Think about your favorite sweater. Now try to think: do you know how it was made? With its recent campaign, advocacy group Canadian Fair Trade Network aims to raise awareness of the conditions of sweatshop workers in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh.
The campaign consists of articles of clothing with long tags that personalize those who could have possibly made the article of clothing in order to influence consumers to purchase more mindfully. The tags address exploitative child labor conditions, the health risks that come with working in factories, and the unlivable wages on which many workers scrape by.
The Canadian Fair Trade Network’s campaign comes in the wake of years of incidents that exposed factory conditions globally. For example, Apple faced criticism in 2013 when Foxcon, the company that produces many Apple products, saw a series of suicides among its workers. This led to greater observation of Foxcon and other factories not associated with Apple, resulting in the revelation that the employees were not making a livable wage and were enduring inhumane work conditions. There were also several factory factors that killed hundreds of workers due to extremely unsafe conditions.
Some major retailers have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, promising (despite higher production costs) to make factory conditions significantly safer and more livable, including H&M, Calvin Klein and many other household fashion names. Some brands that have not promised to make factory conditions safer include Walmart, GAP, Macy’s, Target, The North Face, and Nordstrom. H&M is singular in that it also committed to establishing a fair living wage in all of its 750 factories by 2018.
The tag on the yellow cable-knit sweater above reads, "100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees [celsius]." The burgundy hoodie's tag says, "100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family. They couldn't afford medical treatment and he couldn't risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing has left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts work at the factory next year. The label doesn't tell the whole story."
What do you think of the campaign? Does it make you think about how and where your clothing is made?