Cheap Clothes Cost Lives
I recently bought a large amount of antique clothing all from the early 1980’s. I don’t know who the original owner was. It was an estate sale. But the clothing was made in American and some of the finer pieces came from Italy.
We don’t live in that world anymore. Through international trade agreements originally marketed as making us all much richer, American clothing manufacturers disappeared and our clothing comes from the farthest corners of the earth. In constant dollars, what we wear cost less than it used to.
But there is a cost. Many of these foreign workers are treated little better than slave labor and the risks of their work are unacceptable by our standards.
We can by our buying habits and our willingness to convey our sentiments to manufacturers and stores make this situation better.
Blood on our backs | Al Jazeera America
Labor conditions in Cambodia won’t improve unless consumers in the West demand industrywide, systemic change — and companies commit to meeting those demands.
We could start by accepting that we must pay more for our clothes — a difficult shift for many Americans who make minimum wages themselves. That’s why corporations need to step in, too. As consumers, we should insist that the stores and brands we patronize invest more in labor, both at home and abroad, and that factories increase workers’ wages. Multiple studies show that a happier, healthier, higher-paid workforce translates into less turnover and potentially greater company profits. Finally, we should ensure that our elected leaders hold other governments accountable.
We should also shift the way in which we view the workers who make our clothes. It’s easy to dismiss a person’s humanity when she is so far away. But she has a name, like Phearum or Phak. And she has a life beyond her job. She has a mother who needs medicine, a child who needs food and schooling. She is not just a cog in a sewing machine; she is a human being.
In the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, many foreign retailers and brands promised to improve conditions in Bangladeshi factories. Several deals — some legally binding, others not — committed to better building safety, more factory inspections and greater worker and manager training. These are all necessary improvements, but they don’t do enough. These plans address the workplace, not the human being.
The human being needs help beyond the factory floor. She needs better and more nutritious food. She needs a safe, clean home and books for her kids. She needs a life free from imminent penury. She needs a living wage, not a minimum wage. Her basic well-being rests on everyone — consumers, retailers, brands and factories. And at the very least, it’s in the company’s interest to have healthier, more productive employees.