I pride myself on being a smart shopper and getting the most bang for my buck, especially now that I have three kids and I want them to be well taken care of. But sometimes getting a good deal for me comes at a cost to others, and with the last two factory disasters on my mind I am starting to question my shopping practices.
I initially faced this issue when I first became a Buddhist and I was working for a global retailer. While the company did not condone unethical third world labour, they also clarified that they could not be held responsible if they contracted out to a company that then sub-contracted out to another company without their knowledge. Makes sense, but at the same time it is a convenient loophole. I remember reading all the names on the boxes when they came in, China, Bangladesh, etc. and wondering just how much of the cost of those $78 jeans actually went to the poor person who made them.
It was a difficult decision, but it was a god job and it paid for my university so I decided to try not to think about it and took advantage of company perks like paid time off to do volunteer work as a way of giving back. Plus, I told myself, there are some benefits to labour in those countries. I have heard interviews with workers where they say one of these jobs is still better than no job, even if they only get paid in pennies.
I didn’t think about it much until recently. It started a few months ago with the collapse of a building in Bangladesh killing 230 people and injuring many more. They were producing clothing for one of my favourite clothing brands Joe Fresh. While the company denied culpability, workers claimed they had registered numerous safety complaints before this happened and it could have been prevented. Read more about it here.
The second incident happened a couple of weeks ago when a fire broke out in a factory and killed 10 people, injuring over 50. One of the main brands they were making was George clothing which is owned by one of my savings favourites, Walmart.
Working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Since 2005, at least 1,800 workers have been killed in the Bangladeshi garment industry in factory fires and building collapses, according to research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.
Looking at those pictures I feel terrible. But at the same time, I love the amazing winter clothes I got for my kids (at an amazing price). I want to be an ethical and morally responsible person (I work for a non-profit for goodness sakes). Moreover, since I am a mom I want to teach my children to have good morals and values, and part of that teaching comes from my actions.
But then again, I can’t be responsible for everything. I am a mom on a budget trying to do right for her family. I don’t think it’s right to make my kids go without things in hopes that it benefits someone, somehow, somewhere. Working for a non-profit I often come against the argument that “since you can’t save them all, why try?” But my answer is that even if you only help one or two, it matters to them. So, could refusing to shop George or Joe Fresh make a difference to one person? Or would it be better to go after them politically by pressuring the government for more legislation?
So I am asking you (parents and non parents) how do you handle this type of situation? Ignore it? Don’t care? Change the way you do business?
- Second deadly accident at Bangladesh factory could have links to Canada’s Joe Fresh (globalnews.ca)
- Cheap fashion for Canadians depends on hard lives in Bangladesh: Editorial (thestar.com)