Sweatshops; yes, we still buy from them; quite often due to a limited supply of certain goods. When we devalue others’ labour, we devalue ours too! Don’t believe me? For the most part, do you receive annual pay rises of any real significance; in terms of purchasing power; you know, based on something like CPI? The cost of goods and services are on the rise yet our wages … not so much!
So, our ‘pay rises’ are in fact pay decreases in real and practical terms, in that our purchasing power is on the decline. No, we don’t have it so bad here in the west; we generally have enough money for food, and shelter.
Let me preface this with the fact that I have been trying to get good quality clothes, made by people who are not being taken advantage of. Side note: to all my Communist friends, I know, that those without the means of production are being taken advantage of; let us put that aside for the moment and think about where one can purchase said goods.
Adding to this; the place where I work changed the company dress code; it was now mandatory to wear corporate attire . On a sub-average wage, even non-customer-facing staff had to wear suits; no, wait, my bad, as we were told, “it’s not a full suit, you don’t have to wear the jacket” and then when you arrived in an ordinary casual jacket, you would hear comments like, “oh, I don’t think the new company dress policy would allow that!” …
So, what am I to do?
I wasn’t so aware of the sweatshop issue and how far down the rabbit hole this would go! I mean, firstly, I just wanted to be comfortable at work and for my clothes to last! And I didn’t want to spend too much; hey, we don’t earn much, remember.
Obviously then, I am loathe to wear a cheap ass polyester suit from (wait for it) Lowes! I tried and tried, you know what, I was willing to spend a couple hundred on a pair of pants, then save up and get another at some point in the future. I would also need to purchase five business shirts and if they were to be of high quality, comfortable, ethically sourced/made, they could also cost more than $150; then there’s ties and a decent pair of shoes! This endeavour would have cost me literally thousands of dollars! I ended up purchasing a couple of pairs of mainly cotton slacks from, cough, cough, Lowes for about $100. I am a plus sized individual, making this harder than someone of a more average size. The first part split right up the inside of one of the legs while getting into the car after work; thank goodness it was after! I returned them and then a hole began to form around one of the knees of the second pair, only a matter of days later!
I guess I could buy a couple $50 pair of slacks every three months; that’s only $400 a year right? Or I could get one pair for $300-$400, of high quality, made by people earning a fair wage and you know what? They’ll be comfortable!
Anyway, moving back to other every-day examples of purchasing clothes …
In most chain stores I can easily obtain clothes; unlikely to be of great quality, nor made by people who are not being taken advantage of; yes, I can go to the Tagets, the K-marts, the Big Ws of the world, even the great Aussie icons like Bonds. I can purchase an expensive (for what it is) pair of “Aussie” underwear and know that those sewers are beaten if they do not work fast enough or try to unionise; or I can pay $4 for a t-shirt made by a poor Bangladeshi kid who is lucky if the building doesn’t collapse on them.
Now I don’t feel comfortable with all of this. I want something made by someone who is receiving a fair wage and is treated well; where do I go?
- In Australia, not far; the Internet! – Brands Like People Tree, Oxfam, etc.
- Buy second hand – charity/vintage shops, even online, like eBay or Etsy.
- Or lastly, you could pay someone locally, to make a completely tailored outfit at a significantly larger price than what someone on a regular wage these days, can typically afford.
Word of warning; ethically sourced and manufactured goods are typically higher in cost; often meaning, most people will go with the very first option, sadly, and yet understandably. The problem is, if we only purchase these goods, the companies are being encouraged to keep this up, wages slowly decline in the west, and before you know it, we too, are also working in a sweatshop; even if we’re still in air-conditioned offices being taken advantage of.
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