Tuesday, June 12, 2007

So what exactly is a sweatshop?

Within the last year, I had a weak consumer moment. By this, I mean that: I saw, I wanted, I bought, and I didn't think too much about it. My purchase was underwear. The location was a drugstore. (And this is because I lack, what is generally regarded as "class.") So I own some Hanes underwear simply because of this thought process: Oooh, underwear! Cheap! Buy!

Where did those underwear come from? If only I knew someone who specialized in underwear sales and marketing....oh wait! I do. She tells me that my underwear are actually made by Sara Lee. And what do I know about Sara Lee? Oh, that's right. They're a wee bit evil.

From Coop America's report on Sara Lee's sweatshop in Mexico, "In an August 11, 2006 press conference, three women spoke out against worker violations in the textile factory. Workers cited 10 hour workdays, significant decreases in salaries though production levels increased, and the lack of medical assistance as examples of labor violations." (I see that another branch of Sara Lee also poisoned people with deli meat in 1998.) God, these poor women may have sewn my underwear.

Despite the fact Sara Lee's marketing campaigns are so powerful that I have their stupid song in my head right now, I am still concerned about sweatshops. Why? On the practical level, these are places of routine violations in human rights. On the broader scale, my growing awareness is that because the first world is obsessed with consuming cheap goods we are essentially creating an underclass of people in economic slavery in the third world to keep our supply of cheap crap. Read Why do sweatshops exist? for details.

So what can you do? You can seek out non-sweat shop sources.

With the exception of underwear, I'm leaning toward used clothing, because of items like these pants. Kidding aside, there are some very decent looking union made clothes. Jim wanted a V-neck fleece pullover last Christmas, and I couldn't find one, but here it is. And here are some camisoles from Maggie Organics made with fair labor practices. They aren't bad either. But I'm still looking for underwear.

Boy in the Bands does much more research on union-made goods with much better results.