Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade, is a worldwide sensation! Her clothing line, Ivy Park, not so much. Recently, the singer’s clothing line faced sweatshop allegations which pointed out a serious flaw in the purpose of the clothing line in the first place: female empowerment.
What is Ivy Park?
Ivy Park is a collaboration between Beyonce and Topshop with the goal of empowering women through sport. The clothing is designed to enhance the female body, while still getting the job done. The line’s high prices have not dissuaded buyers in the slightest. Within the first day, many of the pieces sold out online and in stores.
Where is Ivy Park made?
The particular factory that is under media scrutiny is MAS holdings in Sri Lanka, a factory that also produces clothing for Nike. Workers at MAS are paid about $6 a day, and work for nearly 60 hours a week to produce the Ivy Park products ranging from $6-$250. Though these wages are double the minimum wage in Sri Lanka, it is not enough to support an acceptable standard of living. The workers receive no sick leave or holidays. The Sun reports that many of the workers are “exploited and treated like slaves,” living in fenced-in boarding house complexes near the factory. Because of these accommodations, MAS holdings falls under the criteria of a sweatshop.
What is the issue?
Of course, Ivy Park is not the first brand to employ female sweatshop workers, however, it does so under the alias of empowering women when it is women who are being treated unethically.
70% of the workers at MAS are impoverished women. Many of them were reluctant to speak out because they might lose their job, however, one worker told The Sun, “when they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners. They want the foreigners to think everything is OK.” This statement points out a hole in Beyonce’s goal to “support and inspire women.” Ivy Park is clearly designed to attract women of a high socioeconomic class, who can afford to pay the luxury price tag. It raises the question of which women Beyonce is trying to inspire. Furthermore, who is suffering to achieve this goal? It is very clear that the women in Sri Lanka are being used as a means to an end; that end being the empowerment of women in the first world.
How can we help?
Obviously, there are many things that the Ivy Park company could do to improve the ethicality of its product. I doubt that Beyonce would want to change her goal of "empowering women" to “ empowering rich women at the expense of poor women,” but currently, that is how it appears. If Ivy Park wants to employ the women of Sri Lanka, it has an obligation to protect the rights of those women to receive fair pay and fair working hours. Those standards should not be defined by their poverty but their value as human beings. This way, both women who buy and make Ivy Park clothing can be empowered.
Consumers of Ivy Park clothing also have an obligation to these sweatshop workers. If I were to buy a piece of clothing from the Ivy Park line I would be benefiting off of the suffering of women in Sri Lanka. Though I may become more empowered by wearing Ivy Park clothing, at what cost? By participating in a system that treats women unethically, I am saying that my empowerment is more important than theirs because I happen to be wealthy.