Clothes and Global Dependence


So this evening I was hanging up my laundry, and started noticing the labels in the shirts. Here’s what I saw.

Egypt; India; Bangladesh; China; Jordan; Haiti; Costa Rica; Dominican Republic…. probably more that I have already forgotten. Late in the process, I finally found a few “made in USA”: a t-shirt labeled from somewhere in Virginia. I must have had that one for a long time. The shirt I happen to have been wearing today, an old one, is also labeled “100% Cotton – Made In U S A.” But I don’t have many like that.

I’m grateful to the workers in these countries who make all my clothes. Maybe it’s because I buy them at Wal-Mart, cheap, that I now want to visit India, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Haiti…. to see the places where these things are made, and meet some of the people who have so intimately and anonymously been part of my life.

What this tells me about, of course, is globalization. One aspect of that is the cheap labor (“undocumented workers”) that comes into the US to do agricultural fieldwork and other things that pay so little it’s not worth the time for a native-born American to bother with. Just as on the domestic front we gladly eat the fruits and vegetables while complaining about the problems of immigration, so we complain about outsourcing of jobs to other countries while finding the best bargain we can for things like shirts and underwear. If I can pay six dollars, or even twelve, for a shirt that was made on the other side of the globe, what part of that went to the actual worker who stitched the seams? After paying for packaging, labeling, transportation, warehousing, merchandising, advertising, marketing and retailing, what might it be? One dollar? Too high. Twelve cents? Maybe. Most likely, less than that.

Somebody is getting rich from the sale of cheap clothing to the likes of me, and somebody is very likely staying poor by the same process. I’d pay more if I thought it would go to the worker.

Any thoughts?

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