Who D’you Think Made Your Clothes?

When we (by and large) stopped having sweatshops in the United States, sweat shops didn’t disappear, they just relocated. Today our clothes come from countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, and they’re still made under the horrific working conditions that caused things like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a century ago. Our clothing is still made using child labor and working hours much longer than we would consider humane. Even though we like to think we are, we’re not really any better than our fore-bearers—we’ve just put our own slave labor at a distance where we can ignore it.

Last week, as I’m sure you’ve heard, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing well over 300 of the workers inside. When I heard about it I thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire immediately, but I also thought of a scene from a Doctor Who episode, Planet of the Ood.

Planet of the Ood is set in the year 4126 A.D., in a future when humans have spread out across the galaxy. In the episode the Doctor and Donna Noble investigate Ood Operations and learn that the alien servants the company was selling were actually slaves, mutilated to be servile. At one point the following conversation happens between the Doctor and Donna:

Donna Noble: A great big empire, built on slavery…

The Doctor: It’s not so different from your time.

Donna Noble: Oy! I haven’t got slaves!

The Doctor: Who d’you think made your clothes?

This scene has been bothering me ever since I first watched the episode last fall, and the recent tragedy in Bangladesh has brought it back to the front of my mind. There’s so much truth to what the Doctor says in that exchange that it almost hurts to think about it. The trouble is, I don’t know what I can do to set things right.

I could stop buying clothing new, and instead shop solely at thrift stores and consignment shops. But the trouble with that, beside the fact that I’m only one person, is that the people who take jobs in garment factories in places like Bangladesh often do so because they don’t have any better alternatives, which means that shutting those factories might actually in practice make their lives worse. The most effective way to solve the problem might be to create better economic opportunities in the areas where these sweat shops are located, giving the workers more choice in where to work and forcing the garment factory owners to improve the working conditions in their factories if they want to keep any workers. So it might be that the real way to help fix things is to donate money to programs that help bring education to third world countries. Of course, giving up buying clothing new isn’t a bad idea—it might at the very least salve my seared conscience.

What are your thoughts? What do you do try to offset our reliance on goods made in dangerous factories under inhumane working conditions?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    I recommend not buying clothes from those countries at all. I don’t think its making their lives better. In some cases they are being forced to pay off “debt,” in that case, its slavery. In other case, its going to hurt poor children, who shouldn’t be force to work in those environments, ever. I know that life is rough for those people (I’ve been to some of these countries), and I know realistically, children need to work some just to eat, but do we need to pay them not to go to school? That is pushing things too far.

    This is a similiar argument to the tourist industries. In Cambodia parents send their kids out to sell goods all day during the high season. When tourist buy from those kids, they are basically paying the parents not to send their kids to school. And without an education (which for them may mean never learning to read and write), they will never break the cycle.

    That said, are there people who need those jobs? Yeah, maybe so. But then again, in Cambodia and Vietnam, they could also set up street carts (I haven’t been to Bangladesh).

    Right now the biggest need is a financial education as well as a regular education. But having lived over there over three years, that is much easier said than done. You’re looking at war victims, significant racism (if you’re a tribal person, no one will hire you for the same price as a pure native), under education, a more laid back culture in some places (not necessarily bad, but does effect the amount of money people make), huge gap between men and women (justifying men to lounge around and women to do all the work), its not easy. The countries vary in this, of course. I’ve never been to bangladesh, but I do know a lot about it, and that its much worse, and yet, some of the issues are similiar.

  • LyricalPolyphony

    We can’t fix every problem in every country. We can’t dictate their culture, their morals, or the same respect for freedom and human rights that we have. We can stop trading with them, buying from them, and- here’s an idea- support American manufacturing with both our business as consumers and a lighter tax/regulatory burden. Money talks, and lots of money yells. If we all took our business elsewhere, I’d be willing to bet that some people would be willing to completely change the way they do business and tourism in order to win us back in some degree.

    • SophieUK

      WTF??? This problem has very little to do with THEIR culture, THEIR morals or THEIR respect for freedom and human rights – it’s about OUR culture, morals and respect for freedom and human rights. WE are the ones with the power and our companies are the ones that are abusing the workers in these nations. We sort this by standing up and making our voices heard – by buying clothes that have been made in these countries but in factories that have passed quality standards, those which are owned by ethical companies from the western world. The workers in these companies may not earn a fortune but they can expect certain minimums when it comes to pay and their working conditions.

      The BBC has done a few interesting series on these issues (where British youths were sent out to spend time working in 3rd world factories starting in ones where conditions were “fantastic” relatively speaking although hours were still far longer than UK hours and pay far lower, working down to the most awful sweat houses that make their workers work 12 hour days (not 100% sure of exact time but they were long days) and don’t pay them enough for them to afford things like soap :(.

      • LyricalPolyphony

        WHen I say “they,” I’m speaking very generally. I do think that yes, the working conditions have to do with the dominant belief system, social customs, and system of government in a country. Not talking about factory workers specifically here, but there are terrible abuses of the poor, horrid labor conditions, corruption in law enforcement, disregard of human rights, un-prosecuted rape and abuse of women and children, etc in some of the countries where our manufacturing is outsourced. I think that the working conditions are only one issue of many, and will not be resolved themselves unless systemic, wholistic changes in society happen. (I’m also pretty sure those conditions aren’t limited to western companies.) If universal representation/suffrage, a less corrupt justice system, and cultural expectations of basic equality and human rights across genders and socio-economic classes was the norm, I doubt that the working conditions would be such an issue. In my country, some of these abuses would never be tolerated, and if they happened would lead to mass outrage and aggressive prosecution. WHat I’m trying to say is that we cannot jump in on a white horse and demand at gunpoint that they change their government, start respecting the rights of women, religious diversity, et c. (I’m an American, and we tend to want to do that. Not all of us, obviously, but it’s an issue.) We can and should act responsibly with respect to our own personal economic decisions, impose economic sanctions on countries with rampant human rights violations, freely offer sanctuary to those who would escape such countries, and put as much political pressure as we can on leadership in these countries to enact (and enforce) laws protecting their people. OF COURSE, we should act to boycott those western companies that are perpetrating abuse. They are doing something really horrible- going to a place where the people do not have the same protections against exploitation that they would in the company’s home country, and then exploiting that.
        I’m also a fan of programs like Kiva, or any other way that we can help individuals get on their feet. I don’t support giving money on a national level, because I’m cynical when it comes to corrupt governments and their willingness to actually pass aid along to those who need it.
        Education and economic growth are fundamental in changing a society, but I don’t think funds channeled to corrupt governments can promote actual economic growth. China is a sticky one here- unlike other areas, they do emphasize education, but their government is so restrictive that the laborers don’t really have a voice. Until their rigid government changes, my pragmatic self really doesn’t see significant change happening.

    • Baby_Raptor

      The last things this country needs are less regulation and less corporate taxation. Most corporations pay a lower tax rate than you do. You know this, right?

      Further, less taxes does not equal more jobs. More demand means more jobs. Please educate yourself on reality before you open your mouth again.

      • lyrical polyphony

        Demand is part of it, certainly. While I appreciate your concern, as I own a business I make it a point to be quite familiar with business tax law and tax rates. :) as long as we’re giving friendly advice, perhaps you’d care to brush up on some civility? In speaking of manufacturing specifically, as I was, I do think that a tax/regulatory burden has a lot to do with the outsourcing we see. You may disagree, naturally, but without some substantiation I think both our opinions are precisely that. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kellen.conner.5 Kellen Conner

    A campaign to give up buying clothing new, and donating the difference in clothing budgets to education in third-world countries. Everybody, start doing that.

  • smrnda

    It can seem like a no win situation. If we decide not to trade with nations with low labor standards, then the workers are out of jobs, and in the end, I don’t think there are enough ethically produced goods for everybody to make ethical consumer choices. I’d love to buy clothes that weren’t made in sweatshops, but custom clothes *are very expensive* and even the clothes in second-hand stores might have been produced in terrible conditions.

    Overall, we need to support the workers in these nations as they try to organize and fight for laws that protect them, and we need to really change how we handle companies that abuse their workers – I’m happy to see that the owners of the factory in Bangladesh have been arrested and will face criminal charges. Corporations are usually subject to limited liability where, at worst, they can be fined for killing workers, and actually holding the people who run the company criminally responsible would be a good step.

    • Jayn

      Buying only second-hand feels like a bit of a cop-out to me. Not because it’s necessarily a bad idea but because the clothes still ultimately come from somewhere (clothes wear out, so this necessarily isn’t something everyone can do) and as you pointed out who knows what the origins of them are.

    • AlisonCummins

      If we trade with countries with *low* labour standards, the folks in countries with high labour standards are out of jobs. As long as we trade, *somebody* has a job. There’s no special reason we should privilege jobs in countries with ineffective governments that don’t enforce their own labour standards over jobs in other countries. In fact, if we prefer to do business with countries where workers have some protection against exploitation, that acts as an incentive for other countries to clean up their acts.

      • smrnda

        I guess my worry over this is that I think the fraction of clothing produced ‘ethically’ is so small as to give us very few options here. The only recourse I see is mandating improvements in the countries we’re already doing business with rather than taking our business elsewhere.

  • Guest

    I listened to this podcast last summer. http://www.cbc.ca/theinvisiblehand/2012/08/01/web-extra-msn-report-on-wages-and-national-competitiveness/
    I am not an economist so I don’t have the skills or education to pick it apart, but it really caused me to rethink my knee jerk anti-sweatshop mentality, which is what a lot of us have, I think. (my clothes always have and still do mostly come from goodwill, though).

  • Jill

    I listened to this podcast last summer. http://www.cbc.ca/theinvisiblehand/2012/08/01/web-extra-msn-report-on-wages-and-national-competitiveness/

    I am not an economist so I don’t have the skills or education to pick it apart, but it really caused me to rethink my knee jerk anti-sweatshop mentality, which is what a lot of us have, I think. (my clothes always have and still do mostly come from goodwill, though).

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I’ve heard it said that the only thing worse than a job in a sweatshop is not having a job in a sweatshop.

    It’s cynical, yes. But it speaks a lot of truth about conditions in the countries sweatshops spring up in. These women (and it is primarily women) are earning money and controlling their labor for likely the first time. Should Bangladesh enforce building and labor safety and fire safety codes on sweatshops? Yes. Should there be labor laws and labor unions and an OSHA-type government agency? Absolutely. There is no excuse for poor working conditions and exploitation. But just not buying clothes is not the answer, because these women still need jobs.

  • http://www.catescates.com.au/ Catherine

    Not directly helpful, perhaps, but I’m rather fond of a group called Kiva (kiva.org), who provide microfinance loans to people in third world countries who are trying to start or expand small businesses. The idea is that many of these people are too poor (and sometimes, too female) to get loans from traditional banks, but with a fairly small amount of money, they really can get a long way towards pulling themselves out of poverty. It’s a loan rather than a gift – you put some money into a project, and a few months later it gets paid back, at which point you can invest it into another project – I’ve had $50 circulating through Kiva for several years now, and I really need to put a bit more in when I next have a chance.

    So… while this doesn’t shut down sweatshops, it may provide options to people who would otherwise have no source of income. And it’s very much in the ‘teach a man to fish’ model, which I like.

    Catherine

  • http://profiles.google.com/emasters7 Elizabeth Hiatt

    This issue is so complicated and as a person in the US with fairly limited means, I don’t know what the answer is. I cannot afford to pay for clothing made only in the US, but I hate the idea of funding sweatshops too. I personally try to shop thrift/consignment as much as possible right now. I think that programs that directly aid grass roots organizations working in these countries is the way to go. I think that in much the same way that change in the US started with the workers, so it will be in developing nations. In a perfect world I think that multi-national companies that outsource labor to developing nations to create goods that are to be sold in the US should have to pay American minimum wage to their employees. Still not perfect but better than the pennies that they make now.

    • Nebuladance

      “In a perfect world….should have to pay American minimum wage to their employees”

      The very reason they have the garments made overseas is because they cannot afford to pay what they would have to pay an American. Not that they aren’t making millions, but that cost would then be passed along to American purchasers, who would not be able to afford the clothes. Anyone who does their own sewing knows this. We can afford clothing because it is being made by people who are being paid next to nothing to do so. My Grandmother worked for and eventually became a supervisor at an American garment factory in Kansas, one of the last. It closed back in the 60′s. Running a garment factory with American standards of safety, wages, insurance, etc was becoming impossible to support. The work HAD to be outsourced overseas if the companies were to survive.
      So, what I see here is that we produce too much clothing, we expect it to be cheaper, way cheaper than it really is, and we have little to no understanding of our own economy. A revealing look is to watch,
      the Story of Stuff.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Then perhaps we don’t need to change our wardrobes every six months or buy 12 pairs of shoes a year. The most disgusting part of clothing outsourcing is that prices haven’t actually come down and the quality is now virtually nonexistent. Why should I pay $170 CAD for a pair shoes made in China that will fall apart in a couple of years, if I’m extremely lucky?

      • http://profiles.google.com/emasters7 Elizabeth Hiatt

        That’s the crux of the problem. We rely on an economic system based in modern day slavery. I would truly prefer to pay more for fewer pieces of clothing if I knew that they were made by people being paid a fair wage. The system that we have now is not sustainable, eventually the workers in other countries will rebel and demand fair pay and safety. Just because they are not Americans does not mean that workers in other countries are subhuman.

  • Dita

    It’s one of the reasons why I sew much of my own stuff. To be fair, though, it’s something I can only afford because I’m a) sufficiently affluent to afford ethically produced high quality fabric and b) earn enough to be able to spare the time. It’s the cop out of the privileged, really. No easy answers, I’m afraid.

    • syfr

      Where does one get ethically produced high quality fabric? And how does one tell? I love to sew, but the only places I can get fabric around here are box stores….

  • Elin

    The thing that angers me in this is that companies could make clothes in these countries and not pay slave wages and we would still be able to afford the clothes. I talked to a woman who runs a small clothing company in an Asian country and sells the clothes here in Sweden. She is slightly more expensive than store bought clothes (cheaper than brand name clothes but more expensive than no name clothes) but still pays decent wages to her workers, provide safety equipment, allows no one under 16 to work in the factory and she makes much smaller quantities than a big company and still makes a good profit doing so. A big company could easily do the same thing but the difference is good profit and massive profit…

  • Rae

    And the only major “sweatshop-free” clothing brand in the US is American Apparel… I hate this planet sometimes.

  • Christine

    What frustrates me the most about that situation is the numbers that were presented on the CBC talking about this. Apparently it would increase the cost of the $5 shirts by 10 cents each to make sure that the buildings where safe. And a similar increase for ensuring that the workers were earning fair wages. I have nothing against taking advantage of cheaper wages in other countries, but why do we have to be exploitative on top of that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

      When you are working in units of millions, that 10 cents adds up fast. Not enough for the people who buy the products, mind you, but for the stock owners it might as well be the kiss of death. Walmart is one of the biggest offenders and after working for them last summer, I’ve made a concerted effort to not shop there. Luckily, I am privileged enough to have several stores to shop at instead and, believe it or not, their grocery items are NOT the cheapest in town!

      • Christine

        Walmart isn’t just the biggest offender, they’re the ones who get the blame (in fairness I’m not sure if it’s deserved or not) for everyone else doing that too. Frankly, the consumers are getting ripped off a lot too, in this drive for cutting every half-cent possible. For example, I’m ticked at IKEA: because of the impossibility of buying a drop-side crib (don’t get me started on that ban), we were figuring we’d get an inexpensive one instead. We looked at their $80 crib. If they’d charged $100 instead it would have been fine, and still cheap. As it was, it was crap, and I’m amazed it passed testing.

      • The_L1985

        IKEA actually hires Americans in sweatshops–because unlike Swedes, Americans aren’t legally required to have paid vacation time, or to be paid the equivalent of $15/hr.

  • http://allweathercyclist.blogspot.com/ JethroElfman

    I don’t know that the child labour thing is all that bad. I remember Nike taking heat for it back in the 1990s. They pressured the factories to prevent it, and found that the kids were teenagers who lied about their age in order to get the work. You see, the factory is the “better” economic opportunity that you are talking about. It’s where everyone wants to work. It’s not like Africa, about which I’ve read stories of kids kidnapped at gunpoint to work as slaves on chocolate plantations. So let’s be clear, slavery means zero wages, and you cannot leave, which still happens, but is different from these factories where they want to work because it beats starving in the streets.

    The factories used to be in Taiwan and Indonesia, and migrated to Bangladesh and Vietnam because the influx of cash raised the standard of living so that they can demand higher wages. By buying the clothes, you are sending money to them, and also manufacturing technology which is what they need. The Nike experience showed that the corporations pay attention to bad publicity and to letter-writing campaigns, and will respond by trickling down American safety regulations and labor laws. The big stumbling block is China, where government rules make it difficult to form labor unions. Ultimately it’s when the workers stand up for themselves through unions that the big improvements come. For this reason we need to resist union busting “right to work” legislation.

    • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

      And as I said, in some cases they are being paid zero rages. Its all in the name of paying off debt. There are plenty of other reason Taiwan and Indonesia are doing better than us westernizing them enough. If you compare the cultures of Taiwan and Vietnam and Cambodia, its significant.Taiwanese culture is much more head strong and motivated; I don’t mean that as a better thing (one thing I like about SE Asia is at least in parts, its much more relaxed that Europe or America), but just as a matter of fact.

      I also think it may vary by clothing companies. But some of these factories just pay the people 10 cents per hour. Even in Asia where people live off a few dollars a day or less, there is better ways to get that money. They may not because they think this is the better job, but then again, what’s up with us westernizing people? If we wouldn’t do something to our own people, then we shouldn’t do it to them. I don’t care what the benefits are.

  • Niemand

    I make an effort to make sure my clothes, shoes, and chocolate are made by people who make at least a living wage for their region. How am I able to do this? In short, because I am rich: a reasonably middle class person in a rich country with lots of access to information about where things are made and money to pay a bit more for clothing made by people who aren’t effective slaves. In short, it’s not that I’m more moral than people who buy from sweatshops, it’s that I’m more privileged. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a loan to make to kiva.

    • aim2misbehave

      That’s a good point – the system is really, really twisted, in that the poorest people in this country are basically cornered into buying things that were made by the exploitation of the poorest people in other countries.

      For example, if you’ve got a minimum-wage job at somewhere like a restaurant or Walmart or wherever, you probably have to wear a certain color of dress pants, and certain color socks, and non-slip shoes. But those items will get worn out and torn and such, especially if you have to work a lot of hours, so you’ll be replacing them frequently. But, because you can barely make ends meet as it is, when you need new pants and t-shirts and socks, you can’t afford the ones that don’t come from sweatshops.

  • JKPS

    “So it might be that the real way to help fix things is to donate money
    to programs that help bring education to third world countries.” You are so right! In fact, if you didn’t point this out, I was going to. I was reading about how closing sweatshops in the 90s caused child prostitution and other terrible activities to go on the rise. We must not be shortsighted and naive when trying to change things for the better (or what we assume is “better”); we must understand the reality of situations. We need to make changes, but we need to start those changes by having a better alternative in place.

  • http://allweathercyclist.blogspot.com/ JethroElfman

    I subscribed to SumOfUs.org and participate in e-mail campaigns which they create. Even if the corporations don’t listen, it’s a good way to stay informed of what the worst offenders are up to.

  • Guest

    A great book to read is Pietra Rivoli’s book “The Travels of T-Shirt in the Global Economy”. She wanted to investigate sweatshops and supply chains after seeing an anti-sweatshop rally.

  • Jenn Dyer

    It’s possible to research how manufacturer’s treat their labor as well as if their suppliers are fair trade as well. I came across an article last year that I’ve kept bookmarked:

    http://www.refinery29.com/apparel-industry?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=labor

    Not all companies are on here, but it will give you a start.

  • Ursula L

    One thing to remember to do is listen to activists in these regions, the workers as they organize and their chosen representatives, about what they say to do to help. Because if we make it about us figuring out to do, we’re trying to decide what is best for someone else without their input.

    I don’t have the time right now to look up the various on-the-ground organizations in Bangladesh and elsewhere, but Google can get you to the right information.

    • Nebuladance

      For example, avaaz.org

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    i get only fair trade chocolate, because i recently read about hershey’s and slavery and figured, chocolate is a splurge anyways and i know which brands to avoid and which to buy. But clothes are not exactly a splurge. i don’t know how to shop for fair trade clothes, and i can’t afford to pay 20 dollars apiece for a plain white undershirt, and that seems like what i find online. I buy most of my clothes and the kid’s clothes from thrift stores and consignment stores, my husbands casual dress pants for work are a different story because i have a hard time finding his size used (and in fact he needs some and i have no clue where to get decent quality clothes i can still afford!). but i just don’t know how to purchase fair trade clothing, where, or how i could afford it when most of what i see online is bohemian style and a hundred bucks for a blouse… Plus we live in the midwest, where fair trade is not in style so it makes it even harder to find anything. so basically i want to do this but i don’t have any freaking clue how to buy all sweatshop free.

    • Ursula L

      When thinking about these things, it is worth remembering that there are many layers of workers between you and the raw materials that went into what you are buying. Even if you can’t ensure that there is justice at every level, you can look to find justice at some levels.

      And the level at which you will have the most impact is the local level. Which is also, happily, the level at which it is easiest to find out what is going on.

      In your area, what employers treat their workers well, and what employers treat their workers badly? At least where I am, I know that Wegmans isn’t Walmart. There are some things I can buy at Walmart that aren’t sold at Wegmans, but paying a penny or two more at Wegmans, which is a good employer, is something I can afford even if the item is slightly cheaper at Walmart. Wegmans isn’t perfect, but it is reliably better than Walmart.

      I also know that Wegmans will be responsive to my requests, as a customer. When growing up, my German father enjoyed the German-style breads that Wegmans brought in from a Canadian company, long before other local grocery stores started bringing in the same brand. Occasionally they would discontinue these breads. They weren’t hugely popular, they were a niche item. But each time this happened, my father would leave a comment in their comment box, and the breads would be brought back. From a self-interested point of view, I suppose they realized that while a few loaves of bread a week to German immigrants wasn’t a huge profit, the fact that those breads brought people into their store because they weren’t sold by anyone else led to a lot of sales of other things at the same time.

      But a company that is responsive to customer requests for a specific issue is likely to be responsive to customer requests on other issues. At the very least, you know that your comments are being read by someone with the authority to do something.

      Which leads to another useful point. When you find out that a product is made in a problematic way, it is worthwhile to let local shops, and manufacturers, know that you disapprove and are looking for alternatives. And a good shop to buy from is one that is responsive to your comments, rather than dismissive. The buyers for the stores have more influence on manufacturers than you do, and the ability to choose between paying $0.10 for something made in an unsafe factory versus $0.12 for something made safely.

      So I guess that a good starting point is to know the employment environment in your area, and choose places that do right locally. Then communicate, regularly, with the people running these stores, letting them know that while you can’t afford to pay $20 for one tee-shirt, you can and will pay $10 versus $8 for a three-pack that is made in a better way.

      • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

        thanks, this is a very helpful and doable solution to a problem that feels very large :) I appreciate you taking the time to help! looking for justice at the level nearest me is something that i CAN do!

  • Niemand

    It’s all your fault that I watched Planet of the Ood last night. I thought its ending missed a major point, namely that while the Doctor and Donna were helpful in the Ood revolution, it was ultimately the Ood that did it, not them. The “we’ll remember you forever” stuff was excessive. Similarly, I think those of us who are not a part of the garment manufacturing industry and don’t live in Bangladesh need to remember that we’re secondary. We can help the workers, refuse to buy from those who abuse their workers, encourage good business practice, not support policies that punish workers for seeking better wages and more rights, but it will be the workers themselves who solve this problem in the end, not any first worlders. It’s just not about us.

  • Beutelratti

    I know this blogpost is mainly about clothing, but this is not only a problem of the textile industry. Exploitation of marginalised workers happens in other industries, too.

    My solution for now is to buy as many fairly traded goods as possible. I buy fair trade tea, bananas, chocolate and coffee and I’m constantly looking for other products with a fair trade label.
    There is also Fairtrade-certified cotton and already some textile products that are using it, for example Ethletic sneakers. I recently got my first pair and I love them. They are about the same price as Converse sneakers.

    Other fair trade clothing is still pretty expensive and I realise that it’s not an option for everyone.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I make it a point to buy from Canada, the US, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, in that order. Yes, I am one individual, and my choices don’t affect the economy. I can’t–and I don’t–worry about other people’s living since in no case are they worried about mine. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. I don’t buy brands known to operate sweatshops or employ 10yo Vietnamese kids. Some things you can’t help but buy from certain sources because there is no choice. Where there is choice(and quite often stuff made locally isn’t that much more expensive) I support local.

    I refuse to buy food from China, as an example. Loose garlic is just as good as packaged garlic, and is grown locally. Also books printed in China: if you can’t make your book in Canada or the US, then you have nothing worthwhile to say.

    • Niemand

      I’d be careful about things from the US. Prison labor is becoming quite an industry in the US. Clothes and other products made in US colonies where labor standards are laxer can still be labelled “Made in USA” but still be legally made by children or people working unpaid overtime. Also, with deregulation and reduced enforcement, one can’t assume that the US’s labor laws were followed, even when they’re in place. I tend to put the US lower in the list for these reasons, but it may be that the only reason I think that the US is worse than other countries is that I know it better.

  • atalex

    That scene in Planet of the Ood infuriated me at the time, and I cheered when Donna came right back and asked if he just carried humans around with him so he’d have someone to someone to feel smug and superior towards. Neither Donna nor I nor you have the power to overthrow the global capitalist regime by ourselves. The Doctor certainly never bothered to solve the problems of income inequality and labor abuses in the Third World in any DW episodes.

  • digitalwatch

    You can’t do anything. None of us can without strength in numbers…until we relearn that, we are doomed.

  • AngieGW

    We buy exclusively from charity shops – as a family of four on below UK minimum wage, we can’t afford to buy fairtrade, but at least with charity shops, we are effectively “redeeming” clothes which may have originated in sweatshops.

    The argument that people wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves without sweatshops is the same argument that was used about ending slavery, and then about ending child labour. It originates from those who employ/enslave these people. In countries where poor labour practises have been banned, what actually happens is that businesses have to eat into their profits a little, in order to pay adults a living wage. Kids who were cited as *having* to work to help provide for their families are freed up and able to get an education, while the employers are forced to employ their (or other) parents at a living wage. Education leads to better job prospects and the quality of life spiral starts to ascend, rather than decend or stagnate.


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