The problem of terrible working conditions and low pay in the garment industry is no secret. A majority of consumers have a vague sense that their clothes made in poor countries should likely make them feel somewhat guilty about the arrangement. The knee jerk reaction is often to refuse to buy clothing made in places like Bangladesh and instead support clothes made in the USA. I sometimes hear from people that they would rather support American made clothing, but there are a few reasons why I don’t.
The garment industry is incredibly important in Bangladesh. It accounts for over 40% of the economy and 80% of the formal employment in the country. For the vast majority of Bangladeshi women, it is among the only steady paychecks available. If all those jobs were to suddenly disappear, Bangladesh would face one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all time as millions of the poorest people in the world would have their incomes reduced to zero. A job in a garment factory can often be the only thing that stands between a Bangladeshi family and a life of hunger, homelessness and abject poverty.
So the raw economics of the global garment industry provide a buffer against the pain of poverty. But beyond that, fair manufacturing practices, safe working conditions and livable wages can provide the means for generational change in places like Bangladesh. If mothers can afford to feed their children nutritious food, and send their daughters to school to finish a secondary education the next generation will create opportunities their parents never dreamed of. This is the essence of development, societal change driven by the empowerment of the poor to build a better life for their children.
In America the situation is quite different. Our economy is mostly service oriented and this provides a number of economic toeholds for even the poorest American families to better their lives. Garment work in the US is a minimum wage job, and not only that, it is one with very little potential for growth. There are few natural avenues for advancement from seamstress into more lucrative work and the experience does not easily translate to other industries. This is the worst kind of job available to American workers, and on top of that the clothes they make cost significantly more than a fairly made garment elsewhere.
So when given a choice between fairly manufactured clothes in Bangladesh and “Made in the USA” you can pay more for clothes that increase the countless number of bad jobs available to American workers, or you can buy affordable clothes that provide a lifeline and a ray of hope to workers around the world. Buy clothes made FAIR.
FairWear is building a better garment economy by promoting manufacturers who pay fair wages, keep workers safe, and provide dignity and respect to the women and men who clothe the world. Want to help support our cause? Buy a FAIR Shirt, made in Bangladesh by a non-profit manufacturing group providing employment to rural women and supplementing their employment with social services, education and advocacy to allow them to fully participate in the life of their communities.