Josh put together this brilliant two minute video about sweatshops from the words of a worker who makes some of the clothes you and I wear.
As we talked about a couple days ago, there is definitely a difference between “small things” and “big things” in the lifestyle choices that we make. Yesterday, we talked about, on a practical level, what the day in and day out lifestyle of an ethical person might look like. Today, it’s time to contemplate and consider if all those “small things” really do make a difference. We’ll talk about reducing energy, buying sweatshop-free clothing and fair trade coffee.
What if we all reduced our energy consumption (like turning down our heat)? Instead of using 80% of the world’s resources we take only our fair share? Maybe global warming is true and we save ourselves from utter destruction. Maybe it’s not true and we simply take a step down from our high pedestal and join the rest of the world.
What if we all bought sweatshop-free clothing?
If everyone made a small decision to change the brand of clothing they bought from Hanes to say, Alternative Apparel, it would have a huge impact. Yes, it is true that many pocketbooks would be a a bit thinner, but not that much. Almost overnight millions of once sub-living wage, oppressive jobs and corporations would be lost and other just and fair jobs would fill their places. Communities in the third world would begin to thrive off of fair wages rather then suffer under practical slave wages.
What if we all purchased Fair Trade Coffee?
The impact would be similar to that of the clothing industry, lighter pockets in the USA, thriving communities in the rest of the world. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Corporate Responsibility Mondays continue as we turn toward clothing
companies. It’s something you and many generations before and after you
need, whether you like it or not. Ever since the fall there’s been a
market for us to cover ourselves, and a beautiful opportunity for us to
do so in a responsible way. What you wear is not just about fashion and
style, there is so much more to it, there are real people behind the
In cooperation with Josh, Corporate Responsibility Mondays are our chance to introduce you to both the troubling facts behind some of our big brands (thanks to Josh)
and to people and corporations that are doing business in a way you can
support and believe in. Today we are talking about the clothing
industry. Josh will talk about one of the big names in the business, and I’ll introduce you to a company that is doing business in a way I think we can all be excited about.
The most common response I hear when I start talking about trying to
make purchases in a way that is just and fair, is “yeah, but I’m sure
every company has problems if you look for it.” In other words, people
justify their choices by convincing themselves that everyone’s corrupt
so there’s no real point. We’ll I’m proud to say that you can point all
the Cynic’s to Maggie’s Organics. From the plant to your foot, every step of the clothing production and process is something to be proud of.
Maggie’s purchases their merchandise from Nueva Vida Women’s Sewing
Cooperative (COMAMNUVI), the world’s first WORKER-OWNED Free Trade
Zone. This isn’t just a big corporation out to make money in the name
of social responsibility, this is a genuine business, where the power
rests in the hands of those that matter most, the workers.
Their website says it all:
In Nicaragua there are many free trade zones where mainly women work in “sweat shops”, producing clothing under unacceptable labor conditions, long hours and low pay. In a cooperative,
the workers are the owners. We are working together to create
sustainable employment in the community so that we can support
ourselves and our families.
If your even more interested in how the cooperative came to be, I’d
encourage you to check out their video, Ants that Move Mountains, which
I made available on youtube (Ants 1 and 2).
is a great distributer and has most of the basics that everyone needs,
from socks to simple t-shirts. The neat thing is that there prices are
fairly reasonable too. You can buy t-shirts from $13 and score them on closeout for $10. Socks are more expensive then the sweatshop made ones, but I think the trade off is worth it.
When compared to companies with practices like Josh describes, a fair
trade cooperative, is clearly the best option out there. An interview
of a local worker at a major factory (possibly one operated by the company Josh discussed) and one at the coop shows some of the differences (pdf).
Everything from working conditions and wages, to paid time off and
vested interest in the product and company, it’s apparent that Maggie’s
Organics and the Nicaraguan Cooperative are doing some amazing things.
When it comes to the clothing industry I don’t think we can make
excuses about not doing what’s right. I see two options… Either buy
your clothing second-hand or buy it new from a fair trade company like Maggie’s Organics.
One of my dear friends and Housemates, Josh, wrote a excellent post yesterday about Fashion. He went out on a limb and compared it to pornography in it’s perversion. Basically, pornography is perversion of sex, but do we pervert other things?
It is a commonly accepted idea that the human body needs 3 things to survive: food, water & shelter. To eat, drink and be clothed are all very natural and healthy things, much like sex (in it’s proper use) is. We have a word for people who pervert the need for hunger: glutton. We have a word for people who pervert the need for drink: drunkard. We also have a word for people who pervert the need for shelter: fashionable.
And then he really get’s to the heart of things:
the average American household spends about $2000 a year in clothing. The reason? We’re not buying clothes so that we are protected from the elements, but rather to impress our peers.
Perversion doesn’t get much clearer than this. Clothes were originally designed to cover our nakedness and then later to protect us from the elements. We’ve taken this basic need and perverted it. To me, this is possibly even a worse kind of perversion than pornography, because shelter is a basic need for life. No one (although some young men may try to argue it to their would-be lovers) has ever died from not having sex. But countless people die everyday from lack of shelter.
What’s amazing about reading Josh’s thoughts on this, is that they are not said in a bubble, or into cyberspace were there is no real accountability. Josh shares his thought’s amongst a community that he eats and breathes with. A community that will be encouraged and challenged by what he said and will be eager to both encourage him and be encouraged to live out the convictions we’ve come to in following Christ.
Be strong, brother.
You really have to go read Josh’s entire post.
In an attempt to post my many t-shirts for sale again and hopefully get rid of them, I opened a new store at shopify.
Someday I might need some new shoes. I don’t want them to be made in sweatshops. But how in the world am I going to make sure that happens?
I had the wonderful opportunity this morning of interviewing Eric Odier-Fink of The Justice Clothing Company. Eric graciously gave me a bit of his time to answer some questions about Justice Clothing, Sweatshops, Unions and Fair Trade.
00:24 Why did you start The Justice Clothing Company?
- “It really started out of Frustration.”
- “The US is predominately sweatshop in it’s apperal production.”
- 1998- Received Catalogs from Union companies (King Louie clothing, Nemisis and Windjammers)
- “Is there Anywhere in the United States for me to buy your gear?”
- “These where companies that where absolutely clean.”
The idea for the Justice Clothing Company was born around 1996 when we met and, among other things, began shopping together. (from the website)
03:15 Working with Union Companies
- “We only work with Union Companies”
- Tried to work with Non-Union (ended well before they began selling their gear).
- Ben and Jerry’s as a Non-Union example
- Non-Union companies weren’t willing to meet their conditions
06:30 Talking about American Apparel
- Discussed working with American-Apparel (It didn’t work out, and it was clearly for the best)
- American-Apperal’s Ugly Union busting Article
- AA’s Sexist ads and Sexual Harrasment
- American Apparel makes clothes, Justice Clothing sells clothes (that union companies make).
11:00 The importance of Unions
- “Unions are the only thing responsible for prosperity in the United States.”
- “Unions bring together workers who, individually, don’t really have any power.”
- “The only power a worker has, is to stop the work that they do.”
- Eric tells the story of his grandfather being almost “worked to death.”
- Why Unions improve companies and the quality of products.
14:45 Justice Clothing becoming a Cooperative
- No longer “Employer, employees.”
- Expanding to others outside the business
- A few “not really for the radio” details about the Co-op.
18:15 Dealing with your overwhelming closet full of sweatshop clothing
- Don’t be overwhelmed
- Find places (like Justice Clothing) where you can shop Sweatshop-Free, and Buy a few things.
- Enjoy it and buy some more.
22:45 What’s your take on Thrift Stores
- Usually fronts for organizations that feed and cloth people
- It’s Recycling!
- It’s not contributing to the sweatshop industry
- The Balance is that people need to work and somethings will need to be bought new, That’s where Justice Clothing comes in.
26:00 Why pay more Money for fair trade clothing?
- Sustainable economies
- Why Not to Contribute to Walmart (articles 1, 2)
29:45 An appeal to people of Faith
- “Buying sweatshop stuff is against my religion”
- “You know your buying stuff that is moral”
* Want to Read some more about this? Eric Suggests:
one I will point out is a magazine-size booklet published by the Progressive Jewish Alliance called “No Schvitz”– it’s a great primer on the history and current situation with sweatshops, with a focus on Jewish involvement (on all sides).