Check the tag of the clothes you're wearing, either now or sometime after you read this article. There is always small printed text that informs the customer where that item of clothing was made. More often than not, the name of some far away country completely unrelated to our daily lives is listed. The one we Americans are probably most familiar with is the one that reads MADE IN CHINA. But we are going to begin with Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a country located in South Asia, a part of the Bengal region bordering India and Myanmar (Burma). It is one of the most populated and densely populated countries in the world; high rates of poverty are a major problem among other human rights issues.
Just last week, a clothing factory in the country collapsed, with the body count now at over 500. Police have arrested the building's engineer, who claimed the building was unsafe as-is, but allegedly played a part in adding three more floors to it regardless. The clothing factory itself was a station that produced American goods on the cheap cheap for large business chains such as J.C. Penny, Walmart, and H&M, to name just a few. This recent event has placed a lens of scrutiny under Western retailers for outsourcing cheap labor, but cheap labor overseas has always been an issue. It is American business and consumption that are driving forces behind the dismal conditions of oversea factories. Of course, it's a reality that most businesses want to keep quiet and it's something we may have heard in passing but want to ignore—because changing our shopping habits entirely would be a pain.
On the flipside, Bangladesh's problematic clothing industry makes up for 80% of its exports.
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about China.
Back in February, I wrote a piece on how Chinese New Year celebrations were dampened by the country's ongoing smog crisis. Since then, smog levels have not gotten any better. They’re hitting nearly decade-level highs in Hong Kong and ruining chances at a healthy upbringing for children growing up in urban cities. Goodness forbid if we were faced with these types of environmental hazards across America — but since it's China, the average American could probably care less. But why is it that China is so steep in air pollution? Because of all its factories — and what are those factories producing? Cars that Americans drive, clothes that Americans wear, toys that American children play with, computers that Americans type with, the list goes on and on. The kicker is that this production occurs in the same sweatshop, underpaid conditions as Bangladesh, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other places.
In light of the Bangladesh factory collapse, Disney is pulling from developing countries all over, but such drastic movement leads to a loss in jobs. What companies can do is flex their financial muscles and influence for an improved quality of work conditions overseas. Then again, that requires time, effort and resources — three elements that American companies probably aren't aiming for in their desire to get their goods produced quickly, cheaply, and exported for more than a worker's measly paycheck.
What we can do as consumers in order to shop more ethically is to research and spread the word. It's our duty as consumers of these products to speak loud for the voices that suffer to provide for us.