Sunday, 20 June 2010

What are you wearing?

This week Andy (my long-suffering boyfriend) and I had a rather posh "do" to go to, and this meant new outfits that didn't involve jeans or ketchup stains had to be purchased. After umm-ing and ahh-ing over hundreds of similar pairs of trousers, the chosen brown almost-cords arrived in their shiny Burton's Ziploc bag.

The most interesting thing about these frankly nondescript trousers was a note Andy found in the back pocket - a gate pass to Khurrianwala, [map] a semi-residential industrial estate in Pakistan, where the trousers had evidently been made, or at least, assembled.

I've spent some time since finding the note thinking about the person who might have put it there and why they did. Surely we've come a long way since sweatshops? I like to think they put it there for the same reason I would have done, to think about who might find it and when, and where they'd be when they did look at it and go "What on earth is that word?". Unfortunately while this might be true, the person on the other end of the purchase line probably wasn't the well-dressed, happy machinery operative that I'd imagined.

Arcadia Group, the company behind Burtons and also Evans, Dorothy Perkins, Topshop, Topman, Wallis and Miss Selfridge, pretty much have the whole of the UK's high street running to their orders. If Topshop has a best-selling print t-shirt, you can bet your summer diet that there'll be a very similar piece of apparel for sale in New Look, Primark and River Island within a month. Topshop et al got caught out for utilising sweatshops and enforced labour to their benefit back in 2007, a trend that was found to be big in downtown fashionland.

Enforced labour. I don't know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like a PC way of saying "slavery". Since 2007, Arcadia and many other clothes shops have "looked into" where their fabrics and clothes come from, but according to the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Fame Ikea and Walmart are still using people like mini factories, and although previous offenders Nike and Gap aren't mentioned, American Apparel are outed as procuring their cotton from Uzbekistan from farms with reputations for using child labour extensively. [since I began this post a particularly incriminating article I wanted to use has this will have to do. It outlines the farms in question but does not mention AA. My apologies.] American Apparel, the company who pride themselves on not only selling the world's most boring clothes, but also on their strict "no sweatshops" policy. Freedom by association is a wonderful thing.

It would appear you have to dig further than you'd think to find out where your clothes come from. I'm not preaching - I have more than one pair of Primark shoes in my wardrobe. All I'd like you to do is think about what you have on right now and think - who exactly put all this together for me? It'd be nice to think that companies in the 21st century are responsible enough to look after their employees, but we've really not come further than 8 year old Victorian chimney sweeps. How about that? Organic Cotton t-shirts don't seem so righteous now, do they?


chris said...

This has nothing to do with the article, but rather with an odd coincidence. I was just reading the article in the guardian today about graham linehan, when I spotted a familiar looking cake in the comments section. So I clicked it, and sure enough, it's the girl who make the oreo cheesecake with gross blue frosting on xthemusics channel.

That's the end of my story, hope you liked it.

Katie said...

What do you mean "gross"? It was lovely!

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