Was your Bucknell sweatshirt made by a slave?

Julia Lasko, Contributing Writer

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Almost 150 years ago slavery was abolished, or so modern historians would proudly proclaim. Just last year, more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers in Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh were killed as the building they were working in collapsed upon them, trapping and crushing them. According to Mary Mercer’s World Post article, these workers had been forced to continue working in this structurally-unsound building for up to 14 hours a day, earning less than 40 dollars per week. Your University sweatshirt, donned with a “Made in (Insert Foreign Country here)” sticker, may have been made by the hands of a modern-day slave.

The garment industry has a large presence in less-developed countries, especially in places such as Bangladesh, and is said to provide work for the population who otherwise would not have a means of income to support themselves and their family. While it is true that the garment industry is providing jobs, the problem lies within the harsh and unjust conditions these workers must endure daily in order to barely earn enough for life’s basic necessities. While Americans are purchasing the items made in these factories, they rarely know of the injustices endured by their laborers. Retailers outsourcing for manufacturing needs does provide jobs, but measures should and can be taken in order to create safer and more advantageous working environments.

We live in a society that is increasingly based upon consumption patterns with a total disregard for the products’ origin. Due to the distancing effect, described in Jennifer Clapp’s article “The Distancing of Waste: Overconsumption in a Global Economy,” created through advertising and marketing, the T-shirt that you pay $20 for at the bookstore could cost garment workers hours of grueling work to bring home a mere 80 dollars per month. Advertising and marketing schemes promote the continuous consumption of these material items, which is only perpetuating the issue. If American consumers remain unaware of the effects their consumption has on the lives of the people manufacturing them, how can we persuade them not to buy the products? Are the effects of advertising on consumerism to blame for continual mistreatment of the garment industry workers in Bangladesh, or is the lack of available information concerning the mistreatment of these individuals to blame?

The answer is both. While it is more difficult to target advertising schemes, reaching out to individual retailers and convincing them to help in the improvement of working conditions is more feasible. In November 2013, a major American retailer and European retailer agreed to an accord that required substantial safety improvements to be made in the factories that were producing their goods. According to Steven Greenhouse’s New York Times article, two major American corporations, Walmart and Sears, refused to offer compensation for families of the 1,200 Bangladeshi that were killed in the Tazreen Factory fire. The British corporation Primark, a customer of New Wave Bottoms, one of the five garment factories inside Rana Plaza, paid the salaries of all the 3,600 Bangladeshi workers inside the building that collapsed. Why is it that British companies are more willing than American companies to aid factory workers and their families? The answer is because we as Americans are distanced from the effects and do not know of the harm we are causing our factory workers overseas.

It is time for us, as a community and a nation, to do something about the injustices the garment workers in Bangladesh and other countries around the world are enduring. The solution can be found in knowledge. Documentaries like Andrew Morgan’s “The True Cost” explore the other side of outsourcing and exposes the truth behind the damage our consumption has on the factory workers.

Today, just 2 percent of the clothing worn by Americans is actually made in the United States. Education is the key to promoting change for the garment workers in Bangladesh who are working long and hard hours daily just to scrape by, producing shirts we thoughtlessly purchase and shove into drawers. Expanding upon available information about the working conditions endured by factory workers overseas will spark this change.

 

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