Is a $5 tee really worth it?

I came across an article earlier today about H&M raising it’s prices, so no more $10 jeans folks. Your first instinct is probably to say “but why?”. H&M says that is may be raising it’s prices so that it can pay the workers that produce the clothing in the garment factories. They are concerned about the workers in Bangladesh who are not getting paid a livable wage. By raising prices in store they can ensure that the workers are getting paid a wage that they can live off. Now, I think paying a couple more dollars for a tee will be worth it because you can be ensured that the textile workers are getting paid fairly. 

From my earlier post when I interviewd my friend Shiloh, she mentioned that most people outsource because production their is dramatically less expensive. We are paying 100 or more dollars for a pair of jeans so it really does not make sense as to why they cannot afford to pay the workers livable wages especially since livable wages in those countries are not as high. I am curious to see how this unfolds in the future but for now this is a work in progress. 

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A Young Designers Point of View

A good friend of mine, roommate, and very talented fashion designer Shiloh Zielke sat down with me and spoke about some of her viewpoints on the fashion industry when it comes to outsourcing labor and the overall production from start to finish.  It was a great learning experience for me to hear what Shiloh had to say. Living with Shiloh for the past two years has allowed me to get a glimpse of the process of creating a garment which also involves many sleepless nights. I look forward to see her grow as a designer in the future.

Putting this video together was a learning process for me, since this is the first one I have ever edited. I enjoyed putting it together and I hope that you enjoy watching it! Be sure to take at look at Shiloh’s portfolio and Jonathan’s photography.

Empowerment

Artisans from Destiny Reflection

Artisans from Destiny Reflection

When people think about overseas labor they usually imagine hundreds of people in a hot factory hunched over their sewing tables, I know that is the image that comes to mind when I think of garment factories. But, overseas labor is not always bad. Many times these jobs offer a way out and a step up from their current living situations.

I came across a website called The Little Market and they work with artisan groups in developing countries such as Bolivia, India, Nepal, Peru, Mexico, and Tunisia. They basically provide artisan jobs to women in these countries and offer them a chance to showcase their talent and provide them with more exposure through this online market place. They practice fair trade which means that they support the people in underdeveloped countries that produce goods and make sure that the workers are treated ethically and the goods are distributed in an ethical manner.

Many of these artisans are unable to showcase their talent because they live in very remote areas where the internet is something that is unattainable. They also mainly work with women artisans so that they feel empowered so that they can become more independent. The Little Market makes sure to pay fair trade wages and ensures that they have healthy working environments.

As I was going through the website I came across an internship opportunity in India that works with Destiny Reflection which is an artisan group that The Little Market works with. They are looking for design and marketing interns to go work with this artisans in Kolokata so that they can further their work. This particular group works with women who were rescued from sex trafficking. They receive the opportunity to gain new skills and to become more empowered which in my opinion, is an effective way for them to heal from what they went through. I am very interested in this opportunity and am planning on e-mailing my resume and possibly have the opportunity to spend the summer in Kolokata, India.

They offer a lot of great and unique products so check them out for your holiday shopping and also here is a link to their blog.

Taking precautions

Bangladesh is making strides after the Rana Plaza collapse with new inspections taking place. Engineers in Bangladesh started the first inspections several days ago after the garment factory collapse. The Bangladesh government went to the University of Bangladesh for help with the inspections. They will focus on on the structure of the building, fire, and electrical integrity.

People always take more precautions after the fact but why not take this same initiatives before the collapse. This incident could have been prevented and lives could have been spared.

After this collapse the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers was formed by North American Retailers. They have 26 retailers under this alliance so far and they are:

  • Ariela-Alpha International
  • Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited
  • Carter’s Inc.
  • The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.
  • Costco Wholesale Corporation
  • Fruit of the Loom, Inc.
  • Gap Inc.
  • Giant Tiger
  • Hudson’s Bay Company
  • IFG Corp.
  • Intradeco Apparel
  • J.C. Penney Company Inc.
  • The Jones Group Inc
  • The Jones Group Inc.
  • Jordache Enterprises, Inc.
  • The Just Group
  • Kohl’s Department Stores
  • L. L. Bean Inc.
  • M. Hidary & Company Inc.
  • Macy’s
  • Nordstrom Inc.
  • Public Clothing Company
  • Sears Holdings Corporation
  • Target Corporation
  • VF Corporation
  • Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
  • YM Inc.

This alliance brings companies together in order so that they make changes in the labor that they use to produce their products. Here you can download the Action Plan and learn more about what they are doing to make change so tragedies such as the one that occurred in Rana Plaza are avoided.

It is comprised of a Board of Directors that includes company representatives as well as stakeholder representatives that are experts in safety and labor rights. They will also be in charge of oversight and accountability which means that they will provide semi-annual reports on any violations or improvements in the factories and these will be available to view on the website.

Hopefully, these types of groups will remind other companies to me mindful of where they are outsourcing their production. Just because these companies do not technically own the garment factories and do not do the hiring does not mean that they are not at fault when tragedies such as the one in Rana Plaza occur.

The Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) is an international organization whose focus is to improve the working conditions worldwide. In 2004 BSCI was established by the Foreign Trade Association (FTA), they want to implement their own code of conduct for their participants to follow when dealing with their buisness and production. For those of you who are not familiar with the FTA, they are an association that works with 1,000 retailers, importers, brand companies and national association. They provide these companies with “buisness-driven intitiativ to support companies improving working conditions (BSCI) and environmental production conditions (BEPI) in the international supply chain”.

The BSCI is committed to these principals:

  • Committed: Our participants commit to implement the BSCI Code of Conduct as part of their business relations with producers, showing a willingness to improve the working conditions in their supply chain.
  • Consistent: We offer a unique and uniform system for producers worldwide consisting of one Code of Conduct and one implementation process, ensuring consistency and comparability of audits.
  • Comprehensive: The BSCI social compliance system is applicable to both large and small companies and covers all products (industrialised and primary production) sourced from any country.
  • Development oriented: BSCI is not a certification scheme. We offer a step by step development approach that helps producers implement the Code of Conduct gradually. Producers who meet all BSCI requirements are encouraged to go further and achieve our best practice, the SA8000 social management system and certification developed by Social Accountability International (SAI).
  • Credible: We only use external, experienced and independent auditing companies to perform audits.
  • Focused on risk countries: We focus on risk countries * where violations of workers’ rights occur frequently. The main sourcing countries, based on audits performed, are China, Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Vietnam.
  • Efficient: Our common database of producers creates efficiencies and avoids duplicating audits at factories already in the system.
  • Knowledge-based: Our system integrates learning at the producer level to develop their knowledge and skills on how to improve working conditions on the factory floor.
  • Collaborative: BSCI cultivates involvement of relevant stakeholders in Europe and producer countries.

Here is a video that talks about the importance of companies knowing where their products are made from who works at the factories to how they are made. They monitor through audits and porviding workshops. They want to empower the factory and farm managers because without them change cannot happen. The workshops provide them information on how to keep their factories up to code and the dangers of mistreating workers. They also want to engage  with stakeholders such as governments, trade unions and they feel that with talking to each other they can share ideas on how to manage the working conditions of many of farm and factory workers.

It is important that we monitor, empower, and engage because everyone needs to be educated on this issues from all areas. The workers, managers, governments, and other suppliers and organizations. The companies that are outsourcing their production also need to be aware of how their products are made and you can only do that through education and cooperation.

MADE with care

Workers at the MADE Kenyan workshop

Workers at the MADE Kenyan workshop

I mentioned in my last post that I work at Anthropologie a branch off the URBN brand. I want to touch a little on a new product that Anthropologie carries and that I actually own. The brand is called MADE they are an “ethical accessories brand with an eye on the long-term: sustainable every step of the way, they use responsibly sourced materials and invest in their employees. The skilled African artisans of MADE’s Kenya workshop craft handmade jewelry using a blend of traditional and modern techniques.” They work close with local and international partners in the countries where they source their materials to build trust and ensure their materials are sourced ethically.

I thought it was important to highlight this because I want to show that Anthropologie carries product that help people that are part of the production process. Writing this blog has been a learning process for me but I still feel like there is more to discover. I have gained a lot more insight on this issue and I want to highlight more of these brands that want to help others versus taking advantage of them.

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It’s not just overseas

I work at Anthropologie and many people are unaware that they are part of a larger corporation called URBN, Inc along with Urban Outfitters, Free People, BHLDN, and Terrain. Anthropologie is a women’s retail store that sells clothing and home items and this includes furniture. Some of the merchandise is created in house by designers at home office but many of them are brought to the company from other vendors. Several of the products we sell in the store are also made in the USA.

I love working for the company and I feel like they do a great job making sure their employees are treated fairly and I have never had an issue with them. But, I am curious to see if any of the products that we sell are made in sweatshop factories. I could not find much information on this topic but I did come across an article from last year.

Sweatshop like conditions in factories were discovered in LA fashion district where production for companies such as Aldo, Forever 21, Burlington Coat Factory, Charlotte Russe, Dilliard’s, Rainbow Apparel, Ross Stores, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Wet Seal, and Urban Outfitters.

An unannounced sweep of garment factories in LA of 10 contractors took place last year. Several violations were uncovered and they found that the factories had $326,200 in back wages for 185 employees. Many of them were not getting paid minimum wage but were getting paid a “piece rate” in other words they were getting paid for every completed piece instead of hourly. This was not an effective way for getting paid because the pieces they were making an hour did meet or exceed minimum wage. I feel that this method only makes the employees over work themselves since they are trying to complete as much as they can in that hour. Just getting up to use the bathroom could effect the amount you get paid in that day.

This is not happening oversees, but it is happening in our own country where most of us think we are protected by labor rights. The contractors ended up paying the back wages to the workers but unfortunately this is probably still happening. The Labor Department has conducted 1,500 investigations in that year and 93% of factories they swept through they uncovered violations. These companies all together owed a total of $11 million in back wages.

Many people come to this country for better work but it is sad to say that some of them end up in those same working conditions that they were trying to get away from. It is good to see that there are measures being taken to prevent this sort of mistreatment. Also, they are enforcing these laws and making these contractors pay up to their employees.

Students taking a stand

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student labor organization affiliated with over 150 universities.  They fight for the rights of people who work on university campuses, in local communities, and in overseas factories where collegiate apparel is produced.

“We envision a world in which society and human relationships are organized cooperatively, not competitively. We struggle towards a world in which all people live in freedom from oppression, in which people are valued as whole human beings rather than exploited in a quest for productivity and profits.”

This past week was the six month anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. USAS also launched a new campaign t to get companies to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This accord is a legally binding five year agreement between labor unions and apparel companies. It will make sure that factories get inspected by a qualified inspector and all violations get reported. If any violations are found the factory management will be notified. You can read the accord in more detail from the link above.

Companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are some of the companies that have signed the accord. The USAS is pressuring companies that produce collegiate products with their new campaign to sign the accord or else colleges will work with other companies. Adidas signed the accord this past week and is one of the first collegiate companies to have done so.

In 2010, Roosevelt University students organized a protest outside Nike Town after they refused to pay wages that were still owed to workers after two Honduras factories closed in 2009. The “Just Pay It” campaign was put together by the aid of USAS members. On July 26, 2010 Nike agreed to pay 1.54 million dollars to the Honduran workers who lost their jobs when the factories closed with no warning. This shows that when people come together and voice their opinion on an issue they can make a difference. No matter how big or small a corporation is the people can influence their decisions.

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Working towards change

Image from H&M.com

Image from H&M.com

H&M has operations in Bangladesh and they have made it a mission to educate the workers that are part of their production. The problem with many workers that are overseas is that they are not aware of their rights. H&M wants to make sure that they are aware of the rights that pertain to overtime, maternity leave, health and safety. They have partnered with local NGOs to create a five films that are geared towards training the employees.

Here is a video on how H&M is maintaining responsible production in their supplier’s factories.

Now H&M has created the Conscious Foundation and they want our votes on what three global initiatives that they should support in the coming year. They will partner with charity organizations and H&M will create local programs with them on the three selected issues where they operate. They have consulted with experts to determine which global issues are major global challenges. We can vote on this challenges and they are: safeguarding natural resources, strengthening women, reducing of poverty through self-empowerment, clean water, and education.

It is our responsibility to make a positive impact in the communities where H&M operates. Now we invite our employees and customers to tell us what they think the H&M Conscious Foundation should support. This will guide us to understand what issues are of concern to a large group of people across the world” – Karl-Johan Persson, CEO H&M and board member of the H&M Conscious Foundation.

I voted for education because I feel that with education people can become more empowered to create change. Many of us take education for granted because it is so accessible to many of us here in the states. But, some people do not get the privilege of getting a good education.  Every person should have the right to get educated no matter where they come from or what their gender. “Education is an opportunity for children to realize their full potential and to ensure a healthy and productive society”.

Learn more about these global initiatives and make sure to vote!

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Age does not matter

Raveena Aulakh, a reporter from the Toronto Star, wanted to experience how it was to work at a garment factory in Bangladesh. She got hired…by a nine year old who was going to be her boss. The most work I had to do when I was nine was make sure my room was clean and I could barley accomplish that. This little girl was in charge of several employees. For fear of getting yelled at the boss she would have to make sure that everyone was completing their work correctly.

I found this hard to believe that they would put a girl that young in charge but, if you think about it these children have to mature at an early age. They have to start helping their families so that they can eat and live in a home. It is hard to think about this happening here in the states because at nine our main responsibility is to go to school. We think about what we want to be when we grow up but the children working in these factories are already entering the workforce and many of them will continue to work in these factories for years to come. 

The article and video give us an insight into this nine year old girls life in a garment factory in Bangladesh.  

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