Each day, thousands of women travel to Indian temples to sacrifice their natural luscious locks to the Hindu god Vishnu. Virgins give their hair as a sacrifice for health and happiness in their future marriages. Poor female farmers give their hair to increase their chances of having a good harvest. But overall, most women sacrifice their long crowning glory as a way to convey their willingness to give up pride and vanity. Using dry razors, temple workers shave these women’s heads bald, collect their locks, and then sort them for sale to major western hair companies. Not a penny is awarded to any of these women, as many don’t even know that their hair is being sold for profit. The temple makes millions off the trade, the hair industry makes billions, and the ritual remains unchallenged for its unethical practices.
In Good Hair, Comedian Chris Rock exposed the process, traveling to India’s temples to garner behind-the-scenes footage of the unregulated process. As he chatted with unknowing Indian women, temple workers turned barbers, and business savvy priests, he discovered that the practice is all too common in India and unlikely to change without a shift in industry standards. But did this “secret” spark an outcry from hair consumers? Observing the response to the film, there were more laughs and few conversations about the unethical practices of the weave industry. As Rock is a comedian, paid to make people laugh and not necessarily think, the question remains: Do black women care about fair trade hair? And would they use their buying power to force the industry to change its practices?
The knee-jerk response involves a short contemplation as to why something as superficial as weave needs social advocacy. The underlying question is: What’s the global implication of wearing unethically traded hair? As every consumer influences company longevity, the power lies not in the hands of executives, but in pleasing the customer. Indian women would benefit from a wider non-donation-based system that allows them to sell their hair for a reasonable profit instead of companies doing business with temples that exploit these women’s sacrifices. Your purchasing power can influence the lives of struggling families. There are politics wrapped around the production of the weave sewn to your head.
As black women spend millions on buying weaves, it wouldn’t take long for companies to readjust their business strategies to support families and the local economy. If you mandated that these hair companies sign up for organizations such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, there’d be a greater level of accountability and responsibility to shun unethical hair trading.
As social media allows for consumer feedback, how long would it take to write on your favorite weave company’s Facebook page, send a concerned tweet, email a short letter, or call their headquarters? These efforts don’t have to be extravagant, but it does send a message that you care about the hair industry’s decisions that impact impoverished populations.
Of course, you’re not required to care or take action. It’s a privilege that you don’t have to think twice about companies, even outside the hair industry, that conduct unfair trades on everything from food to diamonds. Ignorance is easier than advocacy, as it requires less effort and simply a turned head. So what do you chose?
Do you care about the ethics of the weave industry? Is it bothersome to wear an exploited woman’s hair? Speak on it.