Thursday, October 10, 2013

Continuing my Norma Rae moment... Child Labor

After expressing my Norma Rae moments on the blog, meeting with people who come at the apparel industry from all different directions, further research shows me that our world's garment industry unfair labor tangle is all profoundly more complicated than I thought.

An example of an Indian girl at work

I was inspired to write this today after watching this moving speech by Amy Poehler. While not about child labor specifically, this simple speech is just so PROFOUNDLY true, that it calls us all to action.

Yes, we want garment workers to be paid a fair wage.  And the people who make the accessories, and transport the goods... but what about the people... the CHILDREN who help to pick the cotton and make the textiles?

Clothing should be WILDLY expensive, when you really think about how many hands it takes for something to reach your closet.  My brain is spinning.  Short of picking your own cotton, and creating a completely vertical manufacturing process of your own... which would take FOREVER, by the way... what can we do?  Really, what can we do?

Seriously, what can we do?


  1. If you're going to write about the impact of the garment industry, fabric and fashion consumption, all extremely worthy topics, please don't apologize or trivialize it by calling it a "Norma Rae" moment, just write about it. I hate it when women undermine themselves by expressing an opinion about something important by ending with, "Aw, shucks, I'm going to get off my soapbox now." If some readers feel entitled to live in a fantasy world in which the only thing that matters is their project, that's their problem.

    I have no suggestions; it is a complex global, social, and economic problem. But I'm certainly willing to take a few minutes to inform myself.

  2. I hear you loud and clear, and I also hate it when people apologize for having strong feelings on a topic. As women, we do often do that, don't we? My shy approach has more to do with what I feel is a fairly naive understanding of the subject, and a general feeling of "that's not right", without having the guts to do anything meaningful about it, beyond writing, so far. It feels cowardly to suggest a call to action in which I am not a participant, but I do feel compelled to start a conversation. So, yes, I totally see your point!

  3. Clothing should be profoundly expensive. It would be of better quality. It would provide better incomes to those who make it. We would impact the environment by buying less of it. We would all be sewing much more. Sewing once again would return it's deserved pinnacle of respect. works for me!

    1. Yes. That would be great. That's a world I wanna live in!

  4. We can conserve and buy only what is necessary, whether it's ready-to-wear clothes or fabric. It's important not only from a human rights standpoint, but also an environmental one. Clothes and lots of things that are either undervalued or heavily subsidized (meat, milk, fossil fuels, etc.) should have a retail price that reflects the amount of labor, energy and resources involved to produce them. If a t-shirt cost $100 instead of $10, we would all have fewer t-shirts and we wouldn't need books to tell us what to do with our surplus of t-shirts.

  5. I have to reiterate what Doris said - we can stop shopping at the stores that cater to the the throw-away society, stop being people who replace an entire wardrobe every season, who accept garments that wear out after only a few wearings. We who know and understand what makes quality fabrics, quality clothing construction, and good fit can do everything possible to educate more of the public so they learn to look for these things in their own garment purchases. We have to be the snowballs that grow as they roll along!

  6. Because we can't all grow our own cotton, or even visit the cotton farms ourselves, the next best thing (I reckon) is to buy clothing/fabric that has independent certification to say that it's been fairly traded or grown organically (organic certification includes rules on labour standards, no child labour, etc). It's not perfect but it's definitely better. In the US you do actually have the option of buying homegrown organic cotton products (no cotton farming in the UK, where I am). There's so much choice of organic cotton RTW clothing and fabric to make your own, it is possible now to swear off non-organic cotton pretty much completely without any hardship. I'd love to know if there are any shops in the Garment District selling 'ethical' fabrics.

    And Doris is completely right - we all have to use less and look after what we have. It's the only way to make it work.


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