Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver took to his HBO pulpit Sunday night to fire a blistering denunciation of fashion retailers that sell trendy clothing made by overseas labor on the cheap. A master class in the art of the takedown, the segment ripped apart the likes of Forever 21, Gap, H&M, and Walmart not only for enabling “Midwestern tweens to dress like 40-something alcoholics attending the funeral of a Tel Aviv nightclub owner,” but also for profiting off the backs of sweatshops and child labor. (Zara co-founder Amancio Ortega, with an estimated net worth of net worth at $67.1 billion, ranks fourth on Forbes annual list of the world’s wealthiest.)
Oliver summed up “fast fashion’s” business model in a nutshell: Sheer volume, which means producing garments with the “lifespans of mayflies,” a blind eye toward labor abuses, and a system of deniability that appears to have been “stitched into the supply chain.”
Retailers, he added, have been doing the same song and dance over sweatshops and child labor since the 1990s, when TV host Kathie Lee Gifford testified to Congress about how clothing with her name has been made under deplorable conditions that needed to stop.
“Amazingly, and I know this is hard to hear, Kathie Lee did not fix everything,” Oliver said. “Sweatshops aren’t one of those ’90s problems we got rid of, like Donnie Wahlberg. They’re one of those ’90s problems we’re still dealing with, like Mark Wahlberg.”
To drive home the message, Oliver offered to send the CEOs of The Children’s Place, Gap, H&M, Joe Fresh, and Walmart “suspiciously cheap” lunches of questionable provenance as a lesson in the importance of proper supply-chain management.
“I have no idea where they came from or what might have happened to them on the way,” he said as a parade of mystery-meat dumplings and discount sushi ambled across a makeshift runway. “But I want you to f—ing eat it.”