Monday, October 29, 2007

Gap Once Again Caught Using Sweatshop Labor

Making DJ's Halloween costume (he was Davey Crockett, by the way) made me get more in touch with sewing again, a hobby I love. But sewing for me is also a way to reconnect with other humans, by making and giving articles of clothing I've made by hand. It also somewhat lessens one of the largest environmental impacts facing us today, the mass production of cheap clothing. In The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices the authors talk about the Personal Items and Services category and clothing comes out ahead of the pack in terms of impact:
Under clothing, for example, apparel is the leading source of environmental damage. The production of these products is surprisingly energy intensive...One reason clothing contributes to toxic water pollution is that the production of synthetic fibers from petroleum products and the dyeing and bleaching of cloth result in substantial releases of toxic chemicals (74-76).
And there's more to this section that's both fascinating and horrifying with respect to how big an impact buying new clothing makes on the environment. Yes, we all thought that driving our world-destroying SUVs down to the 7-11 just for a Slurpy and a newspaper was the cause of it all.

Now for a little disclosure: I do not buy all of my family's clothes used, nor do I make most of my family's clothing, either. I avoid buying the clothing that have "Made in Death Holes of Calcutta" tags in them, but I still do buy articles made in largely third-world or developing countries.

This article on CNN/Asia (funny how we have to read about these things on the subset of CNN proper -- like the real shoker of a story being buried on 10D) talks about how Gap Clothing "suddenly" found out that one of their subcontractors was employing child labor, but "employing" seems an understatement. Not just using child labor to make Gap's clothing, they were using SLAVE child labor to make Gap's clothing. And this isn't the first time Gap has been caught using child labor -- here is a Guardian article from 2004 that shows that this is a bad habit with the Gap Corporation. Gap claims they have 90 people worldwide to monitor their subcontractors' practices, so how did this slip under the radar? I'll tell you how, they didn't care -- caring might have hurt their bottom line. So, all this so-called Gap (Product) RED clothing Gap has been making to help fight AIDS in Africa is destroying the lives and families of other people in other ways. Thanks, Gap. I think about these kids making the clothing that kids in the U.S. will wear and it makes me rather ill.

In dwelling on the issue of sweat shop labor I've thought, well, doesn't this save families from complete poverty if they have just this little bit of income? And the answer is of course not, it's pure exploitation. So, what would be a better solution? Max Oelschlaeger, in Caring for Creation: An ecumenical approach to the environmental crisis, uses ideas from E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful to answer that question:
He [Schumacher] argues that what the economically impoverished people of the Third World require is appropriate technology, that is, technology consistent with their human and economic resources, cultural traditions, and geographical location. Rather than Western-style hydroelectric dams providing electricity for cities and water for agribusiness, the rural people of Africa need wells and filtration equipment that provide clean drinking water and supplies for irrigating local gardens. Rather than billions of dollars of financing for plants that make products for export with low-cost labor (jobs moved by international corporations from their own nations), the poor of the Third World need small loans to star locally owned businesses and craft industries (46-47).
I'm sorry that this post is becoming so long-winded but I am angry that I continue to buy clothing from Target when I know there is the possibility it was created in sweatshop conditions; even if the working conditions are acceptable, it is still adding to the ecological crisis.

Here is a BBC broadcast about "the real cost of cotton," as it makes its way up the chain to become cheap cotton t-shirts. Here is a Wikipedia article on Full Cost Accounting, or True Cost Accounting, which is way of viewing the economy in terms of what the items we purchase actually cost, without government subsidies, without sweatshop labor. It's really quite scary to think about, but something we need to face if we are to eradicate practices like sweatshop labor and the indifference by corporations to address those issues because it hurts the bottom line.

It took the Guardian Observer from the UK to reveal this latest truth about Gap's indifference to human suffering in the guise of humanitarian campaigns such as (Product) Red. I'm getting off my self-righteous high horse, now. Even though I know this is just scratching the surface of even beginning to do something about this problem, I vow to never visit another Gap store again.
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