So the Garment Industry Makes you Uncomfortable…

Recently there have been quite a few musings out there about the garment industry; typically focusing on it’s atrocities and and its exploitative tendencies.

Most recently the following video went a bit viral:

Jason Kerwin, over on his blog, reflected on this video in a post entitled “Garment workers are people, not props for your viral video“, saying:

But wait a second – who did make my clothes? Specifically, who are the people in the video who (it is suggested) made the t-shirts being sold? The only people with any agency in the video are the westerners who are choosing not to buy the shirts. The garment workers appear only in still photos in which they appear harrowed and fearful. They don’t do or say anything.

Who is Manisha? Why does she work in this factory? Does she support the idea of consumers refusing to buy the clothes she is paid to make?

A little over a week ago, John Oliver (comedian and professional opinionator) ranted in this video about the perils of fast fashion. His point is more that huge multinational garment corporations need to be more diligent with understanding the specifics of their supply chain. A fair point, but one that is motivated by a similar feeling that motivated the makers of the above video. A general lack of comfort with the reality of how cheap our clothes are being made and sold for today.

I get it. This reality sucks. The solution, however, is more complicated than simply not buying cheap clothes. Both Jason and I (and probably any other development economist) will point you toward a video documentary done by NPR’s Planet Money on the story of a t-shirt being made from start to finish. In particular, the following video that actually does record the words, thoughts, and feelings of a Bangladeshi garment worker making one of the world’s lowest wages.

Jasmine may be making one of the lowest wages in the world, but she is making a wage. So, if the garment industry makes you uncomfortable… do something about the real causes of the low wages and exploitation… the lack of alternative opportunities, the lack of just and fair trade agreements between countries, and the lack of viable avenues out of poverty.

3 thoughts on “So the Garment Industry Makes you Uncomfortable…

  1. I am a huge fan of the Planet Money T-Shirt project – but had only ever listened to the podcast version. This video is amazing – it relates the stories of different people, and adds a lot to what is covered in the audio edition. In the audio version the lack of pictures of people’s faces and (probably) the use of pseudonyms allows Shumi and Minu to talk about much more sensitive topics. In the video, we can actually see what life looks like.

    I particularly liked this quote from the end of the video, where Planet Money asked people in Bangladesh what was to be done in response to the 2013 Savar vuilding collapse: “Both the activists and the owners told us the same thing: that the worst possible outcome from tragedies like the factory collapse at Rana Plaza would be for the garment industry to leave Bangladesh altogether.”

    • I agree, the Planet Money project was amazing! Really great reporting about a often misunderstood topic.

  2. Pingback: On Sweatshops and Industrial Development (in Ethiopia) | Jeff Bloem

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