Monday, July 19, 2010

Look for the Sweat Shop Label

What do Mexico, Bangladesh, Honduras, Guatemala, China, Haiti, and Columbia have in common? They all have factories that produce our clothing - and the list of countries doesn't end with these.

Name a country where the labour and environmental laws are much more lax (or non-existant) than in North America ), and probably there are huge global interests, having garments produced for the North American and other markets

Why should we care?

Naomi Wolf, in her article "The High Price of Cheap Fashion," in Project Syndicate (Jun/10), discusses the conditions of the workers in garment factories around the world. (And, although they are mostly women, the abuse of men and children who work in the industry exists as well.)
We all know that cheap clothing is usually made in sweatshop conditions – and usually by women. And we know – or should know – that women in sweatshops around the world report being locked in and forbidden to use bathrooms for long periods, as well as sexual harassment, violent union-busting, and other forms of coercion.
Although Wolf's article is about cheap fashion, the problem is not limited to the inexpensive. Higher end clothing is sometimes made in terrible conditions too. It's actually unusual these days to find any clothing made in Europe or North America.

What can we do?

We first have to care more about other people's lives than we do about a cheap deal; then we can have an effect with how and where we spend our clothing dollars - "our money is the one tool powerful enough to force manufacturers to change their ways." And consumers have had an effect in recent years with college t-shirts, coffee, and produce, as Wolf points out.

To say something was a real steal is often true with clothing and in ways worth thinking about.

I "stole" the title of this post from the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union commercial from 1978 - "Look for the Union Label" - so will end with them and their spokesperson opening the ad with his prophetic remarks.


corfubob said...

I spend almost nothing on clothes - I live on about $18 a week. Even if I could afford it would reducing my spend on sweat-shop produce improve the lives of the workers who suffer under the dictators who run their societies? I am asking. I don't know. My contempt for the consumer society is great,but poor people need cheap clothes. What's the answer Chris?

ChrisJ said...


You may well be right - whatever action we take could be the wrong one. There has been some progress though - fair trade coffee, etc. That doesn't help everyone, I know, but it helps some.

I think the existence of many poor people and specific trade/manufacturing practices are very interrelated - globally, too.

Ciss B said...

I salute the many who can afford to buy the more expensive clothing that is made here. I am behind them in protecting the workers...but like corfubob, and way too many others there has to be cheap clothing. I use to buy really nice poly/cotton shirts that held the color for so long and never got dirty. Now I have to replace shirts with great regularity because we're all going back to cotton which on me gets YUCKY immediately!

askcherlock said...

It really is time that as citizens we acknowledge our own culpability in this horrendous scene. Economic times being what they are, I doubt that will happen for quite a while.

ChrisJ said...


We do need cheaper clothing, but I hope we can find a better solution someday.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, it is much harder to change when the economy is bad.

Owen Gray said...

Thirty years ago my wife and I visited Haiti. The conditions in Pointe au Prince appalled us.

Several years later, we were in California, visiting Disneyland. We went into a souvenir shop to buy our youngest son a small plush animal. Every single plush toy bore the label "Made in Haiti."

Disney was making a killing on these souvenirs.The price was high. Someone else, further away, had paid a higher price. The concept was difficult for a six year old to understand.

We bought no Disney souvenirs.

lifeshighway said...

I have often wondered when this topic comes up. What would happen to the families of the factories workers if their economy were to dry up? This is a very complex issue.

ChrisJ said...


That's the bottom line - what price do the workers in other places pay for our goods?

ChrisJ said...


It would be bad if those economies dried up, but I think/hope there are better ways.

As consumers we have so much clout, and the big companies which have or contract out to factories also have enormous clout. If the companies insisted on less abusive conditions for workers, they could make it happen - consumers could make them do that.

We would have to pay more - probably not much per garment - but all but our very poorest people have much more than those who make our clothes.

cooper said...

I remember reading No Logo some years ago, maybe in high school, good book.

It would certainly hurt if the work were to dry up, but in many cases they are hardly paid a sustainable wage as it is. Because the means of production is now outsourced most retailers have no direct control. The best thing really is to target the largest retailers, the ones with the most money like Walmart, Nike (as they set the precedents), and continue a concerted effort to let them know we don't find the situation acceptable. Support the workers at their factories as they struggle for their rights.

this is old but you might find it interesting.

ChrisJ said...


Thanks for the link; I'll check it out.

Judie said...

I have noticed that even some of the high-end clothing lines are made in China--not that I can afford the high-end clothes! I had rather go without than buy clothes made in China.

While we are on the subject of China, I received an attachment today regarding imported fish and chicken from China. It was truly disgusting!

Thanks to BP, shrimp-lovers may have to resort to eating seafood from China. That won't be me, though.

ChrisJ said...

Hi Judie,

Hope you had a good vacation.

I know what you mean with farmed Chinese shrimp; I've read the same thing.

Judie said...

Chris, I had a great vacation! AND I ate seafood from the Gulf! It tasted wonderful and fresh, and I didn't get turista. I did get sick, though--check my blog.

ChrisJ said...


Glad you had a good time and glad that the gulf has good seafood still.

I like your new pic.