Problems within the fashion industry aren’t as surprising now as they would have been years ago. Horrible tales of sweatshops, underpaid and overworked labourers and unsafe working conditions have filled the news. What isn’t quite as focused on is the impact of the fashion industry on the world as a whole, not just the underprivileged people forced to work in these brutal sweatshops. The True Cost looks at not only the terrible conditions that workers are forced to endure, but the devastating effects on the environment that the industry creates.

We’ve all heard the terrible stories of workers being killed in sweatshop accidents in third-world countries. Unfortunately, it seems as if very little is ever done to prevent these situations. Workers still struggle to get a monthly wage that nobody in North America would accept as a weekly wage. They’re beaten, forced to leave their children in the care of others because their long hours and pay don’t allow them to support themselves, never mind their children, and their demands are typically met with violence. Here in North America, consumer takes on a dark tone as it’s this consumption that fuels the fashion industry to fight for lower prices, all at the expense of those workers we appear to be ignoring.

The True Cost spends a lot of time looking at these horrible situations, but it also points out another aspect that very few people may think about: the environmental impact. The fashion industry is the second largest producer of pollution in the world, only coming behind the oil industry. The cotton that is used to produce so many of these pieces of clothing is endlessly sprayed with toxic chemicals that ruin the soil. In an attempt to maximize profits, companies like Monsato have created genetically modified seeds for farmers who wind up falling into debt just to get the seeds they need, only to have the company come and take the land when payments can’t be met. The ways in which this industry is hurting our planet and the people on it is astounding, and The True Cost doesn’t pull any punches.

You’ll have a hard time going through your closet without starting to feel guilty about where those clothes have come from, but even if you’re selective in the amount of clothing you purchase, there may still be problems. It’s believed that only about 10% of all clothes donated wind up being sold. The remainder are shipped to various third world countries, which begins to damage their clothing industry as these massive piles of clothing are incredibly cheap. It’s sad to think that even when we try to do something right, it may only be creating more wrongs.

This is an eye-opening documentary that exposes many problems within the fashion industry that we wouldn’t even normally think of. It’s shocking and disgusting, but there are moments of hope found within. People have begun to stand up to these practices, building companies that work in fair trade and think of their employees first and their profits second.