Look at the tag on the inside of your t-shirt. Where was it made? China? Taiwan? El Salvador? How about Bangladesh?
A Bangladeshi textile factory building collapsed on its thousands of workers April 24 injuring 2,500 and killing 1,000 as of May 10. The death toll is rising as the rubble is being removed and more victims are being discovered.
Look at the tag on any WCHS t-shirt. Is it made by Gildan? Was yours made in Haiti, Nicaragua, or Honduras? Gildan, the company that’s made many WCHS shirts, just recently moved from their locations in Honduras, Mexico, New York, and Canada to countries with cheaper labor and more lenient laws. Gildan is accused of exploiting its thousands of textile laborers in Haiti and immediately firing anyone who suggests or starts to form a labor union- which has happened in their old Honduran and Nicaraguan factories. If these factories were under United States labor laws the green, red, orange, and purple class t-shirts would be $10 rather than $5, but because the people in the Gildan factories don’t have any benefits and are paid low wages the shirt is cheaper.
As labor costs in popular outsource countries like China rise companies are moving their factories to countries where wages and protection of workers’ rights are low to keep consumer costs constant. These people are modern-day slaves, only they get paid; however, the wages are barely enough to sustain their family.
A lot of these textile workers are women, many of which are high school age. An average textile factory worker in Bangladesh has 12 hour shifts, works 60-80 hours a week, and earns $37 a month- that’s 20 cents a day. Not to mention they’re deprived of any benefits, breaks, and in some cases, aren’t even allowed to sit.
In places like Bangladesh, if your parents are textile workers, most likely you’ll have to succumb to the industry as well. As an American you have every opportunity to change your social status. People are getting rich every day. So you may be telling yourself, “As an American why should I care about what happens in Bangladesh? If I can get a t-shirt for $5 over $15, might as well, right? It’s already been made. Can’t help that worker now.”
But that’s not the point. You shouldn’t ask yourself, “As an American, why should I care about what happened in Bangladesh?” You should tell yourself, “As a human being, I should care what’s happening to other human beings.”
What can you do 8,260 miles away to make a difference in Bangladesh? Or across the ocean from China or Taiwan?
Know what you’re buying. If you’re an iPod or Android user you can download Free2work.org’s free app and scan your clothing before you buy it. Free2Work is a company that monitors and grades factory-based companies that outsource their labor and how they treat their workers.
Free2Work’s grading system is similar to that for restaurants and has the same concept. Would you purchase food at a restaurant where you witnessed the manager screaming at the workers and treating them poorly? Would you eat at a restaurant that had a D from the Health Inspector? In fact, low-grade restaurants aren’t even allowed to operate for business.
Every day at WCHS Forever 21, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Quicksilver, or Aeropostale clothing is fluttering around campus. Wal-Mart and Fruit of the Loom clothing items are popular as well.
What if you found out Free2Work graded these companies poorly? Would you still buy them? Forever 21- D-, and an F in workers’ rights. Hollister- D+, and D- in workers’ rights. Abercrombie- D+, and a D- in workers’ rights. Quicksilver- D+, and an F in workers’ rights. Aeropostale- D, and an F in workers’ rights. Wal-Mart- D+, and an F in workers’ rights. Fruit of the Loom- D-, and a D- in workers’ rights. If you saw your favorite store had a D- card that said they had an F in workers’ rights wouldn’t you think twice about shopping there?
America can be the leader in fighting modern-day slave labor if we mixed Free2Work’s grading system and the restaurant requirement of posting your grade in the window where the consumer can see it. The poor grades will embarrass companies into making the change.
Many of the “fast fashion” countries have few natural resources to offer and create economic growth; they rely on other countries outsourcing labor to them. For example, 45 percent of Bangladesh’s economy is attributed to textile factories- 40 percent of these factories supply American companies. If you’ve ever bought anything in America, you’re an American consumer. As an American consumer, you have the power to influence the 40 percent of those suppliers in Bangladesh. They’re supplying what you demand. Demand a change.
This article was originally published by Newsbytes Online.
This article received first place at the LA County Fair writing contest