Clothing labels are useful to check for three reasons: size, brand and material(s) used. Admittedly, the last thing on my mind when I go shopping is the person behind the label. When you’re caught up in the moment of perfectly adjusted lighting, upbeat pop hits and a selection of outfits that you wish you could buy, it’s easy to put sweatshops on the backburner.
It’s important to know about the fit and comfort of your clothes but it’s equally important to know how people are treated in the process of making it. That’s why The Canadian Fair Trade Network and Rethink partnered up to release three powerful advertisements that outline the hazards associated to working in sweatshops. The ad quickly attracted my curiosity because of the unusually long label that runs down the body of the garment. Just below each image, CFTN challenges us to buy fair trade clothing because it creates safe labour conditions for employees. From a marketing aspect, this advertisement is simple and straightforward: There’s a human cost behind the labels we’ve come to love.
- The lightweight blazer that takes you from day-to-night
“100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he works. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes every day. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”
We’re all familiar about the horrific fire that ravaged a Bangladeshi garment factory in 2013 and injured over 800 people. Despite the promise of reform, current labour conditions still need to be improved.
- The timeless, knitted, cozy sweater
“100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”
On September 17, 2014, workers in Cambodia successfully petitioned retailers to raise their wages from $100 to $177 a month. However, despite this small victory, the salary increase doesn’t remedy the human rights violations within. Is an additional $77 worth the risk of death? Can we put a price on a life?
- Soft jersey sweater, perfect for a day in or out
“100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family. They couldn’t afford medical treatment and he couldn’t risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts at the factor next year. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”
With the heavy push for the Asian garment industry to improve their working standards, corporations are looking elsewhere to find cheap labour. In addition to lower labour costs, it’s easier to ship textile from Africa to European and American markets. Under a trade agreement signed in 2000, African countries have duty-free access to the US textile market. As unsettling as it is, the harsh reality is that Sierra Leone is being exploited for much more than blood diamonds.
Here’s a challenge for all of us. Let’s not keep this issue out of sight and out of mind. Let’s look past the capitalist façade and reveal the stories about the human cost behind the label.