Most of us look at clothes and simply see an outfit. Something to cover up our nakedness and to make a statement about our own individuality. Rarely do we look at our tags MADE IN CHINA, MADE IN TAIWAN, MADE IN CAMBODIA etc and really think about what that means. The thing we usually look for on our labels are brands, Armani, Gucci, Levi's, Sass and Bide, Peter Alexander etc. Not once do we really look at that MADE IN... label and give thought to the people who actually piece together the clothing that hangs in our stores and closets.
Whilst from time to time I ponder the notion of where my clothes come from (beyond the department stores from which they are purchased) and how they are produced, I have never taken that pondering as far as where my underpants are made or by whom. I confess, I am not a very conscientious shopper when it comes to my clothing and accessories. I fantasise about being more ethical with what I buy, but I never follow through with the actual implementation and this bothers me greatly.
We've all heard about sweat shops. We've all heard about the appalling working conditions in factories around the world that employ women and children who work 12-14 hours a day most days for a wage of around $14-$20 a month. The conditions in which they work are horrendous. Poor ventilation. No real breaks to speak of. Unsafe conditions. No basic health standards. It's heart breaking. It becomes a cycle of poverty from which they cannot escape. No excuses. They simply can't.
Many of these factory workers start out as children. Often orphans forced into the workplace to pay for their upkeep. They work full time, (often working over time for no extra pay) which leaves no time for education. They don't have a choice between work and school. They work or they end up dying from starvation, from cold, from not having any money to support themselves and nowhere to live. With no education they have no chance of finding a better job. So the cycle of poverty continues.
Aside from the above I had never really thought that my choice to buy clothing might actually put the workers who make them lives at risk. But it does. Aside from the unsafe factories that often result in tragedies like this one in Bangladesh (which seemingly happen far too often) there are of course things to ponder such as the way clothing is made that may impact on workers health in the form of debilitating and often fatal disease brought on by the processes used in manufacturing.
Something I didn't know until I started thinking about and looking at the ethics (and lack of) in the manufacturing of clothing is a technique used on denim known as sandblasting. Clean Clothes has an awesome page on what sandblasting is and how it is impacting the health of the workers who do the sandblasting. They also have a great list of brands that either never used sandblasting or recently banned the practise of it as well as the brands that refuse to ban it and the ones who say they will but are taking a very long time to actually take action on banning. For how your jeans can kill see this page here.
The great news is there are some manufacturers out there who do care. Who do want to change the world and create an ethically produced product that is pleasing to the consumer and benefits the workers who create them.
whomadeyourpants are a UK based business who make underwear. Take a look around their fabulous site. The programs they have in place for their business and more importantly their emlpoyees are the stuff feminist dreams are made of. Whilst 10 pounds (about AU$16.50) a pair might sound a bit rich, walk into any Bras and things and you'll see similar prices. The question is, are they ethically produced? and which pair will make you feel better about you?