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Has anyone felt “the guilt” when buying a simple t-shirt ? I did.

Did I buy anyway? Yes…

Why? Because it was extremely feasable in terms of quality / price.

I was at the Primark store yesterday when this discussion came up with my girlfriend. Sweatshops.

Wikipedia definition:
Sweatshop is a negatively connoted term for a workplace that has socially unacceptable working conditions. The work may be difficult, dangerous or be paid a wage that is not commensurate. Workers in ‘sweatshops’ may work long hours for low pay, regardless of laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage; child labor laws may also be violated.

Honestly, I’ve never put so much thought on it, in what conditions or by who the products I buy are produced. Seeing a pretty nice product at Primark with incredibly low price made us think that what might be the cost to the company, isn’t there any freight costs, isn’t there any labor cost? Plus, branding! After all we started to think of sweatshops, how people (mostly children) might’ve been forced to work in unacceptable conditions with a very low wage or not at all. It’s a known fact that most of the giant brands are using sweatshops in non-developed or developing countries, but as a consumer we don’t question this fact. That’s why I felt that guilt when buying a simple t-shirt.

The next day I spared some time to search and learn more about sweatshops. What I found was horrible, and I would like to share some here.

1) Sweatshops are there, probably “each” famous brand in textile industry are using sweatshops, and they will be there at least in the near future because we are already using most of the products produced by sweatshop labor. Please spare a minute to take a look at the list, and see if you’ve ever bought a product from these brands:

Abercrombie & Fitch,
American Eagle,
Ann Taylor,
Calvin Klein,
Polo Ralph Lauren,
Tommy Hilfiger,
Old Navy,
Banana Republic.

Probably this is a very small portion of the brands using sweatshops. Some of them have been boycotted several times in the past, some of them have been proven that they use sweatshops, we heard news about them once in a while.

Question: Would you accept “not to use” any product belonging to one of these brands?

Personally, I would like to (prefer to) use them, but at the same time I would like to know that some children didn’t suffer to produce i.e. a Nike football shoe. Or at least get what they deserved, a humane working condition, treatment and wage.

A study showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8%, while consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop.

2) Boycotting brands and corporations would not do any good instead it would just put a hammer to economies in most developing countries since sweatshops are a big part of their industry. This is a painful truth, where politicians and corporations trying to keep as is. They are actually closing all doors to improve working conditions. If conditions get better, their profitability decreases, hence there would be no need to operate in that country. So it’s an evil cycle.

3) As consumers, I believe the most we can do is to increase awareness and just learn the facts instead of avoiding it. Shopping is good, makes us happy but awareness should be there too. There are some actions which consumers can take. One of them is forcing corporations to avoid sweatshops and making them force their suppliers to improve working conditions. There are some brands already joined the movement such as Apple and American Apparel even though it’s suspicious that it might be a trending marketing strategy.

Because women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers, employers force them to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits.

4) Another possible solution would be technology. If there were machines with low costs and same efficiency, then there wouldn’t be a sweatshop reality. Corporations should invest more to technology to end this cruel way of production for good.

All in all, as consumers we don’t have much to take action, except that raising this awareness and keeping those people in mind, hoping for a sweatshopless world, someday soon.


Image source: Flickr

Emre Gökalp

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