Friday, May 24, 2013

The real price of your clothes


We as women (at least the women I know) enjoy shopping, browsing the aisles of a department store or boutique for that piece, which will make us shine for a party or even a casual day. We all feel this rush that comes with being undecided over a piece, or finally finding the one. But do we really think of how the garment was made in the first place? Do we stop and ask ourselves if another woman (or man or child) somewhere far away made this beautiful blouse under the worse conditions ever and was paid less than the actual price of that said blouse?
I know I do not. When I purchase something all it matters to me is the fit, the color, the material, the price and if it is me (not necessarily in that order). Sometimes I do pause and look at the tag to see where it was made but even if it was a developing country, I did not care as long as it was not from China.   (Sorry China)

However the recent building collapse in Bangladesh had made me stop and think about my clothes. A month ago, a building collapsed near the capital city of Bangladesh trapping and killing over a thousand people. A government report shed some lights on the causes of the building due to faulty and apparently illegal construction. The building which was supposed to be for shops and offices, was instead turned into factories using heavy machinery and generators that would shake the unstable floors. The owner of the building has been jailed and is more likely to face charges of murder. But it has also been said that he bribed government officials to get permits. And some of those officials have been booked as well. Bangladesh people have protested on the streets following the tragic event to demand better working conditions.

At the wake of the collapse, the media revealed that big clothing companies such as Primark were hiring workers who died in the building. Prior to the incident, people were working in very poor conditions and getting little pay. Primark have been quick to admit no knowledge of such practices but decided to financially help the families of the victims.

All of this made me think about what I am really paying when I purchase a tee shirt. I always thought that I was just paying the money required that will go back in the pockets of the brand but in reality I was paying more than that. I was paying for someone very far from me to suffer. In other words I was enabling abuse without even knowing it.

Big companies are all about profits, reason why they outsource their manufacture plants to developing countries where labor is cheap. China used to be the place of choice but with its economic growth,  labor there is becoming expensive. So, they turn to other locations in Easter Europe, Asia and Africa. There is nothing wrong about outsourcing. It generates work for developing countries and profits for big companies. By outsourcing they do not have to pay extra money and loose extra time on small details; reason why they are less likely to inspect where the people work and how they work. What matters to them is the end product and how much less it cost.

However, by turning a blind eye to what is really going on, they are enabling tragedies like the building collapse in Bangladesh. But they are also enabling small tragedies happening on a daily basis. They are not empowering people to get out of poverty but rather they are enslaving them.

I, as a consumer am also responsible. I do purchase that tee and I do beg for things to be cheaper. I hate it when I have to spend more for a perfect bag. I wished fashion was more affordable and accessible. But do I stop and ask myself how is it possible for things to get cheaper? Do I even ask myself how things are being made? Do I really care? Before the tragedy, I will have to say that it did not matter to me one bit how my clothes were made unless I designed them myself. But now, I am thinking that it is not right to wear clothes made in sweatshops just the same way it is not right to buy blood diamonds or fur made from endangered species. I am not really an activist for anything. My blog has revealed that I am a very shallow and superficial person. But I do care when people are being hurt for the benefit of others. I would hate to know that somewhere a Bangladesh woman suffered to make my tee. In this day and age, it is not right and it is not fair.

I think that as consumers we should made the big retailers responsible for what is going on in those factories whether they are aware of it or not. They should make sure that their employees (direct or indirect) work under the best conditions and have the best benefits. It is not because they are from poorer countries that they should be subject to poor conditions. We as the consumer should send a direct message to them: "if you do not clear up your act, we will not buy here anymore".  It is not enough to only ask for finer materials and better prices. We should also ask for improvement of the lives of people making our stuff. At the end of the day, we make those companies rich by purchasing there, so it is only fair that we have a say in what they are doing behind closed doors. When someone (or a thousand and more) dies, it is already too late. We should have done something yesterday.

Because if not, it just makes the fashion industry look even more shallow that it seems to be. Worse, it makes it looks like a business oriented industry, whereas it should be about people from all background creating beautiful things for all of us to enjoy. I know this makes me a naive person but fashion should empower people instead of abusing them. It should not only be about glitter and gold, but also about economic growth not only for the designers and retailers but about every small person who contributed into making Fashion what it is today.

"A headline that really struck me on the day of the tragedy in Bangladesh was 'Living on 38 euros a month'. That is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour. Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation! Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!"
Pope Francis 

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