Why What We Wear Matters

Views 108 | Time to read: 4 minutes | Uploaded: 11 - 25 - 2014 | By: Samuel Muthiah


The world is experiencing an epidemic of slave and sweatshop labor. Many of our clothes, among other items, are being produced by people who are paid next to nothing. As consumers, we need to begin paying closer attention to where our clothing is made and begin questioning buying habits that contribute to this ongoing epidemic.

Currently, there are between 21 million and 36 million slaves in the world, according to Free the Slaves. To put those numbers in perspective, that is around two to three times as many slaves than the number of slaves shipped to the New World during the Atlantic slave trade.

There are also countless more workers who, while not technically slaves, are paid grossly unfair wages, often less than a dollar a day.

Workers also face dangerous working conditions. Dozens of people died in Bangladesh in 2013 when the Rana Plaza collapsed, according to a report by the New York Times. The lack of structural integrity of the building was known prior to the collapse, but the problem was not fixed.

Another tragedy occured in 2012 in Dhaka when a fire broke out in a factory. Over 100 people died in the fire due to “gross negligence” according to another New York Times report. The workers were ordered to continue working even after the fire broke out. Many of the exits were blocked as well.

Both of these factories supplied clothes for several clothing companies, including Walmart. Reports suggest that demands from companies for low prices prevented necessary safety measures from being enacted.

As consumers, we have a lot of power in how we spend our money. It is ethically irresponsible to ignore where our clothing comes from and to continue to support organizations that use sweatshops and show disregard for the safety of their workers. We need to seek clothing from companies that treat workers humanely.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find clothes made ethically. Walk into almost any clothing store, and chances are that most of the clothes are made in South Asia or Central America. While clothes made in these locations are not guaranteed to be made in sweatshops, it is virtually impossible to ascertain that they are not.

Even items made in the U.S. may come from sweatshops. If the idea of a sweatshop in the U.S. seems unbelievable, try going to downtown Los Angeles. The upper stories of some of the buildings in the clothing district house (illegal) sweatshops. Friends of mine have actually walked into rooms of women sewing together clothes in these rooms.
Luckily there is another option for buying clothing: fair trade. Fair trade is based on the simple principle that people should be paid fairly for their work. Buying fair trade creates opportunities for people to rise out of abject poverty by receiving the wages that actually deserve for their work.

It is vital that we look past just the monetary costs of our clothing and pay attention to human costs as well. We need to consider fair trade options when shopping. Fair Trade U.S.A. and Equal Exchange are great resources for discovering places to buy fair trade products.

Westmont itself also has opportunities to become involved with fair trade. The Not For Sale club will be holding A Fair Christmas, a fair trade sale, this Dec. 9. The sale will be offering products from several different companies in an effort to encourage people to consider fair trade presents this Christmas.

We have an ethical responsibility to consider such purchases. We need to consider the lives of our fellow men and women before we consider our wallets. Fair trade is not so much charity as recognizing the basic human rights of workers. As we shop this Christmas we need to stop supporting the system of oppression and injustice that has become the norm. Instead we need to begin supporting a system that helps our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to thrive.


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