Friday, April 26, 2013

Sweatshop Redux..

The news is filled with stories of yet another sweatshop catastrophe, this time a building collapse, this time in Savar, Bangladesh. They are still digging people out of the rubble.

 This time it hits closer to home for Canadians because a Canadian brand is involved, Joe Fresh. 

I actually have one JOE item, a little green shirt I bought two years ago, which I hardly wear. 

The top was so cheap, I couldn't resist buying it. 

I don't have much money for clothing these days. Not with the rising price of everything else, especially food and gasoline.

The other week I bought a 20 dollar top, hoodie style, in the terrific Danskin brand, from Costco.

 I've been wearing Danskin products for decades, since I was a 20 something flower-child, and I've always associated that brand with quality and North American manufacture. I just checked, my pretty new Danskin top is made in Cambodia.

And yesterday I bought some new shoes, Dansko, a Danish brand where the company (it says on the web) is 100 percent employee owned. The shoes were super comfortable and cost only 70 dollars.
Socially Responsible: The Dansko box comes complete with some quirky advice on recycling it.

Nice comfy, inexpensive shoes.

Made in China (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

When I bought them, I assumed the shoes were made in Denmark, one of the best countries in the world, with  the best worker rights. So I felt good. I should have figured the 69 dollar price precluded that.

But my husband checked and told me that Made in China is written on them. (Their website says their shoes are made in Italy and China.)

 I bought the shoes in Vermont, at a great store in Burlington's pedestrian mall. 

I remember as children my father taking us to New Hampshire and Vermont to buy cheaper shoes.  St. Johnsbury, I think.  

There were lots of shoe factories in New England, in the olden days. Lots of water, you see.

(The McGarrigles have a song about Quebeckers working in said mills. I think it is called Jack and Jill.)

There are many articles being published in the press today about how our cheap clothing comes at a price to humanity. 

It has always been thus...Great Britain's newly acquired love for tea in the 1800's spawned China's opium wars, etc.etc.etc.) But does it always have to be this way? Can the entire world be Danishized?

Anyway, I wrote the following blog post a while ago, when there was another tragedy in Pakistan.

I've written a fair bit about Venuses on this blog, modern and antique. But this artwork at the Tate in London caught my eye.

Venus deciding what to wear in a day and age where clothes are cheap. There's no basket, so she's not doing laundry.

Who does laundry anymore, clothes are so cheap. You just wear a top once and throw it away. (I must admit, I had piles like that in my bedroom, when clothes were not cheap.)

Last week a fire in a Karachi Pakistan sweatshop killed 264 people making our clothes (probably). La Plus ca Change.

The rumour is the doors were locked and that there was no fire escape.

In 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City killed many women and provoked the American union movement. I write about it in Threshold Girl. The doors were locked there too. Victims, some under age,  jumped from windows, as did the Pakistanis in this latest tragedy. (I do not think child labour figured in this Modern Asian story, though.)

I doubt this fire will provoke a Union Movement: news stories, these days, are as throw-away as clothing.

Threshold Girl is based on the real letters of real Canadian women but I invent a character who works in Magog at the Dominion Textile Plant, a Miss Gouin.

In those days, Canada had its own cotton manufacturing plants. The old Dominion Textile Plant in Montreal, along the Lachine Canal, is now condos. Girls as young as 12 worked there, I can see from the 1911 census. 60 hours a week was the legal limit for workhours, and according to that same census, EVERYONE worked that amount of time. (Amazing!)

The census shows girls as young as 12 working and that everyone worked 60 hours, the legal limit. SURE!

The Magog Plant lasted until just recently, under another name.

Our clothes come from places like Pakistan now.

According to the BBC
The garments industry is critical to Pakistan's frail economy. According to central bank data, it provided 7.4% of Pakistan's GDP in 2011 and employed 38% of the manufacturing sector workforce, accounting for 55.6% of total exports.BBC Karachi Fire

So, the question is, Should we feel guilty about that pile of crap clothing in our bedroom, or not?