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Meet My 9 Year Old Boss
October 12, 2013 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Raveena Aulakh of The Star got hired at a sweatshop in Bangladesh. Her boss was a 9 year old girl named Meem.
posted by reenum (60 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
really powerful story. Thanks for sharing.
posted by sweetkid at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


♫ Capitallllism, yeah ♫
posted by phaedon at 2:02 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


b...b..but half off at Old Navy this weekend!
posted by goHermGO at 2:12 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gap, Old Navy, and the Living Hell of Bangladeshi Sweatshops (article about a new report on sweatshops by a NGO)
posted by Bwithh at 2:25 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The anecdote about how she loves hair clips is the emotional equivalent of like a battlefield carnage photo or something. Been thinking about it off and on since I read this yesterday.

My daughter's eight. Loves to pick out hair clips, collect 'em.

Just brutal.
posted by gompa at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


Some dust got into my eye.
posted by owlrigh at 2:37 PM on October 12, 2013


This was well written and quite attentive to the subtle complexities present. The anecdotes about Meem's kindness and generosity were heartrending:

“We try to be nice to everyone,” said Meem.

She was more than that.

If Meem noticed someone was trimming slowly, she would quickly do her share and then help out. When she returned from lunch, she would always bring back something for Taaniya, even if it was a bruised apple. When Sheekha admired her hair clips, Meem took them from her hair and pressed them into her hands.

Once she saw Lootfah burst into tears while talking on her cellphone and she slipped out and bought a shiny hair clip for her.


That those with so little can be (and in my work and travels, are) so generous with what little they have caused me to re-evaluate and re-consider my own behavior and actions every time. This is essential reading -- thanks for sharing.
posted by strangeloops at 3:18 PM on October 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


Poor little maid. I wonder if right now I am wearing something made by someone like her? It is likely. Probably it's my underpants, or something else I hardly even think about as touching my skin. Right now, I feel very aware (and proud) of the cable-knit cardigan I am wearing, a sweater that was definitely made by a grown person in Ireland. But it was also expensive, and the thing is still a prize of mine after about 13 years. As plain and simple as it looks, it's more than many Americans could afford. I recognize my privilege, and can't offer an easy answer.

I was oddly touched by a comment under the article from a random lady in Texas, asking if anyone knew how she might donate her old TV to give to Meem. God love us, we are such precious idiots.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:20 PM on October 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


Every time I hear about Bangladesh and sweatshops, I am enheartened to see, more and more, that garment workers are striking. And as well they should: management can only get away with what labor allows. I have the feeling (or maybe the optimistic belief) that Bangladesh could set off a kind of domino effect across south Asian sweatshops. I hope they do, anyway.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:49 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


and people wonder why the underdogs in revolutions act so fucking nasty
posted by pyramid termite at 3:55 PM on October 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Star editorial on its tradition of reporting on sweatshops
posted by Bwithh at 4:01 PM on October 12, 2013


Heartbreaking. I am a North American resident who has a moderate budget and purchases clothes regularly. Where do I even start? Do I not purchase anything made in countries that have no regulated policy on child labour? How? Even high end brands (a cashmere Theory cardigan I just bought!) are made in China. How do I start to control for this?

Meem sounds amazing. It is insane that there are thousands of Meems, who could be so much more, but can "only" aspire be a sewing operator. (Which is incredible, for her to be aspiring to do something!)

Where is the industrial revolution, the machines who can make everything cheaply, that Meems of this world so much deserve?
posted by olya at 4:06 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gap, Old Navy, and the Living Hell of Bangladeshi Sweatshops (article about a new report on sweatshops by a NGO)

Bangladeshi garment worker makes $300 a year full time, or $384 if they work overtime. Meanwhile, Glenn Murphy, the CEO of Gap Inc, has an annual compensation of $9,711.000*. A

That means that the CEO of Gap makes as much as 32,371 full-time garment workers, or 25,290 garment workers if they work 50+ hours a week. Think about that for a second: He makes over 25,000 times as much as these garment workers, and that's if they're working their asses off, in terrible conditions, for 50+ hours a week.

Imagine how much good he could do for their lives with that kind of money. I doubt they hire 25,000 garment workers; I'm guessing the number is closer to 10,000. If so, he could double their salaries, give them paid sick leave, and greatly improve their working conditions, with nothing more than his spare pocket change. And yet he doesn't.

There's something about that that's deeply, deeply infuriating, and deeply evil. This is a man who probably calls himself a Christian, someone who has the power to do unimaginable good, and yet doesn't. Instead, he keeps screwing over some of the world's poorest people, year in and year out. And for what? So he can buy another vacation home. So his stock options, to paraphrase Office Space, go up a quarter of a percent.

And in spite of this, in spite of this kind of thing going on for decades, I haven't heard any real push for sweatshop workers' rights. Sure, there might be a few odd protests from the anti-G8 crowd, but that's about it. Hell, a week or two from now, I'll probably have forgotten about this whole thing, and I'll probably be buying some new T-shirts at Old Navy. Because it feels like there's nothing I can really do, and holy shit, this is just the world we live in. Woo capitalism.


*2011 figure; 2012/2013 amount is likely higher.
posted by Green Winnebago at 4:08 PM on October 12, 2013 [42 favorites]


I am lucky. I don't need to wear "office casual", because I work in a factory. I've found a website to buy American Union made t shirts, which these days are pretty much the only shirts I wear (at work or not at work.) I found some work jeans manufactured in Tennessee which I like, although I think the company that makes them is not long for this world, sigh... I still need to find a source for underwear, socks, shoes etc. But I've made the personal decision to try to buy things that are a.) made in my own country, b.) made in a place where working conditions are not criminal.. or c.) second-hand and so at least don't fuel the cycle of mindless consumption quite so much. Much of what I buy now days is still far from any ideal in so many ways, in terms of sustainablilty, labor conditions, environmental impact.. (an endless and complicated analysis..) But I must say, I feel pretty damn good in my union-made t shirts. And yes this story made me cry... and it made me so angry...
posted by anguspodgorny at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


And in spite of this, in spite of this kind of thing going on for decades, I haven't heard any real push for sweatshop workers' rights. Sure, there might be a few odd protests from the anti-G8 crowd, but that's about it.

Organization on a local level is definitely picking up, but solidarity movements in Europe for the Bangladeshis have been lacking, it's true. That is a strange combination of events, I think, given how inextricably tied Europe and North America are to the Bangladeshi labor market.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:40 PM on October 12, 2013


Heartbreaking. I am a North American resident who has a moderate budget and purchases clothes regularly. Where do I even start? Do I not purchase anything made in countries that have no regulated policy on child labour? How? Even high end brands (a cashmere Theory cardigan I just bought!) are made in China. How do I start to control for this?

There are some companies that specialise in fairly-made clothes. (Only one I can think of is American Apparel, but they dont make normal sized clothes). Some advertise as being union made in North America.

My personal solution is to buy most of my clothing second hand. This has three nice advantages: I'm not giving money to sweatshops directly, I'm often helping a charity, and I'm keeping those clothes from going to landfill or from being dumped on the clothing market of a developing country where they will hurt the local textiles and clothing industry. Also, I save money.

In the end, though, the roots of and the solutions to Bangladesh's problems are not from the West: these factories may supply western shops, but the owners are primarily Bangladeshi. And, while other countries use a cheap textile industry as a stepping stone to more development, that's not happening in Bangladesh. I don't know all the details, but the more I learn, the more I think that the Bangladeshi elite are the people who can really change things there, if they want to.
posted by jb at 4:44 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Having been involved in the Taco Bell Boycott, which was called for by the union of tomato pickers in Florida to demand better wages and working conditions, and which led to the workers getting many of their demands, I do believe there is a place for consumer activism.

But it only works if it is well organized and high-visibility. So, a few random people buying American-made or Union-made clothes doesn't make much difference in the big picture, but if Americans or people in other western countries organize and start a big high-profile boycott of a particular brand that is supplied by these factories, then the corporations could put pressure on the suppliers to improve their practices.

But the corporations have to feel a LOT of pressure before they feel compelled to make a change - basically it has to be either a PR nightmare or a direct loss in sales that motivates them.
posted by mai at 4:59 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


If they don't like the work, they should quit and move to where there are better jobs, amirite?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:27 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Buying a relatively locally made clothes is a great start, but sourcing the materials can take a consumer down another rabbit hole. The production of cotton, even organic cotton, can also involve child labour. Victoria's Secret was called out for allegedly using cotton from Burkina Faso picked by child labour, as just one example.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a key thing to keep in mind is that the current, terrible (from our view) child labour situation is also an *improvement* in key ways of these girls from their previous socio-economic situation. That doesn't mean that this current situation shouldn't be protested and changed, but that we should find ways to do this which help preserve key gains made for these kids and their families, and give them new ones.

The two girls would share what they had learned over lunch of curries or lentil soup and rice. Taaniya, ever the wise older girl, spoke of things her family could now afford: a new bed, a new goat and many more salwar kameezes.
Taaniya told Meem that if she earned enough, she wouldn’t have to get married and move away to live with some strange man who might like her, or might not.
She could also buy a colour TV set one day, Taaniya said.
Taaniya is the third of four siblings and she regularly buys gifts for her oldest sister’s daughter.
Cheap fashion has fuelled a social revolution in Bangladesh. It has given women more economic freedom, and to an extent, the power to make some decisions. By all accounts, working women are changing their lives, their families’ lives. There is more food in homes, and cleaner clothes. There is electricity, even if it’s one bulb, and there are toilets.
But it has come at a price.
Meem liked playing in the rain. She liked sleeping in on Sundays and holidays. She liked playing with her three baby sisters.
The factory has become her life, the life she will likely know for a long time, maybe all her days.

posted by Bwithh at 5:53 PM on October 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


I just made my own 9-year-old, who today spent nearly an hour whining because I would not buy him $40 LEGO shoes, complained that he was bored when I told him to put his iPad away (since without the iPad he had noooooooothing to do but watch the baseball game I was watching on television, play with his friends outside, play with his roomful of toys, or read), and then refused to finish his dinner because it wasn't exactly what he wanted, read this article.

I did not mention his own behavior today when I asked him to read it. But he did go finish his dinner afterward.
posted by BlueJae at 5:56 PM on October 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


I've always shopped for at least some of my clothes at thrift shops and clothing swaps. After the collapse of the big factory building in Bangladesh I was even more mindful of where my purchases came from. I think if you buy something "pre-owned" you're at least not driving up demand for new items. I can't even go into the new Joe Fresh store near my house.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:06 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's some links if you want to shop union in the US. I live in a very union town, and I have a number of friends who only buy union clothes and are fiercely proud of that fact. It's very doable, at least for casual clothes. They cost a little bit more, but they tend to last longer than Old Navy Ts. Of course you've got issues of sourcing the cloth and the cotton, but you take one step at a time, and you let merchants and friends know that you're making purchasing decisions to avoid sweatshops and support a fair wage.

Many people also choose to buy clothes second-hand, to avoid giving money to companies that use sweatshop labor and to reduce the environmental impact of constant consumption of new clothes, but to spend less time worrying about the sources of the clothes.

I will also try to do better. :(
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:07 PM on October 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


Man, Meem's professional aspirations don't seem that different from my own. I just have nicer hair clips. Suddenly depressed on so many levels.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:16 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


This situation is sad, but bear in mind, this sweet little girl is not being forced into an early marriage, or prostitution. She has a better chance in life.
Could it be better? Yes! Should she be in school? Again yes!
But her situation could have been so much worse.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:41 PM on October 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is not about how we can change our shopping habits to feel better about ourselves.
posted by 256 at 7:01 PM on October 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


But isn't there a chance people changing their shopping habits enmasse could possibly bring about change for these workers? I'd much rather support union jobs and living wages by making a conscious decision to not buy from companies who's goods are made by child labor in sweat shops. If the byproduct of that is that I don't feel so damn hopeless about the state of the world isn't that ok?
posted by photoslob at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's the mid-nineteenth century again.

And again.

And again.
posted by vapidave at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


If they don't like the work, they should quit and move to where there are better jobs, amirite?
posted by Thorzdad


I actually agree. But then I'm a crazy semi-anarchist who thinks that free movement of capital without free movement of labour is an inherently f'd up system, so we need to end immigration restrictions.
posted by jb at 8:41 PM on October 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


The hardest-to-confront aspect of this story is that the conditions in this factory actually represented an *improvement* to Meem and her family's quality of life. Boycotting clothing made in Bangladeshi factories would be absolutely the wrong response. AFAIK the textile industry is over 70% of the GDP of Bangladesh, and the GDP per capita has been growing over 6% for a decade. It's horrible to see how worse off they are now, but the country does seem to be on the path.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:57 PM on October 12, 2013 [17 favorites]



Taaniya told Meem that if she earned enough, she wouldn’t have to get married and move away to live with some strange man who might like her, or might not.


I feel sad and sick.
posted by Salamander at 9:32 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Every time I hear about Bangladesh and sweatshops, I am enheartened to see, more and more, that garment workers are striking.

This is encouraging, because more than anything, stories like this remind me of the textile mill girls of 19th century Lowell, Massachusetts.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Boycotting clothing made in Bangladeshi factories would be absolutely the wrong response.

Exactly. I am puzzled when people respond to such stories by deciding to buy US union made products, or second hand, because this is effectively a "Fuck you, Meem". She could be in school. Not having to work for her family. But that's not the world she lives in, and depriving her of opportunities from our consumption isn't going to make it any better. In fact, might make it worse.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:30 PM on October 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I actually agree. But then I'm a crazy semi-anarchist who thinks that free movement of capital without free movement of labour is an inherently f'd up system, so we need to end immigration restrictions.
posted by jb at 8:41 PM on October 12 [+] [!]


I assume you mean non-child labour. In any case there are more barriers to movement than just immigration laws here.
posted by Bwithh at 12:07 AM on October 13, 2013


Um. This is what people do to each other without the safety of pro worker legislation. This shows how important it is to have those laws most don't bother learning.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:17 AM on October 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


"And in spite of this, in spite of this kind of thing going on for decades, I haven't heard any real push for sweatshop workers' rights."

In Mexico and Central America, there have been intermittent attempts to organize workers, and they generally end up with the murder of organizers.

Instead of pandering to manufacturing workers here with promises of protectionism, working to expand protections on labor organizing worldwide would be something that would both benefit American workers and foreign workers immeasurably. It's something that both unions and Democrats should champion, but the neo-liberal shit ends up being poison too often.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think if you buy something "pre-owned" you're at least not driving up demand for new items.

This argument seems to get picked apart when it comes up in comment threads about furs.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:46 AM on October 13, 2013


Yeah, though that's really because there's no way to tell pre-owned furs from newly purchased ones and they all reinforce the glamour of fur. Whereas it's not like pre-owned jeans are driving demand for denim.
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


9 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Produce Ethically in Bangladesh. I'm looking for some new tunics, so I will pay a little more today and get something from one of these.

However, I try to buy anything made in Cambodia, even though the conditions at the garment factories can be rough and exploitative because they are a viable and relatively well-paying job for young people without much education and a step forward out of poverty. Also, at least in Cambodia, they do organise and unionize and push back to some extent. As Sara C points out, like the mill girls of Lowell, the factories are a place where workers can come together, especially young women who are socially marginalized.

Such a bloody waste of human potential though. Bring on the robot revolution so children like Meem can play and learn and create!
posted by viggorlijah at 4:21 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Boycotting clothing made in Bangladeshi factories would be absolutely the wrong response.

It's not exactly the wrong response, but it might be misguided. Old Navy and others can totally afford to pay better the people who make their clothes; it's not like Old Navy's going to see a drop in sales and have -no choice- but to cut the salaries of their garment workers. Management can afford to pay better; they exploit these workers because they believe they can get away with it. Not giving your money to these companies is pretty much the least you can do, but it's not enough to cause any change in company policy. It's just a conscious choice to not be involved in their exploitation. It won't make things better for these workers, but it's not going to make things worse, either.

Yes, these are better conditions than many of these girls would live in, but so what? They haven't gone from awful conditions to humane; they went from awful to slightly less awful. They could be paid so much better, without so much as a soft breeze blowing through the bank account of Old Navy's CEO, but they're not. And that's why they're striking.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:13 AM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not giving your money to these companies is pretty much the least you can do, but it's not enough to cause any change in company policy.

Humans are social creatures and we do the things that other people do. Currently, that means shopping for clothes as a hobby with nary a concern for the way they're produced.That is not a human quality that is set in stone that will never change.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:54 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The big problem I see with the argument that these kinds of jobs represent a significant step up is that this ignores lost opportunity costs. These jobs themselves become a time consuming hardship that prevents people from having the freedom of movement, the time and incentive to build skills for getting better jobs. There's this vague idea that any job skills at all are better than nothing, and yet, those skills don't necessarily lead anywhere better when there are no guarantees on the labor side. These jobs take up the majority of the workers' time, depriving them of social and professional opportunities and putting strain on family relations. It's only an improvement in the same way that exploitative labor arrangements like feudal fealty oaths were an improvement over subsistence farming. It's an improvement in one sense but a kind of trap in another.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are actually quite a number of reasons that I prefer to buy my clothes via thrift and swap, but if boycotting sweat shops is not the best approach to resolving this particular issue, what can I do as a regular person living in a big North American city that can start to make a positive difference here? Genuine question.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:00 AM on October 13, 2013


I don't know. Our actions have unpredictable and unforeseen consequences. I do know that knowingly benefiting from someone else's misery is good to avoid if you can, even if the ultimate consequences of avoiding it are unknowable.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:22 AM on October 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Humans are social creatures and we do the things that other people do. Currently, that means shopping for clothes as a hobby with nary a concern for the way they're produced.That is not a human quality that is set in stone that will never change.

Do understand that I am not saying boycotting Old Navy and the like is meaningless. An organized solidarity movement to pressure these corporations to change their labor practices - including, but not limited to, an organized boycott - could totally have a significant impact. My point was that one person's conscious decision not to participate in exploitation is not going to compel Old Navy to slash wages; they're exploiting their workers already to the tune of thousandfold wage differences between labor and management. But it will take an organized, concerted, multi-pronged effort to force Old Navy et al to change things for the better.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:35 AM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A while back, maybe during the 1st Clinton presidency, maybe even during Bush II, the US gov't. recognized specific companies for sourcing clothing from factories that treated workers humanely. I recall L.L. Bean and Lands' End as being in the group recognized. Lands' End is now owned by Sears, so no way of knowing if that's still in practice. Just asking companies you do business with about their policies may make a tiny bit of difference. I live in Maine, have friends who have worked at LLBean, and it seems to still be in practice with them. That won't necessarily last unless customers care about it.

Online chat with Landsend - rep could not find the web page about fair trade. Neither could I. Doesn't mean there's no policy. LLBean info Some information is unavailable due to the US gov't. shutdown. This applies to the US, not sure what program applies to foreign manufacturing.

When I was a kid, I didn't have tons of clothes - no hardship - nobody had tons of clothes. You had school clothes and play clothes and an outfit for church. When my son was a kid, he had lots more clothes, but still, they fit in 1 medium-sized dresser, and that included the next size of hand-me-down/ thrifted/ on sale clothes to grow into. Many kids now have enormous quantities of clothing. Clothing's really cheap, fashion moves ever faster, etc. Clothes are poorly made (sorry, Meem) of poor quality fabric. There's been a post about the over-abundance of clothing in the near past, but I'm not patient enough to find it right now. I have enormous quantities of clothing because sometimes I can't resist another bargain at the Goodwill Outlet. Yeah, there's so much stuff, GW can't sell it all, so the leftovers go to an outlet, and are then broken down for recycling.

The US has an ever-increasing surplus of consumer goods. I'm cheap; I shop at thrift stores, but I also prefer to opt out of consumerism, if I can. I've started seeing articles about re-decorating your house seasonally. Yeah, I better go get new pillows and rugs, cause I wouldn't want my living room to look winter-y when it's 90F outside, and I'll need a new throw on the couch for Thanksgiving, and another for Christmas. You don't need me to tell you how consumerism is raging, and how horrible it is for the environment, let alone our culture, and if I don't stop now, I'll rant on unfettered and that won't be pretty.

We could have a profitable, lively economy based on cleaning up the environment, on the arts, on recreation. Sports is a huge chunk of the economy, and while I mostly don't contribute, it's a great example of an economy that doesn't have to be consumer-goods-based. Spend your money on cable subscriptions to watch games, on going to games. A t-shirt or 2 as part of your wardrobe is okay; just wear it rather than storing it. There's a small economy in 'eco-friendly' goods, better titles 'less environmentally awful' goods, and there are people who choose to buy less stuff, and choose stuff with less humanitarian baggage. We could. Probably not any time soon.
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I run an apparel manufacturing business out of India, with the vast majority of my goods being exported to the United States. There are a few interesting points in the comments here that I think I am qualified to talk about:

Firstly, boycotting Bangladeshi-made garments is not the solution. These workers depend on your business to keep employed. Bangladesh as a country has no real other industry--agriculturally it is not as rich as India or Pakistan, and it has no real natural resources to speak of.

Secondly, there are good, ethical factories in Bangladesh, run by proud families that neither approve of nor resort to the level of mistreatment that is displayed in this article. There are bad apples everywhere. I will admit, though, that the last year of apparel journalism has shown that, at least in Bangladesh, the bad apples may very well be in the majority.

Thirdly, plenty of brands that work in countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc., have extremely stringent norms. My customers, for example, don't allow subcontracting, have extremely strict compliance norms that are followed up with surprise visits, and they post a full-time employee of theirs at my factories to check not only quality but that the conditions in which I manufacture my garments are to the standard that I claim.

Fourthly, the important thing to understand is why this is happening. The culprit is you, the end-user of these garments. The same people typing these comments. The people that invented Black Friday. The people that shop only during sales. The ones that allowed coupons and discount racks to be invented. The ones that allow Wal-mart to proudly tell the world that its tag line is, 'Everyday low prices.' You refuse to pay enough money. This is why, after fifteen years, the product that I make are at lower prices than before in both nominal and real terms. This is why my buyers scrape for a tenth of a cent. This is why people take shortcuts in places like Bangladesh, where the competition is so fierce and the customers are so disloyal that they will jump ship for even a saving of a few thousand dollars a year to another factory. You just don't pay enough. A couple of comments on the Internet isn't enough to drive the kind of change that is required--a change in the minds of literally tens of millions of people--to have prices raised. The average customer will switch brands for pennies. And this in the world where Louis Vuitton burns their unsold stock because they don't believe in marking down their price. It's disgusting.

There are companies in the industry who run businesses in traditionally low-wage countries, companies like my own, that are very proud of the way that we treat our employees, proud of the fact that their families run on the backs of our continued operation. But I think it's getting harder and harder to see why. Many people squeeze margins. Others stop operating. Then others still do this.

To the best of my knowledge, I can vouch for the kinds of brands that, at least in American companies, are traditional, generally Midwestern, family-style brands. Your Fruit of the Looms, Jockeys, Hanes, etc. In Europe, H&M, C&A, M&S, and Tom Tailor are likely safe. Every Gerber and Mothercare factory I have seen is a leader in apparel ethics.

India is generally a safe place to purchase garments from, as are Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and China.

I would not like to divulge any more about my customers in the open, but please feel free to message me privately and I would be happy to shed light on any questions you may have about a particular brand, country of manufacture, or working conditions that I can.

I leave you with one last thought: Americans are very proud of American-made products. Maybe it was a bad day, maybe it was a non-representative factory, or maybe I was biased, but I've seen apparel manufacturing in California, and I would be appalled if my factories operated at such poor levels.
posted by avinashv at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2013 [48 favorites]


> This is not about how we can change our shopping habits to feel better about ourselves

Why not? If we don't buy from sweatshops, and do support better labor practices, surely everyone wins. I feel better about myself because / and the person who made my shirt gets paid better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a promising book for those of us who want to learn more about the garment industry and consumer activism:
Unraveling the Garment Industry investigates the politics of labor and protest within the garment industry. Focusing on three labor rights movements—against GAP clothing in El Salvador, child labor in Bangladesh, and sweatshops in New York City—Ethel C. Brooks examines how transnational consumer protest campaigns effect change, sometimes with unplanned penalties for those they intend to protect.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:37 AM on October 13, 2013


Fourthly, the important thing to understand is why this is happening. The culprit is you, the end-user of these garments. The same people typing these comments. The people that invented Black Friday. The people that shop only during sales.
Although there's some good points to the rest of your comment, this point here is perfectly, absolutely, completely disingenuous. You're talking about a failure of collective social organization — a lack of available social structures for successfully combatting the rank barbarity happening in certain 21st century factories — as if it were an individual failing.

When you describe the things that Americans find ourselves doing despite really wanting to — for example, buying cheap products that are cheap because poor children have no defenses against having their value as laborers stolen from them — you're not describing the character of the American people. You're describing the social systems we're embedded in. You're describing what our society makes it easy to do, our society's default settings, and presenting those defaults as if their problems were just the individual failings of individual people.

I think you'll agree with me that the solution here requires something other than individual action; it requires using the awesome power of the state to regulate and control business practices, if necessary destroying abusive businesses in order to clear the field for more ethical producers.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another way to promote socially responsible business practices is to invest your retirement funds in Socially Responsible investments. My retirement funds that were invested that way did just fine in the Great Recession. Retirement funds make up a large percentage of the money that runs the US economy. Most of that money is invested by people who don't take fair trade into effect when investing, but you may very well be profiting from all sorts of business practices you abhor.
posted by theora55 at 11:31 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gap, Old Navy, and the Living Hell of Bangladeshi Sweatshops

FWIW, Gap Inc. is also the parent of the all-too-appropriately-named Banana Republic.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Fourthly, the important thing to understand is why this is happening. The culprit is you, the end-user of these garments. The same people typing these comments. The people that invented Black Friday."

You mean "Buy Nothing Day"?

The culprit is me as much as it is you for not paying Western level wages, thus displacing the manufacturing base.

Your comment was fantastic in a lot of ways (I flagged it as such), but your grand soapboxing there misjudges your audience and kinda ignores the complexity of the issue, which is a shame since the rest of your comment is all about how complex this is.

"Why not? If we don't buy from sweatshops, and do support better labor practices, surely everyone wins. I feel better about myself because / and the person who made my shirt gets paid better."

Because the American habit of misjudging the scale of systems leads to functionally meaningless individual action above organizing for effective social action. The person who made your shirt isn't even a rounding error in international garment trade.
posted by klangklangston at 1:24 PM on October 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Indeed the culprit is us. And I'm willing to take my part in that. It is just about impossible to live as a North American and not contribute to this state of affairs.

Avinashv, thank you for your insider comment.

Countess Elena, thank you too for yours, that captures my own sense of despair.
posted by salishsea at 10:16 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


@You Can't Tip A Buick:
Although there's some good points to the rest of your comment, this point here is perfectly, absolutely, completely disingenuous. You're talking about a failure of collective social organization — a lack of available social structures for successfully combatting the rank barbarity happening in certain 21st century factories — as if it were an individual failing.

When you describe the things that Americans find ourselves doing despite really wanting to — for example, buying cheap products that are cheap because poor children have no defenses against having their value as laborers stolen from them — you're not describing the character of the American people. You're describing the social systems we're embedded in. You're describing what our society makes it easy to do, our society's default settings, and presenting those defaults as if their problems were just the individual failings of individual people.
A couple of things here:

I firmly believe that in many cases, this being one of them, the "failure of collective social organization" is indeed made of up smaller, individual failures. I have highlighted a couple of examples in my earlier comment. What society makes easy is not always right, and each time it comes up, the judgement of that rests on the decision of an individual.

I did not present a solution in my earlier comment about solving this, and I will fully agree with you this is something more than individual action can solve at this point in time. I, again, hinted as such ("change in the mind of literally tens of millions of people"). I don't believe that governmental regulation is the solution—it has been tried and has failed in many countries for this specific problem.

To give you a bit of information on what is happening today in the industry (today as in right now, and not even as recently as six months ago), brands that value socially-conscious sourcing are forcing the norms that they expect to be followed through more thoroughly. This might include paying more to move to better factories, or insisting that their existing factories change their internal systems to meet the levels of compliance that are acceptable globally. Surprise audits are more commonplace, as are updates to existing compliance systems. It's slow, but this is the biggest (and fastest) change I have seen in years.

It's also not enough, but a step in the right direction to get the ball rolling is something. Socially responsible brands are forming groups within their respective geographical areas of operation to work together to come up with better solutions. I haven't seen something practical yet, but a change is coming.

Lastly, I get the feeling that you interpreted my comment as a personal attack against you or American consumers, and if so, I apologize. That was obviously not the case.

@klangklangston:
You mean "Buy Nothing Day"?
I suspect you were trying to be witty when you typed this. Within the context of what we are discussing, it was unnecessary and irrelevant. On the other hand, if you really, truly believe that BND is anything more than "a rounding error in international garment trade" (to use your own words) then you are mistaken. From my experience, in the apparel industry it's either something people have never heard of or something that is joked about.
The culprit is me as much as it is you for not paying Western level wages, thus displacing the manufacturing base.
I am not quite sure how displacing the manufacturing base came into the discussion, so I am going to ignore that point, except to say that you should reread my last paragraph, where I have highlighted some of the things I observed in 21st century Western manufacturing.

As for me not paying Western wages...why is this relevant? I can argue that American governments don't pay Australian-level wages, so there is some point of contention there. I don't see the logic of this argument. Governments decide wage levels for their respective countries based on a variety of economic factors. That's it. I happen to believe that the minimum wages prescribed by India are lower than what I feel fair, so I pay my workers above that. Above that, my factories are not in the West. Should I say that, despite earning Western-level wages, Western consumers don't pay enough to support Eastern-level manufacturing wages? No, because it's a terrible argument.
your grand soapboxing there misjudges your audience and kinda ignores the complexity of the issue, which is a shame since the rest of your comment is all about how complex this is.
I don't think I misjudged the audience (I assume you mean educated MeFi readers), but fair. That was obviously not the intention. But ignoring the complexity of the issue is quite the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. The fact that clothing is a race-to-the-bottom, and that clothes have been cheaper now than almost at any other time in history is a seriously complex and confusing issue, despite the cost of inputs being almost historically at their highest. But the root cause of why this continues can't be anything but the fact that people don't pay enough for clothes.
posted by avinashv at 10:41 PM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


The root cause is capitalism. Everything else is implementation details.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:46 PM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I don't believe that governmental regulation is the solution—it has been tried and has failed in many countries for this specific problem."

Relying on the good sense of consumers and manufacturers has been even more of a failure. Governmental regulation is pretty much the only way to affect change on the scale necessary, and it's been a success in most first world nations. That doesn't mean, as is often the neoliberal straw man, that we need to institute the same regulations as would be found in first world manufacturing, specifically in reference to wages.

"To give you a bit of information on what is happening today in the industry (today as in right now, and not even as recently as six months ago), brands that value socially-conscious sourcing are forcing the norms that they expect to be followed through more thoroughly."

But brands who are not socially conscious are not making those changes, and the brands that are socially conscious are a minority. This is like saying that socially conscious brands aren't locking workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

"It's also not enough, but a step in the right direction to get the ball rolling is something. Socially responsible brands are forming groups within their respective geographical areas of operation to work together to come up with better solutions. I haven't seen something practical yet, but a change is coming."

It's not enough and it will never be enough, honestly. This is a pretty well-studied economic development question. The incentives toward the worst possible/cheapest conditions will always put downward pressure on scale manufacturers, and social consciousness is a premium, a luxury, on top of prices absent regulation.

"I suspect you were trying to be witty when you typed this. Within the context of what we are discussing, it was unnecessary and irrelevant. On the other hand, if you really, truly believe that BND is anything more than "a rounding error in international garment trade" (to use your own words) then you are mistaken. From my experience, in the apparel industry it's either something people have never heard of or something that is joked about."

It was snark, but it was snark pointing out that your tubthumping about all of "us" being to blame for Black Friday was empty posturing, especially here — I've never shopped on "Black Friday."

"I am not quite sure how displacing the manufacturing base came into the discussion, so I am going to ignore that point, except to say that you should reread my last paragraph, where I have highlighted some of the things I observed in 21st century Western manufacturing."

Well, two points: First off, even the worst American factories are within a set of regulations that do, on balance, ensure a better quality of life than those in developing countries (and regulations that come after centuries of labor organization for those regulations). Which is in large part because labor costs make up more of the total retail price than they do when imported — I'm as much to blame for Black Friday as you are for eroding that manufacturing base, which is to say, not all that much individually. Second off, while I'm sure you've seen terrible things at Western plants, arguing that on balance labor standards aren't higher in the West is fatuous.

"Governments decide wage levels for their respective countries based on a variety of economic factors. That's it."

Those wage levels are based on governmental regulation and relative demand. Which means that in large part, governmental regulation is the solution.

"I happen to believe that the minimum wages prescribed by India are lower than what I feel fair, so I pay my workers above that."

That's great. But you can see how not all managers pay what they feel is fair, or how they may have a different definition of fairness, and that this individual goodwill is a weak foundation for public policy, right?

"Should I say that, despite earning Western-level wages, Western consumers don't pay enough to support Eastern-level manufacturing wages? No, because it's a terrible argument."

"But the root cause of why this continues can't be anything but the fact that people don't pay enough for clothes."

If it's a terrible argument, why are you making it?

Look, I'm not trying to be a dick here — I think that we're ultimately on the same side on a lot of stuff. But I'm coming at this from the perspective of sustainable international development, and The New Wazoo pretty much nailed it: The root cause is how neo-liberal capitalism is structured. The patterns of incentives and behaviors recur often enough that we can say, no, without a government that both prohibits (and enforces those prohibitions) unethical treatment of workers (e.g. nine-year-olds doing garment work) and reinvests significant amounts into development and infrastructure, the race to the bottom will continue. That's true whether it's in the U.S. or in India. And we know that labor organizing is vital to making sure both that workers are treated fairly and to helping governments craft effective, comprehensive regulation.
posted by klangklangston at 1:24 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the interesting thing about regulation is it is essentially all stuff the market could do, but you don't quite trust consumers to do of their own free volition if they had all available information. You could quite easily ask consumers now, "Please don't buy goods that came from sweatshops, buy only American-made or union goods or goods where you know the sourcing is ethical." And it's actually not even that hard for people to flip the label and look at where a thing was made. But consumers, at this point are, as said above, unwilling to raise the price point for goods as significantly as they would need to be if we paid full American price for all that labor. So the idea of regulation is that people will get to make a law that feels good "People can't use sweatshops!" while getting to delay the sticker shock of "Hey, goods cost more now!" I'm not going to say that's unethical, but it's certainly of dubious ethicality - it's deceiving one group about impact while releasing another group from back-breaking labor (whether or not that group wants to be rescued).

It's quite correct that we don't treat clothing in the same way as we used to, largely as a result of an abundance of cheap, poorly made goods. If your shoes, or sweater, or skirt, isn't going to last, why bother even taking care of it? And if you're not going to bother taking care of it, why get something to last?

I am a child of an era of cheap clothing. It never made sense to me, what my elders said about taking care of clothing, or not using certain detergents, or polishing boots to care about leather, or cunning little mends that no one would notice, or what have you, up until very recently. Clothing was cheap and easily replaced, and it was actually less expensive to re-buy an item rather than to pay for taking care of it. Now I'm actually trying to cultivate nicer clothing, and what I realize is that the habits of a lifetime cannot be unlearned so easily. It is actually difficult for me to think about the activity I'm engaging in and the clothing I'm doing it in and how it will withstand it. It is difficult, and so I'm often tempted back into cheap buys, because this way I won't have to worry.

Where this becomes relevant is that I don't think I'm alone in this. I look at my peers and they all seem to have the same idea about clothes being disposable. And while clothes are disposable, the idea of buying expensive clothing seems wasteful. And that price point we are willing to pay for disposable clothing will never climb.

We have both kinds of goods available - so it's not a matter of making higher quality stuff available. Outlawing lower quality stuff would be one solution, but it would disproportionately impact those who can't afford to be pondering these kinds of choices and who already treat cheap clothing like expensive clothing.

What we need, if people are really serious about wanting this happening less, is a cultural shift into taking care of and preserving our goods. Buying clothing that can last a lifetime being valued. Heirloom clothing. Not to worry so much, as someone else said above, about the fads of the minute. And you don't have to toss out everything and wear hair shirts for that. It's possible to consume, but moderately.
posted by corb at 4:43 AM on October 14, 2013


Lastly, I get the feeling that you interpreted my comment as a personal attack against you or American consumers, and if so, I apologize. That was obviously not the case.

No. I simply find it tiresome that you're presenting the cultivation of individual virtue among individual consumers as the solution to the use of child abuse and other forms of hyperexploitation, in lieu of state action or even of organized boycotts. As a lever for change, the cultivation of individual virtue is garbage, utterly ineffective, because we, like you, are forced to ignore whatever our individual virtue may tell us to do in favor of what economic pressure — the threat of failure, destitution, starvation, exposure — tells us to do.

You're prescribing a cure that by its nature can't work, a sort of homeopathy writ large, and then washing your hands of it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:11 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Buzzfeed interviews the reporter of this story about her experience.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:41 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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