Saturday, September 5, 2009

Globalizaton and Clothes - Slave Labor Practices

Take Part in the Second "No Chains" Design Contest! 
 Deadline November 11, 2010

I haverewritten and reposted this essay in a later post  Click Here

The meeting with Juan Nieto went very well. He was hesitant about allowing my classmates and I to enter the factory and do our observations for Ergonomics class. But Vitnik is a company that is constantly supporting local charities and educational facilities and he kindly allowed us to use his factory for our project. The facilities are just beautiful! Huge spaces, high ceilings, modern equipment, plenty of natural light as well as artificial light so that the laborers can see what they are doing. Emergency medical services for all employees. In short, the city regulators would be hard pressed to find something inhumane or unsafe about the factory. When you think that in many clothing factories people are literally forced into slave labor it was quite a refreshing sight to visit Vitnik.
Unfortunately even buying from the big name brands is no guarantee you are not supporting slave labor. Here in Argentina a very common occurence is for the Bolivians and Peruvians to come to work. Independent sewing houses (who contract work from the big name brands) actually travel to those countries to recruit desperately poor people, promising them work in Argentina, for a "fee". Since obviously they don´t have the money for the "fee" they are told that they can work and pay the fee off in installments. When they get here (they are uneducated people who are not aware of their rights) they are literally forced into slave labor. Paid nothing, not allowed to leave the factory until the "fee" is payed off. Sleep, eat and work next to their sewing machines. No medical care in spite of extreme repetitive stress injuries. A few years ago a fire broke out in one of these slave factories, a family of six died, four of whom were minor-aged children.  It is common for single poor mothers, lured by the false promises of a better life , to be indebted not only with their own "fee" but that of the children.
This is the other extreme to Vitnik obviously and then there are different factories at different levels within the spectrum. The big name brands have had an "easy out" from responsibility, claiming that they "didn´t know" what their contractors were doing. But that is changing now that certain laws are holding them responsible for whom they contract their work to.
We as consumers also have a big role in this. We want lots of nice clothes at cheap prices. A responsible designer will consider the "human" factor when deciding to mass produce. A responsible consumer will learn to live with a little less and why not learn to make your own clothes?
Anyway, I don´t want to bore you with a long blog, be sure to do a search on google or some other search engines. Here is an interesting article Globalization and Clothes which touches upon the lesser known side of the fashion industry.
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