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Who Makes Your Clothing?

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Look at your clothing. Where did it come from? Who grew the cotton? Who put it together in the sweatshop? Here is an excellent photo essay to help you.

Now consider what is your duty to help these people live a dignified life. How did we create a situation where faraway workers are exploited to provide you with fashionable clothing? What can we do to give those people power? These are questions we need to answer.

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  • Now consider what is your duty to help these people live a dignified life. How did we create a situation where faraway workers are exploited to provide you with fashionable clothing?

    The short answer is that ‘we’ didn’t.

    What can we do to give those people power?

    Start paying attention to where your clothing comes from, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to by clothing that is 100% made in America, including the raw materials. I’ve always been a proponent of creating import tariffs against countries that do not meet a minimum worker’s rights standard, but how do you justify that when the U.S. increasingly does not care about worker’s rights?

    • The links in the post send you to my answers, which absolutely do not include bringing all the jobs back to America and dooming people to even greater poverty.

      • I didn’t suggest that they did. Nor do I advocate that. Your proposal seeks to hold corporations to a higher standard, but shouldn’t we be using trade policy to hold the world to a higher standard? On the surface, one way to counter the free flow of money would be to create trade agreements that allow the free flow of labor, but no country is going to allow workers to freely cross borders. So how about trade agreements that bind countries to fair labor standards? Any corporation that has factories in those countries would be covered under those trade agreements, and all companies in those countries would be on equal footing.

        BTW, your article reminds me that I need to re-up my subscription to Dissent :-)

        • I agree that those would be positive developments, although I think it has to be combined with holding corporations accountable who are operating globally as well as opening courts up to workers and citizens to seek redress.

          • sonamib

            it has to be combined with holding corporations accountable who are operating globally as well as opening courts up to workers and citizens to seek redress.

            I know you say that very often, but it *is* very important. And it’s not a completely far-fetched idea. Nowadays free-trade agreements come with international courts, we could imagine the left going “fine, count on our support for the agreement, as long as it includes labor and environmental protections, and as long as the courts are also open to regular citizens”.

            • we could imagine the left going “fine, count on our support for the agreement, as long as it includes labor and environmental protections, and as long as the courts are also open to regular citizens”.

              Exactly, although any movement in this direction would immediately be on the business end of the full wrath of the international banking system.

              • sonamib

                They’re powerful, but they can’t do anything without workers. If there is a plausible alternative to the current, awful, free-trade agreements, it might be possible to unite workers around it. And it might be possible to compromise with corporations, since they now have global supply chains. It’s better for them to have a “pro-worker” free-trade agreement than risk every country reverting to isolationism.

                • They’re powerful, but they can’t do anything without workers.

                  Yet. Hence all the money going into autonomous machines.

            • Linnaeus

              I’m all for this, but as noted, there will be powerful forces arrayed against these kinds of conditions. There’s no compelling reason to me, as one who is admittedly not an expert on this at all, why a robust trade regime can’t be combined with better working conditions, access to enforcement mechanisms, etc.

              Thing is, free trade dogma has for a long time held that you can’t do these things because it erodes the advantages that poorer countries have, as if poor working conditions have to be endured until some indeterminate point in the future. This is something that even some liberals and Democrats have bought into (a little too much, IMHO), but that may be changing for the better.

  • ” What can we do to give those people power?”

    Don’t vote for Republicans.

    Do support international trade agreements that guarantee workers’ rights.

    • Don’t vote for Republicans.

      Not enough given the utter indifference of many Democrats on this issue

      • Well okay, then, better Democrats also. But you aren’t going to find any help among Republicans.

        • Yes but the point is that we can’t see everything strictly through the prism of electoral politics. That’s a huge mistake that too many liberals make.

    • Brett

      It’s tricky. You want to carry out boycotts and name-and-shame stuff, but given the typically low public interest in the issue it also involves trying to more directly target well-connected congressfolk to include it in future bills.

  • NewishLawyer

    Lots of people are addicted to the fast fashion industry. Companies like Zara and H&M get new styles on the racks every few weeks but most of this stuff is made abroad. A lot of people like being able to own a lot.

    With the exception of American Apparel (which was over priced for what it was probably), I can think of a few companies that make their clothing in the United States. The issue is that these companies generally don’t go for the mass market. They tend to sell their clothing in a handful of boutiques/department stores across the United States and the price point for their items is much higher than many can or are willing to spend.

    Now you can get people to go for the quality rather than quantity thing but I am not sure how to do that. But say a company can charge 60 dollars a shirt by manufacturing in Bangladesh but another company charges 200 per a shirt but manufactures in the United States. You can solve some of this problem by getting people to have one really good shirt in the United States by a union shop over three shirts made in sweatshops abroad.

    This is just spitballing but the thing about a lot of fast fashion is that it is also shoddily made and will be ripping apart beyond repair in a year.

    • I don’t see why you can’t have fast fashion in conditions that are not exploitative.

      • NewishLawyer

        There might be but I am not a business guy. Fast fashion is also going to be an environmental disaster.

        The thing about fast fashion is that it is cheap, cheap, cheap. This is done by making lots, making it quickly, and poorly and wages are a great cost cutter.

  • J. Otto Pohl

    I haven’t seen an item of clothing made anyplace other than China in a couple of decades. Although China is a net importer of raw cotton so the supply chain includes other countries.

    • I just grabbed 5 shirts out of my closet. 2 from India, 2 from Bangladesh, 1 from China.

      • Linnaeus

        I know I’ve got some articles of clothing made in Central America.

    • Jhoosier

      Offhand, I can add Turkey, Portugal, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Zara especially tends to have a lot of stuff produced in Turkey and Portugal.

  • What has to change is the way trade pacts are negotiated. The COP-21 at which the Paris climate agreement was hammered out had IIRC 5,000 representatives of NGOs, aka civil society. They didn’t have a vote or even speaking rights, but they did ensure a reasonably open and transparent process. This was no accident, previous COPs back at least to the Copenhagen fiasco have been similar.

    Contrast trade negotiations, classic closed smoke-filled rooms of trade diplomats, plus invited business lobbyists. Nobody else gets a look-in, and the working drafts are secret. The model was developed for haggling over tariffs, a simple positive-sum problem where the issue is the share-out of expected gains and losses from trade. You don’t actually need representatives of consumers, they win anyway.

    That all changed after the Uruguay Round reduced most tariffs on manufactures to insignificance. Trade pacts now are all about harmonising regulations, for instance in IP. These are broad and complex issues of national policy, so you need wide participation and consultation of the many stakeholders to have a chance of a legitimate and acceptable result. We might begin to see this when WTO meetings gave 5,000 observers from trades unions, patients, songwriters and so on.

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