Yesterday I reposted a powerful Instagram post I saw, highlighting the troubling stories of three children who work in the fashion industry. It’s surprising to think that anyone would want to work in a sweatshop or factory, but an article in The New York Times titled “Where Sweatshops are a Dream” by Nicholas Kristof said otherwise. Kristof interviewed women in Cambodia, and to his surprise discovered that they dreamt of a factory job because it would provide her shade (vs her current means of living, which involves hunting for recyclable materials on a landfill site). Another hoped for her son to work in a factory for safety reasons, because children are often run over by garbage trucks.
While the thought of sweatshops are a nightmare to those who care about ethical and slow fashion, we do need to recognize that they have lifted thousands out of poverty. However, sweatshops do not provide remotely decent working conditions for employees of any age, nor do they pay enough to scrape past the poverty line. Instead of boycotting entire countries known for implementing sweatshops, we simply need to be aware of which companies provide these grotesque conditions and wages, and boycott them.
The famous case of Nike from the 90’s comes to mind when discussing this topic. “Nike was targeted by campaigners because it was the world’s best-selling brand and because initially it denied responsibility for any malpractice that may be taking place in its sub-contractor factories,” explains Rob Harrison, editor of Ethical Consumer. The global boycott of Nike redirected their manufacturing actions, as consumers demanded change. Consumers. Ordinary yet extraordinary individuals like you and I created positive change within a mega-company. Remember, your dollar spent is validation for companies to keep doing what they are doing, or change to create a livable world for all living species.
Ethical / sustainable companies which manufacture in developing countries are helping improve the lives of the impoverished by offering them a much better wage to take home to their families, a healthy work environment free of pesticides (which is notorious in fast fashion companies and kills thousands of children and adults by pesticide poisoning), and an overall culture which fosters growth and confidence. For us employees in developed countries, we have the luxury of switching jobs or careers whenever we want. Imagine if we in developed countries were to work in a sweatshop or factory for $1 or less per day while our health deteriorated from pesticides and other environmental factors – I doubt anyone would even apply for that job, no matter how glamorous the company name is. It’s amazing what a healthy work environment can do to an individual, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and something every human deserves.