Last week it was reported that a fund is being set up to compensate victims and victims’ families of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse….but that some notable retailers whose garments were being made there were absent from the meeting.
Like Walmart, for example. But you already knew that Walmart is a giant dickhead among retailers, right? Low wages, union busting, decimating locally-owned businesses, obvious disregard for the well-being of the people manufacturing their products as long as they’re as cheap as possible. Even knowing all that, I was still a bit stunned to hear that they’re not at least playing the PR game and showing up at the table — you know, at least *feigning* that they care that people, who were forced to work in unsafe conditions to ensure Walmart’s clothes were being churned out as fast and cheaply as possible, actually died for this rather ignoble cause.
Ultimately, I think Walmart knows that there is only a tiny fraction of consumers who know — or care — that the demand for ever cheaper, faster, disposable goods is taking a toll on a lot of things we should value: the environment, human rights, worker safety, and a living wage, to name a few.
It was also widely reported that Canadian retailer Joe Fresh (parent company Loblaw) was among the clients of the collapsed garment factory. It’s not surprising, considering their extremely low prices.
People of a certain age will realize, when they stop to think about it, that the prices of clothes have dropped significantly over the last bunch of decades. Strange, isn’t it? Hasn’t the price of most things naturally gone up over the course of decades? I remember a sweater I coveted when I was a teenager in the 80s — black with a busy green & blue motif with gold threads and big shoulder pads — that I put on layaway. (For those born after 1985, layaway is a quaint practice whereby you would put a deposit down on something you wanted but didn’t have the money to pay for all at once, and you returned each week to pay more until you had it all paid off. No credit card debt incurred. Imagine that.) The sweater was $60, which was a pretty hefty sum at the time. Nowadays that sweater would retail for probably $20.
My mother could tell you about how clothes were an even bigger investment when she was a young adult in the 50s. She saved up for clothes, and chose them very carefully, ensuring they were classic styles, well-made, and good-quality fabric so they would last a long time.
Anyway, back to that $20 sweater: how is that price possible? How can a whole garment be constructed, shipped, and sold, and all the people involved (designers, seamstresses, factory workers, shipping companies, retail workers, etc.) be paid, and a profit still be made for the parent company? The answers, I think, are obvious.
And now back to Joe Fresh. They did come to the table to meet about the compensation fund, and they did sign on to an international pact to improve conditions for garment workers since the Bangladesh factory collapse. Details of two such pacts, and which companies signed on to them, are outlined here and here. But is this enough? Should a conscientious consumer feel alright about purchasing from such a company? I have to admit, I bought a shirt from Joe Fresh today. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I think it may feel like a dirty shirt even after it’s been laundered.
What about you? Are these issues on your mind when you shop? Can you afford to shop conscientiously? I mean, it costs a lot more for clothes that are sustainably and ethically produced. I’d love to hear your thoughts.