Most of our clothes are made all over the world. Obviously, you might think, however, not so long ago we either made the clothes ourselves or bought them in the local clothes shop. Where we first knew exactly where a certain product came from, it is now a lot less transparent. In most cases it is very difficult to find out who made your product, where and in what conditions. This is a very urgent issue because you could be contributing to, for instance, child exploitation, without even knowing it yourself. In this blog we are going to try to find out what is behind the clothes you buy in the store, by analyzing my randomly picked clothes that I am wearing while writing this blog post.
However, first we start with why organizations make their products at different places in the world and what can be the dangers of global production for developing countries. According to Eric Thun advances in transportation, economic liberalization and improvements in technologies that help modularisation caused global production to increase. Global production helps companies to produce their products in the cheapest way possible, which gives a big competitive advantage. In addition, he writes, that the increasing global production form new opportunities for developing countries, but at the same time it also creates a danger. It creates a risk for the countries that are not able to attract interest for foreign direct investments and for the countries that are able to attract the investment but are not able to maximize profit for the foreign organizations. Moreover, the advantages of globalisation are not fairly distributed in developed countries and without good governance this can create a very negative effect (2011; 345-368).
Now we know why global production happens and what the dangers are, we can start analyzing the clothes I am wearing right now: a jumper from Bershka made in Bangladesh, pants from Abercrombie & Fitch made in Cambodia and shoes from Primark made in Bangladesh. At their websites they all say their clothes come from checked factories with very good conditions. Bershka: “Through its business model, Bershka aims to help the sustainable development of society and the environment with which it interacts.” (2015). Primark: “We take worker welfare seriously” (2015). A&F: “Abercrombie & Fitch is proud of our commitment to international human and labour rights, and to ensuring that our products are only made in safe and responsible facilities” (A&F Cares).
But is this really true? Can they say one thing and do another? In 2014, two people found messages sewn into clothes they bought at Primark that said: “’Degrading’ sweat shop conditions” and “forced to work exhausting hours”(TheGuardian, Rustin). In addition, in Cambodia workers for, among others, A&F have to fight for more wage. Ninety percent of the women working in the clothes industry have to work for less than three dollar a day (Tolson, 2014). In the year 2013, there was a fire where seven people died at the garment factory Smart Fashion in Bangladesh where, among others, clothes of Bershka are made. It is argued that the code of conducts of many garment organisations look good on paper, but are almost never implemented. This leaves garment workers in Bangladesh without legal rights (2013, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights).
It was really difficult to find information about the factories where my clothes were made. No phone numbers, no pictures, no reviews, it is not transparent at all.
To conclude Bershka, A&F and Primark all say they are very responsible and that all their employees work under good labour conditions. However, this is different in reality. I do not think that this is because they are deliberately lying to their consumers. I think it is mostly because – as mentioned before – it is difficult to implement labour agreements in reality. Western morals and values are often very different than the country where the factory is located. I think global production is not a bad thing in itself, however, it would be so much better if the production chain was transparent. Then you do not need to be afraid that you contribute to a society where people that make your clothes are underpaid and work in bad conditions.
How nice would it be if someone asked you: “Where do you have that nice shirt from?” And you can answer: “Oh my friend Qian from China made it, we have regular contact”.
A&F Cares. Site: http://www.anfcares.org/sustainability/social/commitment.jsp [retrieved: 11-12-15]
Bershka (2015) Site: http://www.bershka.com/gb/company.html [retrieved : 11-12-15]
Eric Thun (2011) ‘The Globalisation of Production, in John Ravenhill Global Political Economy (OUP 3rd edition), pp. 345 – 368.
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (2013) ‘ Another Fire in Bangladesh: Seven Women Killed at Smart Fashion, Saturday Jan 26. Site: http://www.globallabourrights.org/alerts/another-fire-in-bangladesh-seven-women-killed-at-smart-fashion-saturday-jan-26 [retrieved: 10-12-15]
Primark (2015). Site: http://www.primark.com/en/our-ethics/questions-and-answers/where-are-primarks-clothes-made [retrieved: 11-12-15]
Rustin, S (2014). The Guardian: ‘This cry for help on a Primark label can’t be ignored’ Site: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/25/primark-label-swansea-textile-industry-rana-plaza [Retrieved: 11-12-15]
Tolson, M (2014). RH Reality Check: ’Made in Cambodia: Garment Workers Fight Gap, H&M and Others for a Minimum Wage.’ Site: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/02/20/made-cambodia-multi-fiber-thread-tears/ [retrieved: 11-12-15]
- Mélanie Kamping