We care.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially since I started reading Threads (book update to come tomorrow). The global manufacturing industry is a massive entity, with massive problems. How have its transgressions gone this far? Why do we let sweatshops flourish? Why do we accept child labor — even child slavery — under any circumstances? How can our government just stand by as our country hemorrhages manufacturing jobs? In the past, I believed that most consumers just don’t know that so much of what they’re buying was produced in sweatshops that degrade their workers as well as the environment. Other shoppers, I thought, know what they’re buying, but ignore it because fair labor is such a huge, unsettling issue and sweatshops seem far removed from our daily lives. Some know and just can’t afford to make fair-labor commodities a priority. After all, clothing from Walmart isn’t ethical — but it sure is cheap. In short I thought that most consumers, for one reason or another, choose inexpensive products over anything else.

But then I read the following comment on a website that rates companies according to their labor practices: “If you think the American and British consumers do not care about this issue, you are wrong.”

And I know it’s strange, but after reading that comment it occurred to me that I myself was wrong. Up until now, I’ve thought that we can’t do much more than choose not to support sweatshop labor on an individual basis, so that at best we could satisfy our own consciences. I thought that this was a small movement, a shot in the dark, a kind of financial boxing at windmills. But that’s not true. Consumers as a whole do care. We care a lot. And we’re going to make a difference against the giant manufacturing corporations. Boycotting companies that use sweatshops is a growing movement. Political candidates are realizing that labor and product standards in manufacturing and preserving domestic manufacturing jobs are important issues and that we, the voters, are paying close attention to them. As a nation, as consumers, and as humans, we care and want to make a difference. I really believe that, given the chance, most people would choose to buy a product from a company that treats its employees with respect. Who wouldn’t? Everyone who makes that kind of choice, everyone who avoids Walmart and chooses instead to make a garment, or buy from a fair-labor company, or visit a local thrift store, even for only one or two items, is an instrument of change. Unfair labor practices are the norm right now. But it’s not going to stay that way, because our dollars, and our choices, carry a massive amount of power. For a long time I thought that our largest corporations are built on sweatshop labor, but I see now how untrue that is; our biggest companies are built on money. Our money. They produce for us, and they listen to us.

So start talking. Remember that, when you shop, you’re not just making a purchase, you’re making a statement. Tell Walmart and Gap and Hanes that you’re not willing to accept sweatshop labor. They’ll hear you. Vote for representatives who support overhauling manufacturing in the United States as well as the developing world. Talk to everyone who will listen about what they’re buying and how it was made. Ask the store associates where their products come from; most of the time, they don’t know what that “made in China” label really means. Tell your friends about fair-labor companies. Start conversations. Make a difference. Care.

Oh, and that website? Free2work.org. They rate all our favorite companies according to their labor practices. Their “Score Cards” are detailed and dismaying, but incredibly useful. Check it out, and join in the fight, as Free2Work says, to “End Global Slavery.”


6 Responses to “We care.”

  1. 1 Claudia July 21, 2010 at 4:18 am

    Hi again, it´s me Claudia form Handemade Con Amor, again. I loved your post. It makes me feel less alone, less “crazy”. When you live in a developing country, careing can make you feel lonely sometimes. I love posting on the things I make for my kids with love, but I also love posting on health issues, on the beauty of the culture I am surrounded by, and why buy from local toy and clothing artesans. I have before asked for permission to transalte posts or articles that I find interesting and that I think latin readers should have access to. I recently translated an amazing article on “Phthalates: Chemicals in bby products” from The Green Prent. I would like to know if you would allow me to translate this post to spanish and link directly back to your blog.You should visit my blog to get to know me and see that my intentions are good and that I WILL be as exact as translation will allow alwasy respecting the author. We are submerged in a world surrounded by Walmarts, Mde in China Dollar Marts, etc (and I´m talking about Mexico)and people who look DO NOT KNOW. I think it is important for more people to read articles like yours. Tell me what you think! Thanks! Clau

    • 2 everydaychaos July 21, 2010 at 7:44 pm

      Hi Claudia! Of course you can translate my post. I know you’re honest, and I’m a regular follower of your blog. I’m still catching up on all your posts; we were gone for two weeks on vacation and it’s taking me awhile to catch up on my favorite websites. I’m really interested in the stuff you’ve been linking to about phthalates. I would LOVE to go plastic free. I think I could do it, except for the issue of children’s plates and cups. Do you use metal plates and cups for the kids? Paper? Anywhoo, thanks so much for visiting and reading. You should know by now that I absolutely adore the things you make; they’re so beautiful, and your blog is an inspiration.

  2. 3 Matthew July 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    I dunno, wife. I have less faith in people. Because I think people have only so much “care” to spend, and they are willing to give you a little for a most extreme case, but when they learn that day-in, day-out, everything will be harder and more difficult, that they won’t be able to buy socks anywhere in town, that they will be like, oh, forget it, why bother with any of it.

    I hope that’s not true. But isn’t it sort of true with me? Like, they don’t recycle glass items here so I’ll throw my aluminum cans in the trash.

    Or something.

    I hope you’re right.

    • 4 everydaychaos July 21, 2010 at 7:56 pm

      Boy howdy do I know how you are with aluminum cans. Except who said you actually put them in the trash? 😉 Just kidding, hun. Anyway, I believe that the garment industry is different from aluminum cans. With clothing, people have a basic understanding of how it’s made and where it’s made. After all, its contents and country of origin are printed on the tag. So people know, to a small extent, what goes into it as far as resources, time, and human labor. And they wear it every day, all day long; it’s an integral part of our lives. We don’t use it once and then throw it away like an aluminum can. All of this makes clothing very real and important to consumers. We spend a lot of time on it and spend a lot of money on it. As a result, I believe people think more and care more about it than they would about an recycling. And I think most people would cringe at the thought that underpaid women and children produced what they’re wearing right this very moment.

      That said, recycling itself might be a great way to view the movement to reform the garment industry; how many more people recycle now than did twenty years ago? How many more people at least *know* that they *should*recycle? How many municipalities have made recycling available, and even, in some cases, mandatory? One day the garment industry will be light years ahead of where it is now. By raising awareness and advocating change, human rights and labor issues could make the same journey — and progress — that environmental issues began making a long time ago.

  3. 5 Phyllis July 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I liked your post here about the clothing industry and I have been seeing for a while that China certainly holds a good deal of the market which becomes troubling to me for many reasons, some like what you mentioned and for religious reasons.

    But I also don’t want to see certain chains of stores bashed simply because they are buying what is available for the kind of store they run.

    What I would like to see is business in America grown so that we can meet some of our own needs, put our people to work and take care of our debt for our future generations.

    Just my humble opinion.

  4. 6 everydaychaos July 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Phyllis! I agree with you, the U.S. really needs to start taking care of its own manufacturing workers.

    However, as far as chains of stores, the way they work is by designing a piece of clothing and subcontracting with international firms to produce exactly that piece clothing and ship it to the chain stores. So they aren’t simply buying what’s independently available to them; they are designing the clothes themselves. Because of that, I think chains of stores can absolutely be blamed for the labor practices in the garment factories overseas. Those garment factories don’t design or produce anything independently. Instead, they exist solely by competing for contracts with the chain stores to make the shirts we see on the shelves; in short, they make what chain stores tell them to make. Without those chain stores, sweatshops would have little or no business. It’s sort of like construction workers in the U.S. They’re not designing and building houses and then selling them to developers. Instead, developers and architects design the houses, then they find contractors who subcontract out the work to laborers. These laborers then follow the original design. The difference between construction and apparel is that construction workers have to build houses where they are sold — in the U.S., that means they work where they can be part of a union, receive benefits, and earn adequate pay. In the garment industry, a company can contract to have the garments produced anywhere — even in countries with few enforceable labor laws.

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