The Human Hair Trade Exploits Women Across the Globe

The human hair trade, growing due to a rising demand for human-hair extensions, is exploiting poverty-stricken girls and women across the globe.

Celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Beyonce and the Kardashians have set a trend of enhancing one’s natural head of hair with real hair extensions to add volume and length. But where are these hair extensions coming from?

While some women are donating hair of their own free will, many are being robbed of their luscious locks by force or intimidation.

James Harley, editor of, talks about instances in which hair is taken from children in slums, impoverished Indian women, and prisoners in labor camps.

“We’ve heard reports of abuse taking place in Russian and Chinese prisons, where inmates are forcibly shaved,” Harley said. “Other ‘ethically sourced’ hair comes from India, where women donate it at Hindu temples for religious reasons… In some cases there is pressure on women to donate their hair to make money for the temple.”

The women who “donate” their hair in these cases never see a penny of the profits. The temples rake in large sums by selling the hair to the highest-bidding company, but the barbers who cut the hair earn next to nothing.

“I was held down by a gang of men who hacked at my hair,” one girl reports. “I know other women who have been blackmailed and threatened to shave their own heads.”

Russian hair holds the highest value on the market, especially blonde hair. Russian women can be seen advertising their hair on flyers or selling it to traders when they pass through. Some Russian women practice a tradition of cutting their hair after the birth of a child and later selling it if need be.

The multi-million dollar hair extension industry is growing at a fast rate. According to the Professional Beauty Association, the past two years have seen a 28.5% increase in the number of salons offering hair extensions in the United States. While the fashion trend originated with wealthy celebrities, it has become a highly coveted accessory for ordinary women as well.

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