Queen Bey could do no wrong... or so we thought. The whole elevator fiasco after last year's Met Ball? That was all Solange. Her performance at the Super Bowl? Screw the critics. That was raw, heartfelt and powerful. Lemonade? That's Jay-Z's fault and he better get in line.
After all, there's a reason she's the Queen. But reports coming out that Beyonce used sweatshop labor?!?!
Beyonce are you kidding us?!
For the better part of the last decade, millions of us have looked up to Beyonce as a singer, performer, leader of pop culture, feminism, black power. But now... Reports are coming out that her her new athletic-wear line, Ivy Park, was made by women hailing from rural villages in Sri Lanka earning pennies an hour. Essentially, sweatshop coerced labor. Essentially, these young women were paid $6.17 cents a day for 10 hour shifts, six days a week. That works out to .60 cents an hour. What's worse, the Sun reported MAS Holdings factory in Sri Lanka, uses “poverty-stricken seamstresses” who are "exploited and treated like slaves."
What makes it particularly bad, and the salt on the wound, is that when Beyonce launched Ivy Park earlier this year, her stated the aim of the clothing line was to “empower women who want to look and feel at the top of their game.”
“My goal with Ivy Park is to push the boundaries of athletic wear and to support and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than your physical appearance. True beauty is in the health of our minds, hearts and bodies,” Beyoncé reportedly said while launching the brand. “I know that when I feel physically strong, I am mentally strong and I wanted to create a brand that made other women feel the same way.”
Somehow Beyonce's vision of empowerment seems limited to her consumers.
As one employee at the MAS Holdings factory in Sri Lanka told the UK Sun Newspaper, "the talk of female empowerment is just for the foreigners. They want the foreigners to think everything is OK.”
In a statement, Ivy Park stood by what it called its “rigorous ethical trading program." (Something we don't believe for a second and will be investigating further).
“We are proud of our sustained efforts in terms of factory inspections and audits, and our teams worldwide work very closely with our suppliers and their factories to ensure compliance,” a spokesperson for the clothing brand told the Sun. “We expect our suppliers to meet our code of conduct and we support them in achieving these requirements.”
We've heard this before. The sad thing is, that in this case Ivy Park/MAS Holdings Factory is likely not breaking any laws. In fact, the minimum wage in Bangladesh is $68 a month. The current salaries the women are being paid are close to 3x that amount, which speaks more about the problems with Bangladesh's labor laws than MAS Holdings Factory or Beyonce.
Of course, paying $180 a month isn't exactly empowering young women either.
As a team that has long revered Beyonce, we are particularly stung by this revelation. We have long been advocates of the beliefs Beyonce has espoused: progressivism, equality, feminism. But our work lies in promoting and advancing sustainable fashion and here she has failed greatly. Exploiting child laborers doesn't take away from Beyonce's past accomplishments but it does make them ring hollow, at least the part about empowering women.
Shouldn't we as leaders aim to empower all women and not just those we deem consumers that can afford what we are selling? Shouldn't good business practices be progressive values? And shouldn't Beyonce know better? Pleading ignorance doesn't work anymore. Whether we've spent years on tour or years researching labor rights or anything in between, we all know that exploitation in the fashion industry is happening. How else can you make a t-shirt for $10 (for the record Ivy Park's prices are higher and again she through Top Shop/MAS Holdings is paying 3x minimum wage). How else can you find jeans for $20? Only willful ignorance could hide you from this truth.
Ultimately, Beyonce's the boss. Ivy Park might be sold in TopShop and produce by MAS Holdings Factory in Bangladesh but Beyonce makes those calls. If she wanted the line produced in the US or made by hundreds of brands that faithfully and fairly employ artisan women as a source of empowerment and not vassalage, she could have made it so.
But she didn't. And to us, you can't speak about women's empowerment if you choose to wear something made by "poverty-stricken seamstresses” who are "exploited and treated like slaves."
We have always rushed to Beyonce's defense in the past, but on this, we won't. Instead we hope that the fallout will make future stars that enter fashion think twice about where they make their clothing.