Ever think about where our food, clothes, and all other products come from and how they are produced? While this thought may occur when we purchase everyday products, we sometimes just buy a certain product because it’s convenient or, for most of us, CHEAP. Cheap is what the public is drawn to; it’s what we want. Additionally, when we purchase products like clothes, jewelry, and toiletries, this thought is often associated with brand names. Furthermore, many of us are drawn to name brands because brands are associated with either high or poor quality of the products, and typically, we like to have the best quality. As a result of these paramount desires, we often don’t really think about what we are buying. While shopping at Target, Walmart, Forever 21, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and the like for clothes, shoes, and even home goods such as towels and rugs, may benefit your wallet, it really doesn’t benefit the person who made those clothes and home goods. Shopping at your local grocery store for beans, rice, coffee, tea, chocolate, and even toiletries may be convenient, but it hurts the people who harvested that food and made the materials for your soap and shampoo.
Undoubtedly, the clothes we wear and the products we buy tell a story and have a person and a community behind them. These are things we should remember when purchasing products. Meaning, we should be thinking about what our purchase supports and doesn’t support, where our money is going, and what our dollars are truly paying for.
Cheap is what the public is drawn to; it’s what we want.
We live in an industry that is infected with unfair paid wages and slave-driven labor. More specifically, this is human trafficking. Most everything we purchase is represented by and created through this commodity. Unquestionably, clothes represent one of the biggest and most prominent sectors within this slave-driven industry. Most clothes and textiles sold in United States and worldwide are produced in sweatshops. These factories exist for the purpose of providing cheap labor and in return, increased profits for the companies operating the sweatshops. To decrease costs, companies seek places where they can pay the lowest wages and have few human rights protections.
Sweatshops are not solely producing cheap products either. Expensive clothing is also produced within these facilities. Sweatshops are essentially workplaces in which poverty stricken communities are exploited by working extremely long hours with little pay, are withheld form benefits and a living wage, are denied justice, are victims of physical and verbal violence, and are placed in dangerous working conditions.
Many people die working in these factories. One recent example of this was the massive collapse of a sweatshop in Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people. Read more right here.
To the surprise of many, sweatshops also operate in the United States in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and in some parts of Europe.
Outside Bangladesh, sweatshops operate in a myriad of countries such as China, India, Turkey, Cambodia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Macau, Vietnam, Mexico, and more. To the surprise of many, sweatshops also operate in the United States in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and in some parts of Europe. In fact, according to policymic, “One of the most infamous sweatshop tales goes back almost two decades to El Monte, California, a suburb of Los Angeles where more than 70 Thai immigrants were held captive from anywhere between five to seven years in an apartment complex-turned-garment factory. The workers, many of whom were brought to America illegally, were paid $1.60 an hour and forced to work 17 hours a day.” Forever 21 also produces 95% of its clothes in Los Angeles in sweatshop factories. See for yourself.
The truth is that American sweatshops have been multiplying in recent decades. Even more unethical, many of these clothing items are produced at the hands of children. It is well known that child labor was once very common during the industrial revolution, and unfortunately, it remains a viable option for producers who put money above people.
The reason sweatshops exist is because it is cheaper to use foreign labor to produce these products. In addition to clothes, textiles are also traditionally created in sweatshops. Particularly in India, rugs are a produced on a large scale. Other textiles such as towels, linens, and curtains are also conventionally made in sweatshops. Some people may think that choosing to buy their own yarn or cotton to make their own clothes, will not contribute to the industry, but we must think about where that cloth came from. Chances are, the cloth was imported.
Watch Fighting to Unravel India’s Widespread Child Labor Abuses on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
Growing, harvesting, and producing food is not an exception to this exploitive practice. Many different foods are also harvested through human trafficking. Many poverty stricken communities work on slave-driven labor farms to harvest and produce foods such as: beans, grains, coffee, tea, cocoa, wine, sugar, spirits, nuts, oilseeds, herbs & spices, honey, packaged foods, and fruits and vegetables.
One food production in particular, coca, is one of the most horrible forms of child labor. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, “seventy-five percent of the world’s cocoa is grown and harvested in Ghana and the Ivory Coast – countries where child labor, slavery and human trafficking is prevalent.” The children (and adults) working on cocoa farms are not only exposed to hazardous working conditions and physical and verbal violence, but also detrimental agricultural chemicals. As with clothing and textiles, tremendous poverty in the region forces numerous children to pursue work on cocoa farms. Common among children working in slave labor, most receive no education, are paid almost nothing, and are sheltered in unhealthy living environments and fed a diet lacking in necessary nutrients.
*Similarly, the creation of toiletries has a negative impact on many poor communities through slave labor. Shea butter, cocoa butter, and plant extracts can all be produced on slave farms at the hands of children and adults.
Undoubtedly, this is a severe problem our world faces, but there are actions we can take to work against this unfair and cruel reality. In fact, there is a different reality that we can acknowledge, participate in, and incorporate into our lives. There are many ways we can contribute to positive clothing; textile, food, and body care industry and work to end this slavery, corruption, and injustice.
One such way we can work to alleviate this problem is to support fairly traded products. Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade Federation are two major non-profit organizations that focus on improving the quality of life of farmers, artisans, and crafters of clothing in developing countries.
Fair Trade USA pride’s itself on making sure funds are precisely directed to social, economic and environmental development projects. They enable a democratic system in which each community regulates how their funds are used. We can seek out their products and buy them as much as we can to show our support, care, and compassion for those who work so hard to provide us with our goods.
Other benefits of buying Fair Trade products include supporting sustainability practices and our health because most of their food and products (such as cotton) are organic. Many Fair Trade articles of clothing can be found on specific websites catering to Fair Trade. Just typing in Fair Trade Clothes will take one to several websites that cater to purchasing Fair Trade clothes, shoes, and accessories.
We do not even need to specifically buy Fair Trade Certified clothes, shoes, accessories, and home goods. Typically, eco-friendly clothes, textiles and vegan clothing brands, which can also be found by searching for that specifically online, are sweatshop free. You can research the company’s website and most likely, those companies will state that they are sweatshop free. One such website that specifically caters to buying ethical products (not just Fair Trade certified) is called Ethical Ocean, which believes that people can “shape the world through their purchasing habits.” Their website not only sells clothes and products that are kind to people but also products that are Animal-Friendly, Eco-Friendly, organic and promote social change.
Aside from Ethical Ocean, many other websites operate that sell eco-friendly and vegan clothing, including Indidginius Clothing, which sells organic and Fair Trade clothes and home goods, and Rawganique, sells eco and sweatshop free clothes and homegoods.
Whole Foods is another place that carries kind clothing. They carry an eco-friendly brand called Threads for Thought, which is sweatshop free. Also, clothes made in the USA and Canada are usually safe to assume they are sweatshop free. However, some clothing brands may be dishonest by saying their clothes was made in the United States, just because the buttons were sewn on a shirt in the United States. Essentially, it is smart to fully research a company before making a purchase. American Apparel is one American company that can guarantee to sweatshop free. Their website has an extensive page to clarify. H&M has also débuted a new Conscious Collection in an effort to make more eco-friendly and people-friendly choices. And of course, we can always shop at second hand stores for our clothes so that we do not contribute to the slave market.
Buying locally grown foods and clothes is also another way for us to purchase kind foods and clothes and to support our local farmers and crafters! Whole Foods and other health food stores carry Fair Trade Certified toiletry and cleaning agent brands (that we can buy as well as a variety of Fair Trade Certified foods).
In a world where there is always a new issue of corruption and injustice occurring that we need to battle, we can get overwhelmed in thought and stress trying to remedy each and every problem. But these practices I have laid forth are things that we can do every day to make such a significant difference.
Just purchasing our goods from an honest and fair company can shape a movement that focuses on changing how we produce our everyday products and necessities in the world. Just being mindful and making a kind and conscious purchase can change millions of lives in the world and create a new and better world.
For more information on sweatshops and how to obtain sweatshop free items, visit Green America http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/sweatshops/whattoknow.cfm and http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/background-sweatshops