“Garment with No Guilt”

Walking down the hallways on campus, I’m sure many of us notice the many labels people are wearing. Lacoste, Jcrew, North Face, Burberry and Ralph Lauren are examples, just to name a few. These brands are used in today’s society as a social stature that depicts your standing economically. Have you however wondered where these articles of clothing came from, how the people were treated that created them, and how society would be shaped if clothing wasn’t one of the ways individuals based judgment upon one another with?

Ralph Lauren is known for their latest Big Pony Polos, their sophisticated suits, their stunning dresses, and superb scents of cologne. People see the Ralph Lauren logo (either a Jock and its horse or the initials RL) and automatically assume that the individual wearing it must have money. After working at Ralph Lauren for five years, I saw people of all social classes walk in just to browse, or to spend thousands of dollars on six items. Who woke up one day and decided, ‘hell,wearing a pony on my shirt makes me wealthy’? In today’s society the more name brand items you have, the better off you are simply because of how expensive they are. For example, a polo from Walmart cost around ten dollars, while a polo from Ralph Lauren ranges from fifty dollars up into the three hundred dollar range. So, the association between wealth that clothing directly correlates.

When buying these high-end articles of clothing, do you ever wonder where the clothing actually comes from? Most factories that create Ralph Lauren merchandise are found in Third World countries. The highest label of Ralph Lauren is however made in Italy (incase you were wondering). Some of the Third World countries used includes Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Specifically, Sri Lanka produces the majority of the clothing for Ralph Lauren. When googling garment industries in Sri Lanka, the first five sites that pop up are interesting enough to be discussed. Some are advertisements by corporations encouraging companies to bring ‘your factory’ there, while the next title down includes oppressions of the women workers. So, which is there to believe, and who writes these articles? Should we, the future, focus on why cheap labor is a good thing, or focus on the health and unethical issues going on directly within these Sri Lankan factories?

Design Studio is a corporation that brings businesses from countries like the United States and various places in Europe to smaller, less developed countries for cheap labor and far less taxes. Design Studio stated that the country of Sri Lanka is a, “reliable supplier of quality garments at competitive prices, also upholds ethical practices backed by legislation, this being identified as a producer of ‘garments with no guilt.’” (Design Studio) Design Studios also states that environmental issues are also factored into the factories rules and regulations. This corporation (Design Studio) states that they use materials that are ‘standard specific’ which allow friendlier and a more sustainable environment. (DesignStudio) Sounds pretty great, right?

If these factories in were fair to their workers, allow no guilt, and are environmentally friendly, then where did these photographs come from:

 

 

As the saying goes, pictures speak a thousand works, so here you go. There are also many articles that state the opposite of what Design Studio is stating, and after seeing these pictures, who should you believe?

In 2006, Wasantha Rupasinghe wrote an article talking about the oppressive conditions that women face while working in these Sri Lankan garment factories. All of these factories are located in free trade zones, which allow no taxation/ tariffs, along with various other ‘pluses’/ positives for big businesses. When the United National Party government came into power in Sri Lanka, (1990’s) they created a “200 garment factory” that allowed many individuals to find jobs, which decreased unemployment, but didn’t change the amount of poverty.  When all of these factories were under construction, many trees and wildlife were destroyed. Rupasinghe talks about a remote village, Jamalapura, which was once full of nature, is now full of smog, pollution and poor immigrants looking for work. According to Wasantha Rupasinghe, these factories usually have 250 workers, most of them female. These factories looked for the cheapest amount of work, so the went to the ‘weaker’ gender, females. Since the 1990’s the factories have been reported to get worse and worse. One factory has had over 5 managers quit in a year, so productivity has decreased, which has lead to increase violence. Wasantha Rupasinghe also stated that overtime payments have been cut significantly and paychecks are being given latter than expected. On November 22, 2006 some workers went on strike because they were not paid their wages. They refused to go back to their factory machines after lunch, and eventually got their wages. However a few days after, the females were fired and new people replaced them. If only this occurred in the United States- I bet there would have been a lot of press on this issue.

Most women working in these factories either dropped out of schooling or were forced out, when their families could no longer supply for them. Most also have to travel far distances to get the most minimum of wages. Each operated averaged $1.50 per day, however there is a bonus of five to ten dollars a month depending on their ranking.

So, which side do you believe; the factory recruiters side, or the people working in them? Also, do both sides become problematic because they bring biased opinions. And how can people actively try to change what occurs in these factories without deterring away from capitalism. Finally, if consumers buying Ralph Lauren apparel found out the working conditions of the Sri Lankan females, would protests occur, or would life continue just as it is?

http://www.designstudiolk.com/why_sri%20lanka.html

http://investor.ralphlauren.com/

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/jan2006/sril-j12.shtml

http://oem.bmj.com/content/68/Suppl_1/A127.1.short

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2 Responses to “Garment with No Guilt”

  1. mollygdw says:

    This is an interesting entry! Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the offenses you described against migrant workers by their employers does indeed happen in the United States (ex. Karen Hossfeld’s study of the Silicon Valley electronics factories). It certainly does in U.S. territories, such as Saipan, where workers’ often face abuse, withheld wages, “partial citizenship”, and even legal contracts that restrict them from unionizing. To answer your question, I actually don’t think that we can actively change these conditions without deterring away from capitalism. In fact, I think that exploitation & oppression of someone else (ex. women, the environment, people of color, etc.) is an essential characteristic of capitalism, of which it cannot exist without.

  2. mewalsh6 says:

    I wanted to answer your last question which asked if we thought protest occurred if people knew what was happening. I want to say they would but at the same time people knew about other companies treating their workers poorly and even though there was some backlash against it people continued to buy their products. I also want to agree with Molly, that workers will most likely continue to be exploited. I think that some people do not care if others are being treated badly as long as they are benefiting from it. It’s sad and disgusting but it’s the truth.

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