10 Labor Rights Books That Will Make You Think Differently About Where Your Clothes Come From

Want to follow the story of a basic wardrobe staple like the t-shirt across the globe or take a closer look at examining the lives of the people who make your clothes? We’ve got the resources below and then some.

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We recently posted 5 Textile Protest Songs to Get You Ready For Labor Day Weekend, and sticking to the theme of labor rights, we’ve gathered up 10 labor rights books guaranteed to get you thinking about where your clothes come from.

We just hope you hit your favorite local bookstore or library and check a few of these out!

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1. Threads: Gender, Labor, and Power in the Global Apparel Industry

“Americans have been shocked by media reports of the dismal working conditions in factories that make clothing for U.S. companies. But while well intentioned, many of these reports about child labor and sweatshop practices rely on stereotypes of how Third World factories operate, ignoring the complex economic dynamics driving the global apparel industry.

To dispel these misunderstandings, Jane L. Collins visited two very different apparel firms and their factories in the United States and Mexico. Moving from corporate headquarters to factory floors, her study traces the diverse ties that link First and Third World workers and managers, producers and consumers. Collins examines how the transnational economics of the apparel industry allow firms to relocate or subcontract their work anywhere in the world, making it much harder for garment workers in the United States or any other country to demand fair pay and humane working conditions.” –Amazon

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2. Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade

“Rachel Louise Snyder reports from the far reaches of the multi-billion-dollar denim industry in search of the people who make your clothes. From a cotton picker in Azerbaijan to a Cambodian seamstress, a denim maker in Italy to a fashion designer in New York, Snyder captures the human, environmental, and political forces at work in a complex and often absurd world. Neither polemic nor prescription, Fugitive Denim captures what it means to work in the twenty-first century.” –Amazon

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3. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is a critically-acclaimed narrative that illuminates the globalization debates and reveals the key factors to success in global business. Tracing a T-shirt’s life story from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory and back to a U.S. storefront before arriving at the used clothing market in Africa, the book uncovers the political and economic forces at work in the global economy. Along the way, this fascinating exploration addresses a wealth of compelling questions about politics, trade, economics, ethics, and the impact of history on today’s business landscape. This new printing of the second edition includes a revised preface and a new epilogue with updates through 2014 on the people, industries, and policies related to the T-shirt’s life story.” –Amazon

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4. Making Sweatshops: The Globalization of the U.S. Apparel Industry

“The only comprehensive historical analysis of the globalization of the U.S. apparel industry, this book focuses on the reemergence of sweatshops in the United States and the growth of new ones abroad. Ellen Israel Rosen, who has spent more than a decade investigating the problems of America’s domestic apparel workers, now probes the shifts in trade policy and global economics that have spawned momentous changes in the international apparel and textile trade. Making Sweatshops asks whether the process of globalization can be promoted in ways that blend industrialization and economic development in both poor and rich countries with concerns for social and economic justice—especially for the women who toil in the industry’s low-wage sites around the world.” –Amazon

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5. Slaves to Fashion: Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops

“Robert J. S. Ross’s Slaves to Fashion exposes the dark side of the apparel industry and its exploited workers at home and abroad. It’s both a lesson in American business history and a warning about one of the most important issues facing the global capital economy-the reappearance of the sweatshop.

Vividly detailing the decline and tragic rebirth of sweatshop conditions in the American apparel industry of the twentieth century, Ross explains the new sweatshops as a product of unregulated global capitalism and associated deregulation, union erosion, and exploitation of undocumented workers. Using historical material and economic and social data, the author shows that after a brief thirty-five years of fair practices, the U.S. apparel business has once again sunk to shameful abuse and exploitation.” –Amazon

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6. The Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Garment Workers in London and Dhaka

“In this path-breaking study, social economist Naila Kabeer examines the lives of Bangladeshi garment workers in Bangladesh and Britain to shed light on the question of what constitutes “fair” competition in international trade. She argues that if the unhealthy coalition of multinationals and labor movements is truly seeking to improve the working conditions for women and children in the “Third World,” as well as those of western workers, their efforts should be directed away from an attempt to impose labor standards and towards a support for the organization of labor rights. Any attempt to devise acceptable labor standards at an international level which takes no account of the forces of inclusion and exclusion with local labor movements is, she further argues, likely to represent the interests of the powerful at the expense of those of the weak.” –Amazon 

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7. Advocacy Across Borders: NGOs, Anti-Sweatshop Activism and the Global Garment Industry

“The clothing and textile industry employs nearly 30 million people worldwide, mostly in Asia and Central America. Workers frequently face long hours, inadequate wages, harassment and abuse. While some resist such conditions by joining labor unions, many are prevented from doing so or find it difficult to adjust to transitory manufacturers. Because of these challenges, garment workers have reached out to allies across political borders in order to apply more pressure on garment manufacturers.

The transnational anti-sweatshop network is at a critical stage in its development and is due for serious analysis. Advocacy Across Borders reveals the relationships that Northern-based NGOs forge in order to exert influence on powerful actors in the industry. An exhaustive dissection of the strategies of many organizations involved in this extensive network, Garwood’s study points the way forward for civil society actors reaching across borders to advocate for a better world.” –Amazon

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8. Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes

“When journalist and traveler Kelsey Timmerman wanted to know where his clothes came from and who made them, he began a journey that would take him from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China and back again. Where Am I Wearing? intimately describes the connection between impoverished garment workers’ standards of living and the all-American material lifestyle. By introducing readers to the human element of globalization—the factory workers, their names, their families, and their way of life—Where Am I Wearing bridges the gap between global producers and consumers.” –Amazon

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9. No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade and the Rights of Garment Workers

“Are you aware that the T-shirt or running shoes you’re wearing may have been produced by a 13-year-old children working 14-hour days for 30 cents an hour? The clothing sweatshop, as a recent string of media exposés has revealed, is back in business. Don’t be fooled by a label which says the item was made in the USA or Europe. It could have been sewed on in Haiti or Indonesia—or in a domestic workshop, where conditions rival those in the third world. The label might tell you how to treat the garment but it says nothing about how the worker who made it was treated.” –Amazon

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10. Behind the Label : Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry

“In a study crucial to our understanding of American social inequality, Edna Bonacich and Richard Appelbaum investigate the return of sweatshops to the apparel industry, especially in Los Angeles. The “new” sweatshops, they say, need to be understood in terms of the decline in the American welfare state and its strong unions and the rise in global and flexible production. Apparel manufacturers now have the incentive to move production to wherever low-wage labor can be found, while maintaining arm’s-length contractual relations that protect them from responsibility. The flight of the industry has led to a huge rise in apparel imports to the United States and to a decline in employment.” –Amazon

Lead image: Pixabay