There are times when my passion for wanting to write about global problems shouldn’t happen immediately, without research first and the recent tragedy involving factory workers in Bangladesh is the perfect example. Like so many people, I was very upset to learn that more than 300 factory employees making brand name clothing died in a building collapse in Bangladesh. My immediate reaction was not to boycott Bangladesh clothing, but I must admit to wanting to scream “only support locally made clothing” to anyone that would listen. I was steaming mad. All I could think of was the people being paid $38 month to make the big name labels that for all these years I’ve avoided because I get so frustrated knowing the huge profits these companies make. What else could be the driving force for sub-letting the American clothing industry overseas for all these years? I also wonder why we can’t pay people in 3rd world countries more money to make our products? Are we really that greedy? Well, if you are paying someone just over $1 a day to make clothing for 10 hours, I’d say profit margins are pretty high and maybe we’ve become too far removed as North Americans from what it actually costs to make something.
I’m different from a lot of people. When I hear people talking about how cheap they just picked up items a, b, and c, I actually cringe. I feel like there is something very wrong with our world when I can go to a big box store that is having a clothing sale, and buy clothing for less than I can find it 2nd hand or make it myself. When I close my eyes, this isn’t the kind of world I want for myself. And so I try hard to vote with my consumer dollars. Because we are not wealthy and it really does cost a lot more to only purchase locally made clothing, I’ve really embraced shopping 2nd hand in the last few years. My kids really like the feel of already worn clothing and I love the recycled aspect to buying clothing this way.
So shopping local and 2nd hand is really my thing. But I would enjoy the freedom of knowing which big brands are doing their part to support factory employees in other countries by paying them a fair wage and giving them safe working conditions. Why don’t we know this? A wonderful blogger who has actually visited Bangladesh with Save The Children Canada has been able to share her experiences from understanding what kind of impact the factory clothing industry has in Bangladesh. Her points about why your shouldn’t boycott Bangladesh made clothing really made me think and realize this isn’t going to help people suffering in countries that experience such poverty. I learned from PhD In Parenting’s article that some larger brands have been working to try and improve safety in their factories. And brands that made a decision to opt out of any improvement to garment factory safety in 2011? Walmart, The Gap, Old Navy to name a few. Large brands that are proactively trying to help? Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. I still find the issue of what large brands opting in for safety regulations confusing and if I did all my shopping solely at big box stores this information would only help me so far navigating within a Mall. So it comes down to asking questions. And after recently listening to one of Michael Pollan speeches to university students, he said something that I think is relevant to this issue of clothing and wanting to know more behind how it’s made. He said that if a question is asked more than 25 times at McDonalds, they have to raise the question with superiors. (I can’t remember the exact quote but it might be board of directors or shareholders). So if McDonalds has this policy – maybe the clothing stores do too? If I walk into Old Navy and ask the Manager if they support safety agreements for the factory workers that make their clothing – will it lead to change? If the clothes are made in Bangladesh, quoting this safety agreement might be helpful. If a retailers clothing is manufactured in China, India, etc. the question is still relative. “Does your clothing support safe working conditions and pay for factory workers?”
And maybe as a society we need to really understand the true cost of cheap things. Our focus needs to go back to knowing where the origin of clothing, food, and housewares comes from. Our grandparents knew. And along the way we stopped caring and listening to where the products that enter our lives come from or how they were made. It’s a problem that can be fixed. The true cost of that pair of jeans for $4.99 on sale at Walmart is much, much greater. The environmental toll and human face needs to reemerge before I want to buy them. If I know there is human cost behind a product I’m good to pass until I can trust another big name is caring about the woman sitting behind a machine in the garment factory for 12 hours a day. I want her to work, be a leader in her family with income, but I also want to know she’s not locked in a building with cracks in the foundation making me that pair of pants. So no, definitely not boycotting Bangladesh, but yes, wanting to know a safety agreement has been signed to protect these worker. Yes.