What to Wear? The Greater Impact of Purchasing Clothing
Less than a month ago on April 24th, the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed in Savar, near the capital city of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The building was a garment factory where workers were making clothing for American and European consumers. Tragically, 1127 workers were killed in the collapse of the building. According to Catholic News Agency, this incident was the latest in a series of Bangladeshi work-related factory a fire in November killed 112, and on May 9th a fire killed 8 people.
According to an article tragedies: published by the Globe and Mail on Sunday April 28th titled, "Loblaw, Other Retailers Grappling with Fallout from Bangladesh Building Collapse", Canadian clothing retailer Joe Fresh had publicly acknowledged purchasing clothes from the Rana Plaza factory. ABC World News on May 15th also reported that Walmart would be terminating its contract with a Canadian-based blue jeans supplier that last year ordered jeans from the same factory.
As I heard this on the news, I thought about the Joe Fresh clothes that I had purchased recently at Superstore. I immediately went through my closet, trying to see if any of these clothes were made in Bangladesh. My heart sank as I realized that a white sweater that I had just purchased at Easter time was made there. I was also shocked to learn that the minimum wage of factory workers in Bangladesh is only $38 a month. My immediate thought was "How is it humanly possible for these workers to survive on such a low wage and how do multinational companies get away with such unfair business practices?" Like many people who purchase clothing at Superstore because we can find nice clothing for a great price, we often make such decisions without a second thought. Now I asked myself, "At what human cost?" I felt a deep sense of guilt and wanted to know more about the greater impact of my clothing purchases.
Photo used with permission of Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights. People attempt to rescue workers from collapsed building in Bangladesh.
God works in mysterious ways and interestingly, I recently came across a book called Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson (Please see details about the book in the Library News Section of the upcoming June Carillon). Chapter five in Ms. Clawson's book is titled, "The Story Behind What We Wear." In this chapter, she writes about the social impact of buying cheap clothing: "The garment industry employs some thirty to forty million people worldwide, and leaves its impact on their communities, environments, families and health (pages 122-123). She states there are two important questions that we need to ask ourselves as consumers when attempting to make ethical purchasing decisions about clothing:
- What chemicals were unloaded into the environment in order to grow the fibers or to dye the colors of the clothing?
- Who physically made the clothing and were they paid a just wage and treated fairly?
Ms. Clawson indicates that farmers often use more chemicals in hopes of increased cotton production, which translates into more money (pg. 123). The pressure for high yields forces farmers to ignore the environmental, chemical and health impacts of using pesticides. Also, the clothing innovations that we are used to like wrinkle-free, flame retardant and UV blocking require chemical application. Many of these chemicals are toxic and carcinogens. Further, in the developing world the standards that we have here do not exist. During the dyeing and laundering process, many of these chemicals stay in the clothing or go into wastewater, which if not treated, goes into the ecosystem (many times the case in developing countries). The workers are the ones who face the consequences of the use of chemicals the most; cancer rates, infertility, and other dysfunctions are on the rise among textile workers in the clothing industry (pg. 126). They often do not receive any health benefits or coverage to compensate for their health problems.
Photo used with permission of Worker Rights Consortium. Clothing found in the collapsed factory.
Many people blame the tragedy in Bangladesh on the competition that has been growing between the Bangladeshi clothing companies, which has lead to unsafe working conditions and profit to be the sole objective. According to Clawson, reports in 2006 came out that "some two hundred to three hundred children were found making garments for major U.S. clothing companies, like Wal-Mart, Hanes and JCPenney, at a factory in Bangladesh. These children were usually forced to work fourteen-hour shifts and sometimes twenty-hour, all-night shifts for around six cents an hour (rarely receiving pay for overtime hours)." Supervisors even beat them at times, restricted their bathroom breaks, and they had no access to clean water. The strict quotas enforced by factory owners to make profits and the need for children to work to help their families brought on the existence of poor working conditions. Those who work in such conditions in Bangladesh are also women because they are desperate for any job that will bring in money for their families.
Many clothing retailers like Joe Fresh and Walmart that have outsourced to textile factories have codes of conduct or "corporate social responsibility" contracts for the factories they use. However, Clawson indicates that clothing companies are often far removed from the factory and do not carry out regular inspections, so factory owners trying to make as much money as possible, subvert the guidelines because they know they will not be held accountable (pg. 127-128). When problems arise with a clothing factory, the clothing retailer denies having done anything wrong and cuts ties instead of making efforts to work with the clothing manufacturer to improve working conditions. The workers then lose their jobs and the company goes elsewhere to try and find financially favourable conditions.
Who is responsible for work-related tragedies such as the one in Bangladesh? Catholic Social Teaching has much to say about the rights of workers, obligations that multinational companies have in regards to working conditions in developing countries, and the responsibilities of consumers and all of society:
Catholic Social Teaching (CST)
- The primary basis for the value and dignity of human work is the person himself. In the first place "work is for man" and not "man for work". The worker is not a mere instrument of production or a simple labour force. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 271-272, www.vatican.va)
- A just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and checking that it is functioning justly. Just wage for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future. (Laborem Exercens, par. 19, Pope John Paul II, 1981)
- Workers have the right to a safe working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers' physical health or to their moral integrity. They also have the right to a pension and insurance in case of work-related accidents (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 301)
- The profits of the firm that derive directly from selling its products are subordinate to the well-being of the workers who make those products. (par. 277)
- Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State. (Caritas in Veritate, par.93)
- Justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. (Caritas in Veritate par.37).
- There is increasing need for greater social responsibility on the part of business. Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. (par. 40)
- Economic activity cannot solve all social problems. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community must also take responsibility through pursuing justice through redistribution (par. 36)
- What must be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for long-term sustainability and its benefit to the advancement of countries in need of development.
CST indicates that justice must be applied to every phase of the global economic system: consumers need to make more ethical choices in the type of clothing they buy; multinational clothing companies that outsource to developing countries must practice ethical business practices by having regular inspections of where their products are produced, ensure their clothing manufacturers respect the rights of workers, pay just wages and provide safe working conditions, and that they strive to build long-term development in the developing country; clothing manufacturers must adhere to labour codes and guidelines that ensure the safety of their workers, implement dignified working conditions, and pay just wages that provide a family living wage; the state and legislative bodies must allow for the formation of unions, enact high standards for labour codes and carry out redistributive practices that benefit the common good and not just the privileged few.
This learning experience has truly had a profound impact on me and my hope is that by educating others about the global human cost that is associated with our daily purchasing decisions, we can start to work towards an 'everyday justice' mentality. For further information about how the global economy impacts the labour force, please visit the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights at www.nlcnet.org
The Diocesan Centennial Committee and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society are organizing a mass to celebrate Refugee Sponsorship within the parishes on Thursday, June 20th at 5pm with a Reception to follow at St. Mary's Cathedral (219 – 18 Ave. S.W.).
Please click here to view the poster for the event.
Acadia Place Spring Clean Up
Acadia Place Spring Clean-Up - Parish volunteers are needed to assist with the Spring Clean-Up on Saturday, June 8th at Acadia Place. Acadia Place is an affordable housing complex where families at risk of homelessness are housed. It is an opportunity for parishioners and families to work together to build a stronger community and for us to be neighbor to our brothers and sisters in need.
Acadia Place Community Garden Fundraiser
The Diocesan Housing Committee would like to invite EVERYONE to come out and support the Acadia Place Community Garden fundraiser by helping show your Community Spirit at the Saturday, June 8th "Show Your Colors" National Spruce Meadows competition.
Thank you for your support! We look forward to seeing you there!
Salt and Light A New Leaf
In summer 2012, a food crisis struck West Africa in a region called the Sahel. Particularly hard-hit was Niger, a country already languishing near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index.
Salt + Light Television's Kris Dmytrenko travelled to Niger to learn about the crisis. Dmytrenko witnessed the efforts of Caritas Niger, a Catholic development organization endorsed by the local bishops. Their projects were supported by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
To watch a short Youtube Video of the documentary:
Featured article on Salt and Light website about A New Leaf documentary: http://saltandlighttv.org/anewleaf/
- Salt and Light
- Building a New Culture: Recent Church Teaching on the Environment
- Clothing Give Away
- Way of the Cross 2013
- 2013 Development and Peace Benefit Gala
- Acadia Place Volunteer Orientation
- The Holy Father's 2013 World Day of Migrants and Refugees Message
- Human Dignity Feb 8
- Syrian Crisis Relief Effort
- Ending Homelessness
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