks of Reaching for Another Drink

Reaching for another cocktail or glass of wine can feel like a great way to relieve the stress of the day at the time, but over time it can actually lead to the opposite. Excessive drinking is known to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders such as increased risk of family problems, altered judgment, and worsened sleep quality. These can all lead to increased stress and create a continuous cycle I have seen in many of my patients, which often prove difficult to break.

Increased alcohol consumption can directly impact an individual's mood and temperament, too. In my patients, I've seen a connection between increased alcohol consumption and irritability, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that previously brought that person joy—activities that people should always put time into, especially right now during the pandemic.

While drinking in moderation doesn't have serious implications for some, others are already at increased risk for SUD. One drink per day is considered moderate for women, while eight drinks or more in a single week is categorized as heavy drinking. It's important to monitor your intake—whether you are at increased risk for SUD or not. It is all too easy for one glass to become another, and then another. And if you keep reaching for just one more drink, you can start to build a tolerance, as it requires more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This can result in dangerous, addictive habits that will alter your life, and the lives of those who care for you.

Three Healthy Ways to Relieve Evening Stress

Stress relief from alcohol is short-lived, but choosing healthier, alternative stress relievers can provide long-lasting benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. At Wellbridge, our team not only focuses on treating addiction but also on teaching healthy habits to support ongoing sobriety. And many of these learnings can be implemented to avoid addiction by handling stress better as well!

Below are three healthy stress relief ideas you can implement into your routine:

  1. Mindfulness exercises can be a powerful and mentally stimulating stress reliever. Throughout our therapeutic program at Wellbridge, we provide different opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. For example, breathing exercises, such as box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, mindful walking, and progressive muscle relaxation. If you're looking for entry, guided meditation, check out this YouTube channel where experts post mindfulness exercises each week.
  2. Human connection is invaluable. Whether it is your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a therapist, connecting with someone else can be a great way to relieve stress. The additional perspective that another person provides can also help us feel that the anxieties and stressors we are experiencing are more manageable. If you are feeling increased stress from loneliness or isolation, reach out and schedule a Zoom coffee hour with a friend, or call a loved one to check-in and chat.
  3. Physical activity is an excellent stress reliever as well, for so many reasons. Not only can it help us get our mind off of stress, it enables our bodies to release endorphins and provides long-lasting physical health benefits. Physical activity doesn't need to be a full-blown workout if you don't feel up to it, or simply don't have extended periods of time to dedicate to a longer exercise regimen. Even a short walk or some stretching can go a long way towards improving your mood. I enjoy following guided, online yoga practices for both mindfulness practice and physical activity.

Despite my years working in this space, I am no stranger to giving in to stress. However, I've learned that by allotting myself a little time each morning and evening for activities that set a positive tone in my life—like meditation, journaling, and exercise—I've been able to better manage my stress and feel more prepared for heightened periods of stress. Do I manage to set aside personal time every morning and evening? Definitely not—life happens! But by doing our best to take regular time out for ourselves, we're all certain to be in a better place emotionally and mentally.

Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

It's important to also recognize that it isn't just stress that causes us to reach for another drink at night. With the added pressures and responsibilities of women in today's world, having another glass of our favorite drink at the end of the day can often seem like a quicker and easier option than other healthier ways to relieve stress.

However, it's essential to put your mental health and wellbeing front and center in your priority list—something that many women struggle with. But just like the oxygen masks on an airplane, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first. By focusing on implementing small, healthy habits and making them a seamless part of your daily routine, you ensure that you can show up in all aspects of your life and for all the people in your life.

If you are struggling with increased stress, be specific and honest with your support system about your need to preserve your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing your needs will help you be there for other people you care about in your life.

I always refer back to a quote from a Dar Williams song—a song about therapy no less! "Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself." Talk about your needs with others and find time to develop healthy coping habits. And if you feel as though you've already created an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, discuss that relationship with a medical advisor to learn if advanced treatment is the right option for you.