Fast Clothing: Unethical Labor Practices

Melissa Nunez – General Assignment Reporter

In the various decisions consumers make when justifying their purchases, where the products come from is something Elina Michel, freshman biology major, said she does not consider.

“It is not something you would think about doing because they are nice clothes, so you buy them,” said Michel. “If I am buying a new shirt, I would not think of, ‘where is this from?’ It is just not something I would do.”

Nike and Adidas are among the most common athletic clothing brands that Michel said she consumes regularly and does not know how interested she would be in researching how or where these brands source their work in the future.

Adidas is among a scarce group of companies who fully disclose their supply chain structure to consumers, according to Adidas online. In 2014, most Adidas manufacturing transpired in other countries with more than 1,1000 factories spread through 61 different countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Spain. Adidas also has various workplace standards implemented to ensure global employee safety, outlining restrictions on forced labor practices, upholding various human rights standards established by the United Nations, as well as prohibiting child labor practices.

Deborah Savage, economics professor, said economist view controversies, such as outsourcing manufacturing to other countries, through a technical lens rather than an ethical one and through that procedural thinking can conclude with precise judgement on the matter.  

Savage added many issues surrounding companies outsourcing supply factories are complicated, such as the issue of child labor. Savage said Americans avidly favor abolishing child labor globally and their limited, privileged worldview prevents them from considering the bleak alternatives, such as when a child is pulled from their employment and are still faced with the task of helping to feed their families, prostitution, which pays even less and is detrimentally more dangerous, is often the substitute.

Savage added although child labor has become a necessity for families throughout the developing world, it is still something people can work towards abolishing by encouraging the companies who utilize them to create change, but it would have to become a global movement amongst big manufacturers.

“Would it be great if a big producer like Adidas that had factories in China, factories in India or, at factories in Bangladesh provided schooling? Some of them do,” said Savage. “But you can’t be the only company that helps because you have lower profits, then your stock doesn’t sell for as much and then you can’t expand.”

Gregory Adams, sociology department chair, said if consumers want to inspire change in the way their favorite brands operate, public movements are what they respond to.

“There have been social movements that have been built to combat this, companies seem to respond to social pressure,” said Adams. “What seems to affect companies is when the movements’ voices are so public and so shaming that it gets the companies to back down on some of their practices.”

Adams added, although voicing their concerns over corrupt labor practices help steer companies in a better direction, morally, labeling the clothing unethical shames the consumers of these brands, which are often purchased second hand by low-income citizens.

“[Unethical clothing] is a term I don’t use; it’s used to encourage people to vote with their dollars. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote with your dollars, as well as you shouldn’t think about social ethics when you make expenditures, but it is a term of judgement,” said Adams. “People who are poor are more likely to wear second hand clothes. So to look at a Branden say, ‘that’s unethical,’ just creates more marginalization for people who use this clothing.”

Photo Credit: Melissa Nunez – General Assignment Reporter



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