'What is the true cost of a hoodie?' (Hannah Marriott)
I hate it. She works in a textile factory in South East Asia, more commonly known as a sweat-shop, for £4.50 (US$ 6) per day. It’s long hours in sweltering conditions and arduous, back-breaking work. The little money she earns is barely enough to feed herself and her small children. If she, or they, get sick or injured, they're in deep trouble. With no discretionary income, she would need to borrow from a loan shark to pay for a doctor, medicine, or whatever else they may need. The extortionate fees and harsh interest rates make even the most rudimentary healthcare impossible, out of reach.
The parent company, a well-known global brand, feels pressure from its customers to ensure that its clothing is produced ethically. Most consumers don’t wonder or ask how it’s possible we can buy a t-shirt in the UK for just £5 that was manufactured on the opposite side of the planet. Somebody, somewhere at the sharp end, is paying a heavy price. The company decides to visit the factory to carry out an inspection. On hearing this, the local HR manager calls all the employees, mostly women, together: ‘You will smile and tell them we pay you £10 per day and provide you with 3 healthy meals a day – or else.’
This half-whispered threat is far from idle. The women know that, if they were to blow the whistle, they would be dismissed as soon as the inspectors leave. That would plunge them and their families into even worse poverty, if that were possible, and there are plenty of other poor women outside willing to take their place. All the while, the local managers pocket the difference that the parent company intends for its workers. They wear smart clothes, live in nice houses and drive around in expensive cars. They know they can bribe any official to whom a desperate worker may dare to appeal. Money talks.
Do we care? What can we do? Write to your MP (your political representative). Write to your favourite brand CEO. Check out: Clean Clothes Campaign; Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
('The Asia Pacific region employed roughly 65 million garment workers in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the International Labour Organisation. 80% of garment workers globally are women.' Tara Donaldson, WWD)
It felt like something died inside today. The pain, frustration and powerlessness of experiencing a courtroom injustice first hand felt very different to toying with the notion as an abstract idea. The opposing party presented false evidence under oath yet our barrister was unprepared and the judge ruled in the opposition’s favour.
I felt confused, angry, misrepresented, betrayed. It wasn’t only the loss of the case itself, it was something about a loss of innocence, a loss of faith in a system. How could truth and right be so easily swept away by a legal technicality? How could a judge be more concerned about protocol than the rights of an innocent party?
As I drove home, I felt something stirring inside, an uncomfortable awareness of how far I've become numb to other people's experiences of vulnerability and injustice, in spite - or even because of - trying to address them through my work. I'm praying this experience today will inspire in me renewed empathy and greater passion to strive for change.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
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