Sunday, March 25, 2012

Things We Need To Talk About

I know my blogging habits have been rather erratic lately. It's hard to explain; I'm busy, but it's it's more that I what I have to say and tell about feels mountainous, and I don't have the energy. I was reading this very, very good post on le projet d'amour, and thought that's exactly how I feel... but at the moment just couldn't muster the effort to explain why. I used to go through these periods when I was studying, and it must have driven my tutors crazy; having me allude to something and then just leave it, expecting them to know what I meant. I do it in conversation; frequently starting something, and then trailing off, either hoping the person to whom I'm speaking will understand, or that Vincent will expound it for me. It's lazy, and I don't know how to stop it, but I'm going to try.

A while ago, Vincent read to me about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, which killed 146 garment workers; 129 of them women, most recent Jewish and Italian immigrants. In those days, it was common practice for workers to be locked in, purportedly to prevent them taking unauthorised breaks. Because of this, these workers were unable to use the stairwells to escape, and many of them died after jumping from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors that they occupied. The youngest workers who died were only fourteen years old.

I remember us talking about this, and then looking up other tragic stories of workers killed or severely injured while doing their jobs, and, in spite of knowing full well about sweat-shops, hoped and kind of believed that events like these would never be allowed to happen again. I read recently about the horrific working conditions in sweat-shops manufacturing adidas, nike, and puma products, the projected profits these companies will make from the Olympics, and that the average wage for their workers in the Phillipines is 17c an hour. It was saddening, and maddening, and altogether horrifying, and Vincent and I said we would never buy their products again... and then we went and put on our Made In China undies and our Chuck Taylors, and forgot about it.

Then, this morning I read on Jezebel (better than any newspaper ever, hands down) that 500 Bangladeshi workers have burned to death in factories manufacturing clothes, in the last five years. These workers were making garments for huge companies including Target, H&M, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and (I was surprised by this one; I guess I thought stuff used to enjoy nature would be ethically produced?) The North Face. In case you don't read the article, 80% of Bangladesh's exports are clothes, and the country's minimum wage is 21c an hour.

So what do we do? Until now, I realise I've been telling myself I'm doing what I can; buying NZ made and Fair Trade products, and using my financial situation as an excuse to buy "necessities" that are made in countries I know next to nothing about, because they're largely populated by people who don't matter to the capitalist world. Can I keep doing this? Can I keep buying Keds and Chucks and Levi jeans when I am pretty sure that I am perpetuating these inhumane practices?

If I'm honest, those questions are hard for me to answer. If I say no, it means I have to make the effort to source ethically made products, pay more for them, and subsequently buy less (which may sound like a good thing but is hard for me). It means I have to get over the block I have with imitations of originals. I think an easier question to answer is: Is it worth it? Is it worth it for me to maintain a look with chucks and tshirts, if buying these things directly results in someone else's suffering? Am I worth more than a worker in another country? Because the answer is an unequivocal No. I might think myself better than the piece of shit companies these workers are contracted to, but we, the workers are exactly the same. Plus, in the same way that if I try to copy the fashions of the disgustingly rich I am making a parody of myself, if I wear clothes that are products of the exploitation of other workers, I'm like a scab, as well as being an evil, selfish cow. 

This isn't the end of this. I know there's a right and a wrong here, but I don't trust myself to do it alone. Does anyone else buy everything ethically? Do you want to? Please let me know. I want to, but I'm weak and I kind of love clothes. But I know this is bigger than me.

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