On April 24th 2013, a sweatshop building collapsed in Bangladesh and killed 1,127 people. This happened in a chaotic industrial center that is littered with factories that make the clothing lines for leading Western brands like J.C. Penny, Gap, Walmart and Disney just to name a few. The workers in this region commonly make as little as $40 a month prompting Pope Francis to comment that: “this is called slave labor.” And it is just that: SLAVE LABOR! Many of the large Western apparel companies are guilty of producing their products in extremely immoral ways, the information is in plain sight and still we the people do nothing about it. With 3.6 million garment workers and over $18 billion in apparel exports last year, it’s hard to imagine that these cost cutting labor wages will stop attracting Western companies to Bangladesh. But, this fire did ruffle the feathers of the large corporations. Officials from Disney, Gap, Walmart and many others met immediately in Frankfurt Germany to devise a plan to pull the wool over your eyes and assure you and everyone else that safety will be realized in over 4,000 sweatshop factories in the area. However, none of these officials addressed fair wages, reasonable work hours, or any plan to eliminate these “slave labor” working conditions for employees, most of which are women and children.
Sadly, this is not the first time in recent history that hundreds of sweatshop laborers died as a result of severely poor working conditions. In fact, just 6 months ago, a sweatshop fire killed 112 people in Bangladesh, partly because supervisors ordered workers back to their stations as alarms rang and smoke filled the building. In Pakistan last September, a fire killed 262 workers. In 1993, the Kader toy factory fire in Bangkok killed 188 people; most of the victims were women and teenage girls. How can we put a stop to this when the overwhelming majority of our clothing is made in countries where there is rampant sweatshop slave labor? With so many deaths and so much suffering, why do we continue to support such a system quietly? We turn a blind eye to all of these horrific findings to save a few dollars when we shop. 1,127 people, most of them women, died to make children’s apparel items for Disney and yet no one in this country is protesting or developing a boycott. Billions of shoppers still line the alleys at Walmart and J.C. Penny to gobble up all the cheap clothing made in slave labor sweatshops. Why? Because it’s easier to remain ignorant and complacent, and more importantly: IT SAVES US MONEY! However, the consumer alone can’t be blamed. The media and the corporations themselves also do a great job of “spinning” the facts. There was very little coverage about the issue with sweatshops, the subsistence pay, the 100-hour workweeks; the fact that women and children are the main source of labor. NO, instead the media focused on the safety issues of the “factory” and the corporations went right along by assuring safety in the other thousands of “factories” that exist in these developing nations. The fact is that these aren’t “factories,” they are SLAVE CAMPS! Most citizens in this country would like to believe that they would fight against slavery during the time of the Civil War. Well there is no war, there is rampant slavery, and those slaves make the overwhelming majority of the clothing and shoes worn by Americans. We are supporting slavery without giving it much thought. There is blood on our hands, there is blood on the Mickey Mouse dolls and the cheap J.C. Penny dresses, there is blood smeared on the faces of the smiling Gap families in the advertisements. Whether you choose to see it or not it’s still there, and you’re probably wearing it too.
WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Vote with your dollar, stop-supporting sweatshop slavery with your money and it will disappear. Spend a little extra and buy clothes made in America or buy clothes that are fair trade certified. It’s time to ask yourself: “Would I pay that extra dollar to free an innocent person from slavery?” If consumers support fair trade with their dollar, the corporations will be forced to give it to them and people like those in Bangladesh will be safe, happy, and paid a fair wage for their honest hard work. I know that if it was our lives at risk we would be outraged if no one could fork over a measly dollar to help bring about change. Imagine yourself as a young child being promised a better life for your family and getting tricked into working an insane amount of hours in an unsafe sweatshop just to feed yourself. Stop looking the other way and choose to make a difference, the time for change has long been overdue, and the way to make this change happen is way too easy to ignore.
Images: top photo- www.guardian.co.uk
Bottom- Associated Press