The next time you buy clothes, do not just spare a thought for the workers who sewed your garment. Also consider the international crew who spent lonely months without Internet or phone on the container ship that brought it to you. Consider the invasive species that the container ship brought with it, the pollution that is caused through use of the cheapest fuels available, and the dangers to sea life from engine noise, shipwrecks, and containers lost at sea. The picture that emerges from Freightened is one of environmental havoc wrought in the name of cheap production.
As the film makes clear through interviews with experts interwoven with personal stories, labels such as “Made in Bangladesh” only tell a very small part of a product’s story. Today’s global economy depends on low-cost shipping that allows components to be shipped around the world in ever-larger container ships. But the shipping industry lacks transparency; dominated by a handful of privately owned corporations, it avoids the spotlight.
Through mechanisms such as the “flag of convenience,” ships avoid the higher taxes, environmental standards, and minimum wage payments of developed countries, lowering costs by up to 65%. As ships age, their environmental impacts become more severe: Most shipwrecks involve vessels—often oil tankers—that are more than 25 years old and are poorly maintained.
Yet the size of the shipping industry is projected to triple in the next 20 years, with new shipping lanes opening up through sea ice loss in the Arctic. Although ships can be retrofitted to avoid the worst effects and reduce energy consumption, change is slow and regulations are difficult to enforce. Given the urgency of the problem, which the film conveys brilliantly, the suggested solutions seem timid: Rating schemes for ships and better labeling of products feel like sticking plasters rather than actual solutions.