Analysis of “The True Cost” Documentary

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Analysis of “The True Cost” Documentary

This essay will provide a critical analysis of “The True Cost” documentary, focusing on its examination of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, labor rights, and consumer culture. It will discuss the documentary’s key messages, the effectiveness of its presentation, and its role in raising awareness about sustainable fashion. The piece aims to offer insights into the complexities of the global fashion industry and the importance of ethical consumerism. More free essay examples are accessible at PapersOwl about Analysis.

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True Cost ‘True Cost’ is a documentary based on research of Clothing Industry – about the clothes we wear, people who make them and unseen part of our world that compels to ask who pays the price for our clothing. The documentary explores the Cost in Economics?is the combination of gains and losses of any Goods that have a value attached to them by any one individual, and goods to be taken into consideration are e.g. money, time and resources.

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The clothing Industry through world relies on a Major resource Manpower and the losses incurred by the resources although are not visible to the western crowd are beyond imagination(Michelle Dawn). The Fast Fashion market wherein overnight change in prices from low to vast choice is an inverse effect on people working in various economically poor countries. 

Low price here has an inverse effect on makers to walk you through an instance an incident in Dhaka wherein a Garment Manufacturer had not paid heed to the employees complains about the cracks in the building they worked in which unfortunately collapsed due to the owners negligence killing 900 plus employees, this was a biggest dark mark in history of garment industry wherein the greed of competitiveness had neglected.   Impact of Fashion on People and Planet, surrounded by Greed of making profits and Fear of surviving competition in what is well wrapped up under the Term Globalised Production. Globalised production basically means most of making of goods is outsourced to economically weaker countries where wages are low. It was until 1960 America made about 95% of its clothes, and today we make only 3%, other 97% is outsourced to developing economies.                 

The big question is “Why is that such a profit generating Industry is not able to do any good to the people who work for it to be in place? “. It is thus difficult to understand that an economic profit for one geography was nowhere concerned to how the effects to its sourcing countries were effected. This shows the irrelevance and disconnect various countries had in improving their stance at the cost of not looking into the foundational fabric of the industry. According to Matt Faherty,’When everything is concentrated on making profits for the big corporations, what you see is that everything, human rights, workers’ rights, the environment, get lost, all together, you see that workers are increasingly exploited because the price of everything is pushed down and down and down just to satisfy this impulse to accumulate capital. And that’s profoundly problematic because it leads to the mass impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people around the world.’ 

To fully understand the impact fashion is having on our World, we have to back to Texas where it all begins – High plains of Texas which houses 3.6 Million acres of Cotton grown in this region literally the biggest cotton patch in the world. Now 80% of it is Genetically Modified, which is fast as compared to handpick sowing seeds to spraying pesticides and chemicals over acres together which brings in tremendous growth of cotton output which is used to generate cloth but what effects it leaves back on the soil at micro bacterial level and people who live around is something which was least considered to be a worry.  In this documentary called True Cost , New York University Professor Mark Miller calls advertising a “species of propaganda”. 

Miller goes on to explain that commercial advertisements are designed to trick consumers into associating positive emotions such as personal satisfaction and social acceptance with particular products, despite there being no legitimate connection between the two. Advertisements are thus effectively tricks which covertly alter a consumer’s mindset so that he or she views the world as the advertiser sees fit.   The documentary argues that the modern fashion industry is a literally world-destroying force in which callous corporations and mindless consumers trash the environment and oppress Third-World workers for the sake of cheap garments and high fashion. In order to demonstrate its point, the film consists of endless contrasting shots of flashy model runways in Milan and impoverished sweatshop workers in Bangladesh. It presents wholesome organic cotton farmers talking about the dignity of rural agriculture intercut with a scientist lamenting the effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by saying the word “chemical” as many times as possible in a tensecond sound bite. 

True Cost calls the popular desire for cheap clothes an example of mindless consumerism and then shows crazed Black Friday shoppers storming a storefront. The irony of Morgan’s condemnation of advertising as propaganda—and the very existence of this film—is apparently lost on him.  Morgan admits at the outset of the documentary that prior to beginning his investigation of the fashion industry, he had only a layman’s knowledge of its existence.  According to a Wall Street Journal interview with Morgan, he became interested in the fashion world after over 1,100 individuals died in the 2013 Savar factory collapse in Bangladesh.2 In just over two years Morgan managed to write, direct, and produce The True Cost via a Kickstarter campaign and some high-profile activist support.  

Whatever else can be said about Morgan’s effort, it certainly can’t be called unambitious. Despite his lack of prior knowledge about the subjects, Morgan tackles the connections between the fashion industry and ThirdWorld impoverishment, worker mistreatment, manipulative advertising, mindless consumerism, corporate greed, political corruption, environmental degradation, harmful GMO proliferation, free trade, and the inherently predatory nature of capitalism. I imagine that even an individual who theoretically bought into all of Morgan’s arguments would find it all a bit overwhelming. Such an individual would probably start the documentary thinking that the fashion industry was too powerful and needed to become more socially conscious, and end the film thinking that the fashion industry was literally one of the worst things in the entire existence of mankind. If that sounds excessive, it may help to understand that Morgan assumes that prior to watching The True Cost, his viewers have already bought into the narrative that the entire world is going to hell. 

Various interviewees offhandedly refer to the planet as “dying,” “declining,” or having “overstepped [its] limits.” No one ever actually identifies what these calamitous global breakdowns consist of (global warming isn’t even mentioned, though “greenhouse gases” get one reference), but they are all quite certain they exist. The current state of civilization doesn’t fare any better than the environment, according to Morgan and his interviewees. There is no mention of the one billion individuals who rose out of absolute poverty across the world between 1990 and 2010,3 but there are repeated references to constantly falling wages, deadly working conditions, and widespread government oppression across the Third World. Unfortunately, all of this misery is not creating a blissful existence in the Western world either. Tim Kasser, a professor at Knox College, argues that consumerism actually makes people less happy, and thus the United States and Europe are psychologically worse off than ever before. Morgan asserts that the entire world is locked into a system of “consumer capitalism” in which elites  require increasingly high levels of consumption for their own continuity, even though it depresses Westerners, oppresses the global poor, and destroys the environment.   

Who is to blame for this mess? The answer is pretty much everyone except garment workers. Among the top culprits are the major fashion corporations, which created an “enormous, rapacious industry” for the sake of the “impulse to accumulate capital.” Also to blame are the Western and foreign governments that serve as lackeys to the corporations.                 

Further down the line, local business owners in Third-World countries ruthlessly exploit their own workers for the sake of an ever-shrinking profit margin at the behest of the big fashion brands locked in fierce capitalistic competition. But none of the above are the worst offenders of all. Worse than the factory owners who let their buildings collapse on workers, worse than the foreign governments that wield military force against their own, worse than the Western governments that hold the system together, and worse than the big fashion corporations that orchestrate it all, are Western consumers.   

The documentary makes it amply clear that it is the ordinary, individual consumers of fashion who fundamentally fuel the whole process. “Business through advertising has pulled society along into this belief that happiness is based on stuff, this belief that true happiness can only be achieved by annual, seasonal, weekly, daily, increasing the amount of stuff you bring into your life,” according to Patagonia’s Vice President of Environmental Affairs. Though the film optimistically hopes for a reorganization of the whole fashion industry and the entire international trade system, it explicitly states that the change should start with the individual consumer, since that is what drives the whole process.   The Documentary begins its story with one of its many oddly culturally conservative (if not reactionary) moments. 

The film harks back to the good old days prior to the 1970s, when the vast majority of clothes were made domestically in the United States and, as a result, clothes were far more expensive and purchased less often. Sadly, Morgan laments, the price of clothing has dropped precipitously ever since, and the fashion industry transferred into a new model called “fast fashion.” In response to an endless desire for more and cheaper clothes, the fashion industry dramatically increased its output at all levels, but especially of discount clothes.  From there, Morgan jumps between Bangladesh, India, New York, Milan, Texas, and Tokyo to explain the wide-reaching scope of the fashion industry, which allegedly encompasses one-sixth of the world’s population. In order to increase output, the major fashion corporations rely on cheap and unregulated Third-World labor in countries like Bangladesh and India.   In these countries, local independent manufacturers are incentivized by the major brands constantly to squeeze their costs so as to make low-priced garments that will be sold profitably in the West. 

The manufacturers respond by consistently lowering wages and neglecting working conditions, which often leads to strikes and occasionally to deadly accidents like the 2013 Savar factory collapse. Meanwhile, the agricultural inputs for garment production have been drastically expanded by the use of GMOs, which the documentary argues are like “ecological narcotics” that boost short-term production but rely on everincreasing use to maintain their output. Worse yet, the producers of GMOs (well, really just Monsanto) use their power to corner the global markets and exploit small farmers with unscrupulous business practices. After decades of use in the Western and Third Worlds, GMOs have led to devastating consequences, including cancers and birth defects in affected areas, and an epidemic of suicide among Indian farmers that is attributed to debt-related troubles caused by adopting expensive GMO crops.

 On top of this myriad of social costs, the garment industry only exacerbates the massive environmental problems on planet earth. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world behind the oil industry. In the Third World especially, the rise and spread of factory production has left many localities in environmental despair. Morgan shows us how the Ganges River, considered to be holy by Hindus, has been trashed by industrial run-off to the point of being considered unusable for drinking or bathing purposes. Yet the workers who operate the relevant factories are too poor to afford a safe water source, so they continue to use the Ganges at the expense of their health and well-being. Back in the Western world, the mindless consumption and disposal of clothes have caused textiles to pile up in and clog landfills. 

Since the vast majority of these garments are not biodegradable, they will sit in the landfills for decades, if not centuries. Just about every topic mentioned in the previous three paragraphs could warrant its own documentary, journal article, book, or possibly even a field of research (for instance, the safety of GMOs). In trying to roll all of these issues into his case against the fashion industry, Morgan stretches his documentary so thin that it doesn’t manage to addresses any single point in an adequate way. Yes, some viewers might be swayed by the affecting testimonies of the poor Bangladeshi factory workers, or even the rhetorical savvy of some of the interviewees, but there is precious little content or data to back up any of Morgan’s major claims. For each topic, Morgan usually presents a single or handful of problematic cases, and then throws in some activist or academic interviewees to explain briefly the problem. For instance, narrtor  states that numerous garment factories have collapsed in Bangladesh over the past few years. Then two or three interviewees say that increased competition amongst major fashion corporations caused Bangladeshi factory owners to cut costs, which resulted in dangerously negligent working conditions. 

Then Morgan shows a montage of collapsed factories and dead bodies with the victim tolls and dates superimposed on screen. When possible, he’ll try to throw in some commentary by the victims themselves for the genuinely most affecting part of the argument. Then it’s on to the next topic.  Does Morgan truly believe that the cause of the 2013 Savar factory collapse is reducible to competition between fashion corporations or, by extension, the demands of Western consumers? This is a massive claim with a staggering number of legitimate and confounding factors. The factory builder, factory owners, factory workers, factory suppliers, garment purchasers, local government regulators, and others, may all have played some part in the disaster. Was the factory owner aware of the risks and did he care? Were the workers aware and did they care (the documentary said that the workers were aware, but didn’t elaborate on this point)? Are Bangladeshi building codes sufficient to prevent collapse? 

Are they enforced well enough? If not, why not? Corruption, incompetence, neglect, cronyism, and bad luck could all be at play. Morgan barely scratches the surface of this complex network of relationships and incentives with every issue he touches upon. His presentation only gets worse when he tackles more technical subjects—the worst example being his treatment of GMOs. The efficacy and safety of GMO crops is a scientific and empirical question involving mountains of data (large swatches of it pro-GMO). Morgan bypasses the entire debate, however, by pointing to only two pieces of evidence: 

  1. one organic cotton farmer in Texas who alleges (though she admits she has no “smoking gun”) that her husband died due to pesticide exposure related to GMO crops, and 
  2. the testimony of two scientists who claim that GMOs have had tremendously negative financial, social, and medical impacts on India. One scientist states that GMO-related pesticide use has caused an epidemic of birth defects and cancers in rural India.

 I don’t know whether this specific claim is true, but I do know that an epidemiological claim based on low-level correlation is massively difficult to prove even in ideal contexts—and rural India isn’t one. Setting aside the big arguments, The True Cost contains a number of highly questionable statistics. Is the fashion industry really the second most polluting industry in the world? How does one quantify and compare different types of pollution? Did 250,000 Indian farmers really commit suicide in response to financial problems caused by Monsanto and GMO crops? No one even knows how many farmers there are in India,5 but apparently someone knows the precise reason why 250,000 of them killed themselves. A cynic might suggest that it does not matter whether these figures are true or even plausible, as long as they are useful as sound bites that can be recycled as memes amongst ideological allies. Granted, documentaries are necessarily condensed and largely nontechnical for the sake of time constraints and entertainment, so it would be fine if Morgan made a lot of big claims as long as he backed them up elsewhere, except that .    

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Analysis of "The True Cost" Documentary. (2022, Jun 23). Retrieved from