Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fashion victims

I'm very particular about my purchases. From food to fashion I tend to try and find things that are produced in Britain (with food I try and buy local produce - which is easier than you think) and if not Britain then from the EU or USA.

When it comes to clothes that is getting harder and harder to do as very little of what is sold in British high street retail stores is made in Britain. What is more, the majority of items available at reasonable prices are made in countries where it is likely that their ethical codes of practice won't be as stringent as they are in the UK - India, China, Indonesia, Taiwan and so on - but if you need a shirt it has to be made somewhere.

So I use a simple rule of thumb when it comes to buying goods that are made in a country where manufacturing standards may be a little lax. Basically, if it is too cheap - regardless of how well made it is or the quality of the material - I won't buy it.

Look, it simply is not possible for someone to make a shirt in Indonesia, ship it all the way to England and sell it for £2 unless someone, somewhere is using very very cheap labour - possibly even child or slave labour. I don't care what the retailers say, I don't care what the manufacturers say - it can not be done.

Everyone knows that - whether they think about it or not - you don't have to be a high flying economist or manufacturing expert to work out that a shirt costing £2 in a shop must have a very dodgy background. That £2 includes the profit the shop is making and, for all the pile it high, sell it cheap philosophy, that profit must involve a few bob at least. It's not hard to work out.

But that is a personal choice. For me, it matters - but for many it doesn't. I don't care much whether people who buy these £2 shirts worry about the ethical background behind that shirt or not - for many I suspect that is a luxury they can not afford - but I do hate these companies who try to convince us that they didn't know.

They know that there is the material cost, the manufacturing cost (power, machinery, etc.) the manufacturer profit (yep, even the manufacturer makes a profit on that shirt), the transport cost and so on. And of course there is the cost of labour. These retailers know what that is - they know it is, at best a pittance, so they must know that it is exploitative.

Who are they trying to fool?


Anonymous said...

Better not to employ them at all then?
Let the upstarts starve?

Those 'pittance' wages are usually very much the going rate in those countries

Economies don't start with minimum wage, dress down Fridays and diversity training you know.

Its a good job countries traded with us during the Industrial Revolution

Look at South Korea for a more recent example

Stan said...

Like I said in the post, anon - for me it matters if the clothes I wear were made by 9 year old kids working 16 hour shifts for pin money, but for many it doesn't. I'm fine with that, but what I can't stand is people who pretend they DO care and that they didn't know.

I have to say that I found it rather amusing that, after the Panorama programme was aired, Primark said they'd cancelled the contracts with those companies and the bleeding heart liberals jumped up and down moaning about all those poor kids now being unemployed by the heartless, imperialist, western corporations!

Seems you can't win with some people.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. Point taken.
But although I don't like the idea of child labour either, unless a better way than global trading is found then it is the best way to improve the chances that their kids won't be doing the same.

Stan said...

I don't disagree with you. I'm no fan of globalisation myself and prefer localisation. As a result - and as I'm reasonably comfortably off - I can afford and I'm prepared to pay a premium for goods and food produced as locally as possible, but that's not a luxury everyone can afford. However - that said - I believe if everyone who can afford to buy local was do to so then locally produced goods would be much better value and more competitive enabling people who previously could not be so choosy about how they shop to be more selective in their purchases.

As for other nations and how they treat their workers - well, that's entirely up to them. None of my business really. If they have laws that prohibit children working then they should enforce them. If they don't they should enact them - but that's down to them.