Do you know where your clothing came from?
18 years ago, our first real contemporary taste of where our clothing comes came when Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (formerly the National Labor Committee), made Kathie Lee Gifford cry on national television, revealing that her Wal-Mart-sold clothing line was produced by Honduran children working 20-hour shifts.
As uncomfortable as it was, the moment illuminated how labor conditions in the developing world, and in Gifford’s case, the garment industry, was way out of whack. Kernaghan told Salon in a 2013 article titled “Sweatshop Still Make Your Clothes,” that most developing countries apparel production facilities are not even embarrassed when you bring unfair labor conditions up.
“We’ve got an international system that is never going to work until there are internationally recognized workers rights standards that become law. What are we going to do with Bangladesh, for example, when the government is dysfunctional. How can you have ethical trading with a country that has no rules?” Kernaghan tells Salon.
So what are we to do with “Made in” claims and considering some better than others? We took a look at 10 different countries and found some startling facts that might just surprise you into rethinking about where your clothing comes from.
Made in the UK
UK garment facilities take on sweatshop status
Ecotextile News reports that “The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has branded as “truly shocking” the findings of the recent report into labor compliance violations in the UK’s Leicester garment manufacturing industry where evidence was uncovered of widespread payments below the national minimum wage, an absence of employment contracts, breaches in health and safety practices and poor enforcement of regulation and labour standards.”
The Guardian also reports that 11,700 employees were accounted for in the sector in 2010. From this workforce 75-90% were being paid £3 per hour. This is less than half of the legal minimum wage of £6.50 and far below the UK living wage of £7.85 per hour.
Cut to the chase, your Made in the UK label just might be representing a sweatshop filled with foreign workers, not the fine Savile Row crafting you were hoping for.
Made in the U.S.A.
Maybe made in the U.S.A. but probably not as much as you think…
Although the Buy American Act, which has been around since the Great Depression, favors U.S.-made construction goods bought by various government agencies, many companies like to bend what that means.
The Wall Street Journal reports that under this law, “goods qualify if just over half of the cost represents U.S.-made components or materials. That almost certainly wouldn’t pass muster with the Federal Trade Commission—which requires products to be “all or virtually all” made domestically in order to carry the coveted “Made in USA” label in American stores.”
While there seems to be a growing trend for calling something “Made in USA” crafty companies are finding loopholes for the wording on their labels such as “Made in the USA from U.S. and imported parts.”
Made in Italy
Or was it made in China?
While the BBC reports that the long thread of history connecting Prato with textiles stretches back to the 12th Century, when garment manufacturing was regulated by the wool merchants’ guild, they also report that “Chinese newcomers have opened up the market in mainland China in a way Italians never could. They are exporting millions of low-cost garments bearing the Made in Italy tag in a seemingly unregulated export drive. They have also notched up increased demand in Europe through cost-cutting.”
The Prato industrial zone now accounts for more than 30% of Italy’s textile imports from China, “At the moment there are approximately 4,000 Chinese-run clothing factories in Prato,” writes the BBC.
Beware of the “Made in Italy” label with a false Italian name attached to the brand and do your homework if you really care about “Made in Italy.”
Made in China
As developing countries open the floodgates for fast fashion, China appears the good guy.
While most people associate a Made in China label with a product being super-cheap, China is actually among several economies whose manufacturing price advantage over the U.S. is eroding.
CNBC reports that Boston Consulting’s global manufacturing cost-competitive index showed it’s only 4 percent more expensive to manufacture in America versus China. “China’s reading used to be lower in the 80s, which means the cost of making goods in the U.S. compared to China has since narrowed,” reports CNBC.
Contribute this to Chinese wages growing nearly five fold, the rise of industrial electricity by about 66 percent and a long hard look at the environmental impact that making in China has created. Check out this first draft of the National Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law.
Maybe it’s not Made in China we have to be so fearful of anymore but of other countries making cheap and treating human beings the same?
Made in Bangladesh
Where even post-Rana Plaza, workers get paid 12 cents a shirt.
When many people hear Bangladesh, images of the now 2-year old garment factory collapse at Rana Plaza that killed over 1300 people might come to mind. While awareness is high in Bangladesh when it comes to higher wages, fire safety and worker’s rights, the battle is on.
Consider this: according to Ecouterre, “a 2011 report by O’Rourke Group Partners, a consulting firm based in New York, showed that a generic $14 polo shirt sold in Canada and manufactured in Bangladesh costs a retailer only $5.67. To achieve such low numbers, workers receive 12 cents per shirt—or just 2 percent of the wholesale cost. It’s this glaring inequity that accounts for Bangladesh’s booming garment industry, which is second only to China’s in terms of exports.”
To see an infographic of the t-shirt breakdown, go to Macleans.
Made in Vietnam
Do you know where your college sweatshirt came from?
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor added garments from Vietnam to its official list of products made with forced and child labor, making Vietnam one of only seven countries in the world whose apparel received this designation. To add insult to injury with proof that children are making clothing in Vietnam and given the difficult labor rights environment in the country, the increased importance as a manufacturing location for collegiate apparel is soaring.
Thanks to groups like the United Students Against Sweatshops, and the demand for universities to “tell brands to disclose the locations of the factories producing collegiate apparel,” the group has pushed universities to adopt labor codes of conduct that set minimum standards for collegiate apparel production, compelled their schools to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium and most recently, campaigned for their universities to adopt a comprehensive sweat-free solution, called the Designated Suppliers Program.
According to Apparel Magazine, By 2025, the Vietnam Textile and Garment Industry is expected to produce $35 billion worth of apparel exports, double the current production.
Made in Cambodia
Recruited sex slaves make for good garment workers?
Cambodia was thrown in the spotlight this year with “Sweatshop,” a Norwegian reality show, that sent three fashion-savvy young people to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to live the lives of the city’s textile factory workers.
But the series only showed a piece of the problem in Cambodia. Of the 1/2 million Cambodian workers churning out clothing for fast fashion. According to Vice, while Cambodia’s current anti sex trafficking campaign is designed to rescue and rehabilitate sex workers, “many women say authorities there are actually forcing them into a trade where conditions and pay are even worse: making clothing for Western brands.”
Made in Myanmar
Land Grabbing=disaster for people and planet
As sanctions on Myanmar are eased and trade opens, garment manufacturing has attracted attention from Western companies, with brands like H&M and the Gap looking to source in the country.
Most U.S. trade embargoes were eased in 2012, and in 2013 the U.S. Trade Representative signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, setting out guidelines for dialogue on reform and development. International groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign still question whether workers’ rights will receive due attention as orders from the West increase.
The Clean Clothes Campaign writes “The lifting of sanctions will do nothing to stop the gold rush into Burma of companies eager to tap a poorly organized and low paid workforce. Add to this the complex ethnic and religious tensions alongside continued reports of land grabbing on a massive scale – including for development projects – and you have a recipe of disaster.”
Made in Romania
Sexually harassed women sign contracts with garment factories that they won’t get pregnant.
According to EurActiv, companies such as H&M, Zara, Hugo Boss, Adidas and Benetton pay their workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey the minimum legal wage, which is under the poverty threshold as defined by the European committee of social rights.
On top of being often sexually harassed by their employers, a group of Turkish workers admitted having “signed a clause to not get pregnant in the next five years” in their contract with Hugo Boss.
EurActiv writes, “One of the interviewed workers stated that a colleague of hers decided to get an abortion because she feared losing her job due to the “violation” of this contract,” the study reads.
Made in India
Do you know where your leather came from?
Peta reports that India’s leather industry is rife with over-the-top animal injustices. Animal protection laws are blatantly ignored, unsanitary slaughterhouses continue to pollute the environment; unlicensed, illegal slaughterhouses remain in operation; and the widespread abuse of animals persists.
In direct violation of the Constitution of India, cows (whom many Indians consider sacred) are marched and driven to slaughter for days without food or water. Those who collapse from exhaustion while walking have their eyes smeared with chili peppers and tobacco and their tails broken in an effort to keep them moving.