Film Review: The True Cost

The ugliness beneath the glamour is exposed by this vitally important documentary, which addresses the immense, ongoing problems in the fashion industry.
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The True Cost just may make you think twice the next time you're inclined to pop into H&M, Zara or Forever 21 to pick up a cheap new shirt or frock to wear. Such purchases are known as "fast fashion" and are at the very heart of the problem in the apparel industry which this film addresses. 

With advertisers urging the idea of consumerism as a fast track to happiness, and gullible shoppers buying ever more affordable clothing, the pressure is on the billion-dollar fashion business to produce more and more product at ever lower prices. But the real price is paid by the impoverished, mostly Third World people who make them—and by the environment, plagued by the toxic effects of insecticides and chemicals used to grow cotton plants and treat cheap leather goods, and the imperishable landfills created by tons of discarded, highly replaceable garments.

Director Andrew Morgan makes an impassioned and sensible appeal for some kind of justice in a business where the emphasis is eternally on profit for a few while the majority of those involved suffer greatly, working for a non-livable pittance under the most miserable of conditions. The horrific building collapse in Bangladesh, in which a thousand sweatshop workers died, should not have been the tip of the iceberg…but it is, as we learn of the brutal beatings endured by women who toil in the factories and the high suicide rate of farmers who lose their land to corporations like Monsanto, which make them pay for the very seeds they sow at exorbitant rates, not to mention the expensive medications needed when the pesticides used on their crops cause cancer. A peaceful demonstration in Cambodia for a living wage turned into a two-day war in which police opened fire on the protesters. Closer to home, a Texas woman born into cotton farming made organic agriculture her mission when her husband died of illness brought about by insecticides.

All the big companies like H&M and Zara refused to speak with Morgan, but he did score an interview with Stella McCartney, one of the very few big-name designers to make ecological and ethical concerns a priority. The director includes the callous reaction of so-called pundits like the idiotic Kennedy of Fox News, who trot out the hoary, false argument of big business being good for poor nations because of the "opportunities" it provides them, given the supposedly even more dreadful alternatives. Almost as shuddersome are the YouTube "haul" videos shown here, which feature babbling, shallow girls proudly displaying their low-priced mall swag, which are enough to make you never want to go shopping again.

Glimmers of hope appear in the form of certain fair-minded advocates like Livia Firth, an intelligent proponent of sustainable business practices, but the overall picture is dark indeed, especially when our own government rejects bills urgently calling for an overall reformation of the fashion business in the interests of "fair trade." The True Cost is, however, opening with the media-attracting support of names like Tom Ford, Colin Firth, Harvey Weinstein and Annie Lennox, and it is to be hoped that it will be seen by many and the all-important word will get out about a vital matter we all literally carry on our backs every day. As one sweatshop survivor of the Dhaka disaster states, "I don't want people to wear clothes which bear our blood."

Click here for cast and crew information.