John Oliver rips on fashion industry and sweatshop-fueled consumer culture

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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John Oliver, host of HBO’s comedic news program Last Week Tonight, explored the dark underbelly of the fashion industry and American consumer culture on his show this Sunday.

"Trendy clothing is cheaper than ever, and cheap clothing is trendier than ever," Oliver said, citing a study showing that Americans purchased 64 clothing items per person in 2013. 

The high-volume consumption comes in large part thanks to "fast-fashion" companies like H&M, Zara and Forever 21, he said — companies that sell and profit tremendously off cheap, trendy clothing. 

The problem? This production relies almost entirely on overseas factories where employees (oftentimes children) work for little pay in sweatshop-like conditions, Oliver explained.

Ninety eight percent of America’s clothing is now produced abroad, he said.

"Sweatshops aren't one of those Nineties problems we got rid of, like Donnie Wahlberg,” he wisecracked. "They're one of those Nineties problems we're still dealing with, like Mark Wahlberg."

In his segment, Oliver cited numerous incidences of unsafe overseas working conditions and ripped on the CEO’s of Gap, Walmart, Joe Fresh, H&M and The Children's Place for their claimed ignorance of said conditions.

In 2013, the pope (who appears each week on Last Week Tonight’s opening sequence) called child labor a “real form of slaveryon the World Day Against Child Labour.

“Listen,” he said, “it is a deplorable phenomenon which is constantly increasing, especially in poor countries. There are millions of children, mostly girls, who are victims of this hidden form of exploitation that often involves abuse, mistreatment and discrimination.”

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is]

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