SUMMARY AND RESPONSE INSTRUCTIONS
For each article assigned for reading, write a summary and a response.
Responses are two part and will consist of your opinion or judgment of the topic discussed and the quality of the writing of the essay. The response is most useful when the comments are thoughtful and specific. It is not useful to say that the essay was “boring” but it is useful to say that the article didn’t hold your interest because of the subject matter or the presentation or the lack of evidence. We are reading the writing of others to learn about the subject and to learn what is effective and not effective in writing.
clothe the world:
since the end of
At the Maquila Solidarity Network, we get phone calls
and emails almost every day ot the week trom people
wanting to know where they can buy clothes that arc
Fair trade-certified or sweats hop-free. Alternative retail
outlets even contact us to ask whether we have a list of
‘sweatfree’ manufacturers. So, what are we to tell them?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
First, there’s the cotton used to make the clothes.
If you live in Canada, you may soon be able to buy a
T-shirt at your local Cotton Ginny store that is both
organic and Fairtrade Cotton certified. If you live in
Britain, you can already purchase T-shirts and other
apparel products bearing tbe Fairtrade Cotton label, not
only through alternative fairtrade companies, but also at
your local Marks & Spencer shop.
Tbis is all to the good, isn’t itf Growing organic
cotton is better for the environment, and farmers are
no longer exposed to dangerous cbemicals. Fairttade
certified cotton goes a step further – a better price and a
social dividend to small farmers in the global South.
But what happens wben cotton goes downstream?
Wbat does the Fairtrade Cotton label tell us about the
working lives of tbe young women and men who spin the
cotton into yarn in China, or those who cut the cloth
and sew tbe T-.shirt in a Bangladeshi factory before it’s
shipped to my local Cotton Ginny store in Toronto?
Unfortunately, very little. Tbe Fairtrade Cotton
certification is about the conditions under which the
cotton was grown, not bow the T-sbirt was sewn.
The sweatshop is hack. Boh Jef f cott
argues that citizenship is more likely to
get rid of it than shopping.
To use the Fairtrade Cotton label, a company
does have to provide evidence that factory conditions
downstream from tbe cotton farms are being monitored
by a third party; but the kind oi factory audits currently
being carried out by commercial social-auditing firms
arc notoriously unreliable. In otber words, my organic,
Tairtrade Cotton certified T-sbirt could have been sewn
in a sweatshop by a 15-year’Old girl who’s forced to work
up to 18 hours a day for poverty wages under dangerous
working conditions. So wbat s a consumer to do?
Well, maybe we could start by admitting tbe
limitations of ethical shopping. Isn’t it a little
presumptuous of us to think tbat we can end sweatsbop
abuses by just changing our individual buying habits?
Alter all, such abuses are endemic to the garment
industry and almost as old as tbe tag trade itself.
Tbe term ‘sweatshop’ was coined in tbe United State.s
in tbe late 1800s to describe the barsb discipline and
inhuman treatment employed by factory managers,
often in subcontract facilities, to sweat as much proHt
trom their workers’ labour as was humanly possible.
Sweatshop became a bousebold word at the
beginning of the 20th century when tbe tragic deatb of
over a hundred garment workers became beadline news
in the tabloid press across the US. On 25 March 1911,
a fire broke out on the ninth floor of the Asch Building
in New York City, owned by the Triangle Shirtwaist
Company. Unable to escape tbrough the narrow aisles
between crowded sewing machuies and down tbe
building’s only stairway, 146 young workers burned
to death, suffocated, or leapt to tbeir doom on to tbe
pavement below. Firelighters and bystanders who tried
to catch tbe young women and girls in safety nets were
crusbed against the pavement by tbe falling bodies.
Globalization and free trade
In the decades that followed, government regulation and
union organizing drives – particularly in the post-World
War Two period – resulted in significant improvements
in factoty conditions. This period, in which many
– but not all – garment workers in Nortb America
enjoyed stable, secure employment witb relatively decent
working conditions, was short-lived.
Globalization and free trade changed all tbat. To lower
production costs, garment companies began to outsource
tbe manufacture of tbeir products to subcontract
20 N H W 1 N T t; R N A T [ O N A 1. [ S T A I’ K [ L 2 0 I) 7 www.newint.org
factories owned by Asian manufacturers in Hong Kong,
Korea and Taiwan. Companies like Nike became hollow
manufacturers’ whose oniy business was designing
fashionable sportswear and marketing their brands.
Other retailers and discount chains followed Nike’s
lead, outsourcing to offshore factories. Competition
heightened. Asian suppliers began to shift their
production to even lower-wage countries in Asia, Latin
America and Africa. A race to the bottom for the Iowest
wages and worst working conditions went into high gear.
Today, countries like Mexico and Thailand are facing
massive worker layoffs because production costs are
considered too high. While most production is shifting
to China and India, other poor countries like Bangladesh
attract orders due to bargain-basement labour costs.
On 11 April 2005, at one o’clock in the morning, a ninestorey
building that housed the Spectrum Sweater and
Shahriar Fabrics factories in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh,
collapsed, killing 64 workers, injuring dozens and leaving
hundreds unemployed. Just 16 hours before rhe building
crumbled, workers complained that there were cracks in
the structure’s supporting columns. Despite the lack of
when we started the Maquila Solidartiy Network, the
word ‘sweatshop’ had fallen out of common usage
an adequate foundation and the apparent lack of building
permits, five additional storeys had been added. To make
matters worse, heavy machinery had been placed on the
fourth and seventh floors.
The Spectrum factory produced clothes for a number
of major European retailers, all of whose monitoring
programmes failed to identify the structural and healthand-
“Negligence was the cause of the 11 April tragedy,’
said Shirin Akhter, president of the Bangladeshi women
workers’ organization, Karmojibi Nari. ‘This was a
killing, not an accident.’
In February and March 2006 there were four more
factory disasters in Bangladesh, in which an estimated
88 young women and girls were killed and more than
250 were injured. Most of the victims died in factory
fires, reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, in
which factory exits were either locked or blocked.
Twelve years ago, when we started the Maquila
Solidarity Network, the word ‘sweatshop’ had fallen out
of common usage. When we spoke to high school and
Maquila Solidarity Network: www.maquiiasoiidarity.org Anti-sweatshop
campaigning organi?ation based in Canada,
Pesticides Action Network http: www.pan-uk.org British branch of
internationai NGO campaigning against agrochemicals and for organic cotton.
Particular focus on Africa and the Global South.
Gossypium: www.gossypium.co.uk Fair trade and organic cotton clothing
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture: www.csa-india.org Myderabad-based
group crucial in raising the issue of farmer suicides and advocating for organic
and sustainable agriculture.
Honeybee Network: www.sristrj.org Gujarati-based organic agriculture and
farmer inspired innovation network.
Grain: www.grain.org International organization defending agricultural
biodiversity and farmers right’s.
Ciean Clothes Campaign: www.cleanclothes.org International anti-sweatshop
Centre for Science and the Environment: www.eco-web.com [ndian public
interest science organization. Excellent report on cotton.
university assemblies, students were shocked to learn
that their favourite brand-name clothes were made by
teenagers like themselves, forced to work up to 18 hours
a day for poverty wages in unsafe workplaces.
Badly tarnished brands
Students who had proudly worn the Nike swoosh
wrote angry letters to Nike CEO Phil Knight declaring
they would never again wear clothes made in Nike
sweatshops. But the big brands weren’t the only villains:
the clothes of lesset-known companies were often made
in the same factories or under even worse conditions.
Twelve years later, the Nike swoosh and other
well-known brands are badly tarnished, and the word
‘sweatshop’ no longer needs explaining to young
consumers. Companies like Nike and Gap Inc are
publishing corporate social responsibility reports,
acknowledging that serious abuses oi worker rights are a
persistent problem throughout their global supply chain.
Today some major brands have ‘company code of
conduct compliance staff who answer abuse complaints
almost immediately, promising to investigate the
situation and report back on what they are willing to do
to ‘remediate’ the problems.
Yet, despite such advances, not much really changes
at the workplace. On the one hand, a little less child
labour, fewer forced pregnancy tests or health-andsafety
violations in the larger factories used by the major
brands. But, on the other hand, poverty wages, long
hours of forced overtime and mass firings of workers
who try to organize for better wages and conditions
remain the norm throughout the industry.
Recent changes in global trade rules (the end of the
import quota system) are once again speeding up the
race to the bottom. The same companies pressuring
suppliers to meet code-of-conduct standards are
also demanding their products be made taster and
cheaper, threatening to shift orders to factories in
other countries. Conflicting prcssinxs rnakc suppliers
hide abuses or subcontract to sewing workshops and
homeworkers. The name of the game remains the same:
more work for less pay.
Targeting the big-name brands is no longer a
sufficient answer. Given how endemic sweatshop abuses
are throughout the industry, selective shopping isn’t the
We need to start by remembering that we are not
just consumers: we are also citizens of countries and of
the world. We can lobby our school boards, municipal
governments and universities to adopt ethical purchasing
policies that require apparel suppliers to disclose factory
locations and evidence that there are serious efforts to
improve conditions. We can write letters to companies
when workers’ rights are violated and in support of
workers’ efforts to organize. And we can pur pressure on
our governments to adopt policies and regulations that
make companies accountable when they fiiil to address
flagrant and persistent violations of workers’ rights.
We should worry a little less about our shopping
decisions, and a bit more about what we can do to
support the young women and girls who labour behind
the labels that adorn our clothes and sports shoes. •
liiitiJefFcott works with the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Nctwotk,
www.newjnt.org N K W I N T E R N A T I O N A L I S T AIMUI. 30U7 21
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