June 9, 2010

What’s Really Behind the Label?

Sweatshops and child labor are still a problem.

Especially within the garment industry. No one purposefully wants to buy items made in a place where two or more labor laws are being violated, underage children work for little or no pay, there are rarely bathroom or food breaks, and the work conditions are nothing that you or I would even tolerate for a minute.

And how the costs of what you are buying don’t really break down all that fair.  For a typical $100.00 men’s shirt, $1.80 goes to wages.  John Miller from Wheaton College, an expert in sweatshop labor, offers that “a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research Found that US consumers would be willing to pay $115 for the same jacket if they knew it had not been made under sweatshop conditions.”  Not too long ago, at a large Sporting Goods Chain, the customer in front of me returned a $100.00 Denver Rockies Shirt with, what looked to be, sewn on letters.  Well, he was not too amused that the letters and the emblem on the shirt had been glued on with glue that did not work when it became wet, or got rained on.  The letters had fake stitches on them, and then had been glued on.  Wow.

Sweatshop workers are trapped in a cycle of exploitation that rarely improves their economic situation. No one should have to work  17 hour days in a third world country (even though there are definitely sweat shops here in America, too) just so that we can save a few dollars on clothes here in America.  And no one should have to work 17 hour days creating something that isn’t quality, and that isn’t something to be proud of.

Where things come from and how they are made effects quality, but also affects how the product makes you feel. Live Love Apparel from Venice, California, offers printed yoga-inspired T shirts. Sure, just like any other company, they had the opportunity to take advantage of others, and focus purely on profits.  But I think that we all know that there is much more to running a business than that.  Their mission statement says;

“We believe that small movements create revolutions. In order to make a positive change, we must come from a place of love. We believe that everyone can live in harmony with each other and with the earth. We believe that by pairing cutting edge, environmentally friendly clothing with a message of love and peace, we can inspire others to live an authentic life. Ambitious, yes. Can we change the world? Of course, we can.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Sure, I could do a review on how cool their T shirts look.  (They rock!) But when it comes down to it, where are they made?  Who makes them?  Is it a fair and sustainable line of business?  Made with organic products, water based inks, and dignity, their products are printed in L.A. and offer a positive outlook on the world.

There are many Fair Trade and Labor Watch groups around the world now.  Some are being hired to inspect factories on behalf of their clients.  http://www.verite.org/ Or http://www.wrapcompliance.org/ offers clients pre-approved factories to work with from their database.  http://www.greenamericatoday.org/ has great information on sweat shop labor, as well.  After all, education sets you free.

On the back of one particular Sporting Goods Store’s Associate Handbook, is the phrase; “To be the #1 Sports Retailer… through the Relentless Improvement of Everything We Do.”  Hm.  Maybe that’s a little contradictory to women in El Salvador sewing their NFL jersey’s for .10 cents per jersey during a mandatory 61 to 65 hour workweek.

Improvement?  Plenty of room for it. Oh, by the way, all 12 to 15 hours of overtime for these women is unpaid.

Let us take a step back, and then maybe take a little bit of Live Love apparels advice, by staying true to the message, and to the roots.

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