Clothing Project

Where did your clothing come from?

The clothes you are wearing right now probably came started in a cotton farm. The cotton that made your clothes is probably GMO cotton, cotton that has been fused with genes from bacteria, to make it more resistant. Your cotton was probably then put through a gin, to take out those GMO seeds. In fact, your piece of clothing might be the brother of 13 million other pieces of clothing, as cotton farms are really huge these days. As the cotton is being harvested, someone inside maybe a self-driving tractor. According to Planet Money's video, the whole process of turning cotton into clothing is pretty much machinery with human supervision.

The next part of your t-shirt's journey was the cotton going through the various twists and turns. According to Planet Money's video, the cotton is first put through a machine that laid the cotton down in big sheets. After it was straightened, it was turned into long ropes by (no surprise) machines. After that happened, it was made into yarn by (you guessed it!) machines. Once it was yarn the cotton was then probably shipped to somewhere else to be turned into cloth. In Planet Money's case, it was Bangladesh, and I will talk about Bangladesh later.

The next part of the clothing is the people who make the clothing for you, or anyone. Planet Money's t-shirt was made in Bangladesh, one of the world's largest garment exporters. Because of the low rates workers are getting payed, factory owners can afford to move to Bangladesh and start a business. The Planet Money's womens shirt was made in colombia. The colombian workers had a very different lifestyle. The workers in colombia were making almost 4 times more than the workers in Bangladesh, according to Planet Money's article. Just to shorten this, the clothing was then sent to the designated retailer, or you.

What are the ethical concerns?

The first ethical concern most people have is that owners and bosses of factories put too much on the line, all just for profit and nothing for worker safety. For example, "Rana Plaza, a 'Disaster Waiting to Happen,'" states how after a mayor of a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh approved unsafe construction plans, over 1,000 people died when a generator shook the building. The mayor should have not approved the plans, but since the government needed some of the money, he approved it and killed over 1,000 people. Another example of this is from the article "Clothing Companies Fall Short of Promise to Workers". The article states how in a report by the Wage Alliance, there were people who were shot because they were protesting for a pay raise. This shows how factory owners don't care at all about their workers safety, as long as they keep as much as their money as possible. A different source, states how over 400 people have died since 1990, and thousands more have been injured, This article was written before the terrible Rana Plaza collapse (on the right), so there have been roughly around 1,500 deaths since 1990. A lot of these deaths could have been avoided if owners and bosses put some thought into building their factories. Watch this video from 2:40 to 9:00 to learn more.

The second ethical concern a lot of people have is how much workers are getting payed. According to "How Much Does it Cost to Live in Dhaka, Bangladesh", workers are being paid 68 dollars a month. That is about $2 a day! Also according to the article, the living wage in Bangladesh is about $150 a month, depending on where you are in Bangladesh. That means that the meager $68 workers make is barely if not even enough to rent an apartment, much less buy food, pay for electricity and afford running water. A different article, "Bangladesh Factories Failing to Pay minimum wage" states that there is an even bigger problem. The article surveyed factories, and 40% were even failing to meet to meet the minimum wage, much less pay their workers a living wage. Different sources in the article have gotten different results, one says that only 20% of factories pay the relatively new minimum wage. Most people see this as unacceptable, since anything below the minimum wage can't be healthy or enough to support a person.

The third ethical concern is that inspectors are untrustworthy and can be bribed, or just plain dumb. One article, "North Face Rolling Out Made in America Line" states that there is a disconnect between companies and clothing factories. This disconnect could lead to bad inspections or no inspections at all, and factories with bad working conditions would not be punished. Another article, "Inspections are not enough to fix garment factories in Bangladesh", states how in Bangladesh, about 1,700 factories have been inspected. A study estimated that there are about 5,000-6,000 factories overall. That is a little bit less than a third, if you say there are 6,000 factories. Another article, Bangladesh: 2 Years After Rana Plaza, Workers Denied Rights", got an experts opinion. Here is part of the article: "'If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,' said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director. 'If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.'" This article is clearly implying that the government inspection system is broken and something needs to be done about it.

What Can You do?

The first, and my favorite option is to buy Fair Trade certified clothes. Fair Trade has a lot of rules and things to benefit workers. The first basic rule has to do with pay and labor. Fair Trade does not allow an child labor, and the workers have to be paid fairly. The second thing of Fair Trade is premium. Premium is when a little bit of the workers pay goes to the community. For example, at the end of the month workers can decide to build a daycare center, or even maybe a school. The premium not only helps the workers, but it helps the community as well. Also, I think that Fair Trade helps build bonds between the workers and the bosses, as there has to be fair treatment and equal rights. There also can be no hazardous chemicals and good working conditions. This is really important because we want to know how well our workers were treated and what the conditions are like, and when we buy Fair Trade we know. Since Fair Trade started, it has helped over 1.2 million farmers in 70 countries. All in all, I would buy Fair Trade because it benefits everyone, not just people in a certain place or country.

The second option is to buy only American-made clothing. One of the benefits of buying American-made is that you are putting money in fellow Americans pockets and creating more jobs. For example, one source: "Products Made in the USA- Reasons to Buy American-Made Goods", states how ever one manufacturing job in the United States contributes or makes another 1.4 jobs in other parts of the economy. If people keep buying American made clothing and American workers are being hired, people are creating more jobs for someone else, and supporting another individual. Another source, "The North Face Roiling Out Made in America Line", states how in some places more than 10% of adults don't have jobs. This is because of the recent relocation of clothing factories, bringing jobs elsewhere and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. I personally like this idea a little bit, except it only benefits Americans. Another reason you might want to buy American is because you can insure that there is a close connection between companies and their factories. "For example, Products Made in the USA- Reasons to Buy American-Made Goods" , states how there was a 2015 report that included some disturbing information. The report stated how workers in China work 12-13 hours a day, and then at night workers sleep on plywood bunk beds and with several other people in a crowded, dirty cold room. Again, "The North Face Rolling Out Made in America Line", states how there is too much disconnect between companies and the people who make their products. The article states that large brands use a complex web of suppliers to get their clothing, so most of the time they don't know where their clothing is coming from, or what the conditions are like. The article also states that after a terrible fire happened that killed more than 100 people, Walmart claimed they had no idea that their clothes were being produced there. I also agree with this, but hopefully Fair Trade lives up to it's standards.

Another option, and my least favorite is to keep buying clothing made in Bangladesh. However, there are some benefits. For example, "Why You Shouldn't Stop Buying from Bangladesh", states that with just a little more money, people in Bangladesh could afford important healthcare and food. It also argues that garment is 75% of it's exports, and taking that away would cause Bangladesh's economy would be destroyed, and many people would die because of the loss of money. I would argue that Fair Trade is a better alternative, because it would still benefit the people in Bangladesh, and it would improve working conditions and ensure good pay. Another reason you might want to Buy from Bangladesh is because some people think that U.S policies will rub off on Bangladesh. The article argues that U.S. policies are rubbing off on Bangladesh factories. According to the article, political scientist Layna Mosley suggests that Bangladesh has to adopt some U.S. policies in order to trade with the U.S. The article also argues that since many clothing brands are U.S. brands, they have to follow U.S. policies. I disagree with this because Fair Trade would be a better and faster alternative, and they would probably have better inspectors.

A different option that a lot of people do is to buy second hand. This option is interesting, and a lot of different people have different thoughts. For example, Clean Clothes Campaign's article, "Where can I buy 'clean' clothes?", states that buying second hand clothing may improve working conditions and lessen the pressure in workers. If there is less demand, companies might stop thinking about profit and actually focus on working conditions. I agree with this, but still, Fair Trade will also improve working conditions. The article also states that second hand clothing is good for the environment, as it slows down our need for materials. Another article, "7 reasons why you should buy your clothes second hand", states that when you buy second hand, you have a really wide variety of clothes to choose from, not just the newest fashion. Also, instead of buying that lookalike old 1980s fake shirt, you might be able to buy the real thing. Another point they mad about second hand clothing is that some retailers put some of their money towards a good cause, and might have volunteers working the register. So as you are buying some unique, funny clothing you also get that warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

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