Monday, May 26, 2008

Where Do You Buy Your Clothes?

And where are they made?

There's a documentary on tv this weekend exposing the sweatshop conditions people allegedly work under to produce the dirt-cheap clothes that I--among many--have been buying for so long from Primark.

There I am, congratulating myself that I'm not playing the capitalist game because I refuse to spend half of my wages to buy a pair of shoes or a new shirt, and Indian workers are being paid starvation wages by unprincipled bosses to buy me the privilege of non-participation. Who am I helping every time I go into Primark, or similar budget-priced clothes shops? The world? or me?

I think the answer is obvious.

The despairists among us will say--and they have done--that if we didn't buy the clothes the poor Indians wouldn't even get starvation wages. So in a sense we're doing them a kindness by creating work for them.

But what would their monstrous bosses do if we took away their business by refusing to buy clothes that a company couldn't demonstrate had been morally sourced?

I don't have any glib answers to these questions. I've been looking for one ever since a friend first suggested to me that my presumptions about clothes-buying were ludicrously naive (he was right). Maybe, in fact, there are no easy answers and moral action just comes from asking the right questions.

There will be more on this to come.

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