Americans fail to know the true cost of fashionable living
If someone were to stand in the middle of the street and observe everyone passing by on campus, chances are he could count at least 10 different brand names.
Off-brand items are, oddly enough, still manufactured by a parent brand-name company with the intent of simply selling the item for cheaper.
We wear, trade, borrow and sell thousands upon thousands of various outfits, hats, shoes and accessories throughout our lives, but we haven’t taken the time to ponder where all those items came from?
Jokingly, the average American would probably say China. ABC World News reported that about 98 percent of the clothing purchased in the U.S. is imported from abroad and just 2 percent is manufactured on U.S. soil.
As a privileged country, we don’t often take kindly to the bleeding-heart struggles of those countries around us who do not have laws protecting a 40-hour work week. We sometimes forget that what is a given for us is not a reality in many parts of the world.
“Sweatshop laborers typically work 60 to 80 hours per week and do not receive enough money to feel their families sometimes, according to DoSomething.org, a website partnered with dozens of large brand-name companies. “Often, the sweatshop environment is unsafe — workers are harassed, intimidated, forced to work overtime and made to work in dangerous and unhealthy environments, even while sick. Workers handle toxic chemical paints, solvents and glues with their bare hands.”
Last April, tragedies befell workers in Bangladesh when a garment factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers, and again a few months later, when a fire broke out, killing nine workers trying to earn overtime.
The Times of India reported that “Bangladesh earns $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the U.S. and Europe. The sector employs about 4 million workers, mostly women.”
Bangladesh is not the only country infamous for its sweatshops and harsh working conditions. Others include South Korea, China, Nepal and Taiwan, just to name a few. Yet many companies argue that because they try to keep their clothing “affordable,” ensuring the safety of its employees in other countries would mean raising the prices to accommodate the changes.
“That’s something that we don’t think about, but honestly speaking, I don’t believe that it’s our responsibility to watch over our clothing manufacturers,” said anthropology junior Chrystial Correa.
“The responsibility falls on the factory and government regulations. But if we could vote for safer and stricter environments for these workers, I would agree that we do so.”
However, Correa said she would be willing to pay higher prices to ensure the improvement of working conditions for foreign employees.
“If I knew that some of the money that I pay for my clothes goes to the well-being of others, I wouldn’t mind paying a higher price,” Correa said. It is like giving a donation,” she said.
Major brands and companies have a responsibility to protect all their workers, foreign and domestic, she said.
“Like any job, there are risks that these workers are taking while handling machinery — insurance and benefits should be available in case of an accident. Companies need to realize that without workers, they can’t keep the business going. Therefore, they must watch over their workers,” Correa said.
But many Americans would not feel this way — especially those who are students already working crazy hours to make ends meet for housing, food, tuition and now a hypothetical added cost to their clothing as well. It is a give-and-take to ensure the safety of those around us, and sometimes we may not like the end result, but perhaps it is not all that bad if you know that you have just potentially saved someone’s life.
Opinion columnist Juanita Deaver is an anthropology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]