Sunday, July 18, 2010

My kind of model; or Production that we can believe in

What does goofy Goldy the Gopher have to do with ethics and clothing?

I know that usually I gripe and moan about crises and misogyny, but I also love a silver lining now and then. Bloggers have talking about sustainable consumption (although I prefer the term ethical, because I always think environmental when I think sustainable, but I am also interested in labor and human rights aspects of production) for a while now, and it's often easy to get into a depressed funk.

I am a big supporter of Students Against Sweatshops (I started school just after the bulk of their campaigns were over but I was involved in activisty campaigns with many of their "veterans"). It's not a perfect organization (a pretty darn good one), but they recognize that globalization and overseas production are facts of modern economic life, and while we can't change them, we can try to influence institutional consumers to make a change. I care about my individual consumption choices, I know that I am a drop in the bucket, while universities and other organizations have much more bargaining power.

This weekend, the NYTimes wrote a piece about how Knights Apparel opened a "model" factory in the Dominican Republic that is organized around principles of living wages and ethical production. The best part is that the price per T shirt at living wage, rather than minimum wage, is a mere $0.80. I think we can all dig down and cough up that amount for ethical production. (Knights will be selling these shirts at a lower profit margin, too. I could kiss the CEO, John Bozich. You will not likely ever hear me say that again.)

This lovely women is thrilled to have landed a job at Alta Gracia, which will be producing clothing for licensed University sportswear. Because of this job, she was able to secure a small loan to build a sturdy nice house (with toilets) for her family.
This makes me happy in a way that stories of microcredit do not. I know that microcredit is popular with many prominent people, but the problem with microcredit is that giving capital to a few small business is great, but you basically move money in impoverished places. Don't get me started on the high interest rates too. A really common microcredit business is a restaurant or a small shop. All this means is that the lucky person who got the microcredit loan gets all the money in the village/neighborhood. It's just an internal redistribution. What impoverished communities need is a steady in flow of external money. The woman working at Knights now takes her income and hires builders, feeds her family, and those folks use that money within their community. It's a big difference to provide externally funded, salaried jobs.* (For feminist economists' take on this issue, see here).
I am unimpressed with companies, like a certain fruit-monikered dress company, that blah blah about their ethics by pointing to the fact they donate to microcredit. Why not follow Knights Apparel and open up factories with the highest possible working and wage standards?
Shopping diet or no, I would be so happy to spend my money here.

Anyone else going to go out of their way to buy Alta Gracia's version of your Alma Mater's gear? Check to see if your school is a member of the Workers' Rights Consortium here:

And yes, reading about this happy young factory worker makes me want to STFU about my housing woes. Sigh. I am a spoiled, Global North Brat.

edit: For some good resources, check out the following links:
Good Clothing Companies
Interrobang Anonymous' list of resources

*I am not saying that we should give to microcredit, as I know that many microcredit loans help the quality of life for some people. But it's not how any country has or could possible transition to a more developed economy, if you're into that kind of thing.


  1. This is a great post. I checked for my university and it is not on the list (though a few Canadians schools are). What do I do about remedying this, do you think? My school is a big sports school, especially for football, so I would guess they sell more gear than many universities its size.

  2. I think you should contact the person who does merchandising at the bookstore or in the sports department.
    I actually have a friend in Minnesota (who also likes cats) who would know more about this. Email me and I'll ask her for advice.
    Hope all is well in London town and you're feeling better!

  3. Well, go State. Penn State is a member of the consortium, joining after some powerful student protests several years ago. So often it's the students who bring these issues to light and effect the change. Thanks for a great post, Rad.

  4. Yes, yeay for Penn State and the Students Against Sweatshops!!!

  5. I have always wondered about who was buying services/merchandise in areas where there isn't a lot of money so it makes sense that unless jobs are created where people can make money to spend's not really a help!

  6. Rad, is there a website where I can find more info on responsible producers, sellers, etc. I was all about Target but I'm now rethinking it due to someone's post (I think A-Dubs linked it). I'm a consumer, I will be a consumer, I know that about myself, but I could learn to do it responsibly.
    peace out

  7. @JAO: Yeah, well, I am not trying to say that microloans are crap but they are just a temporary solution for a few individuals.
    @SU- great question! Well, first in full disclosure I am a perfect consumer, and I have limits (like not being to purchase only handcrafted/artisan made clothing). I try to avoid some retailers, like Wal-Mart, but it's the system, not just a few stores that are problematic.
    The same webpage that A-Dubs linked had a bunch of resources of places to shop:
    But don't be too hard on yourself! None of us created the conditions of the global apparel economy, and our ability to make choices are limited. Even if I never bought from sweatshop companies (I have no idea how I'd do this), this would do nothing to change the system and I'd be broke. Don't go broke.
    This is also useful:

  8. Oops, I mean I am definitely NOT a perfect consumer. I don't know what that would look like anyway.

  9. Thanks for the info! I looooooove the Dominican Republic after volunteering in an orphanage there and it was so sad seeing how many parents gave up their children just because they couldn't afford to feed and educate them (so they would still come visit their child whenever they could, but felt their child had a better chance at life living in an orphanage because they teach English, have a school on-site, and provide two meals a day)... it sounds like a fabulous business model!

  10. Thanks for the link! The other resource you posted looks really useful too.

    I agree wholeheartedly that microloans are more of a bandaid solution than a long term solution. They're an important piece of the puzzle to help pull communities out of poverty, but creating stable, well paying jobs is critical, and entrepreneurial jobs are not always either of those. But something like Knight's Apparel has a much better chance of providing long-term income to the community, and that's awesome.


  11. @FutureLint: That is really really sad. Poor kids. I hope that other factories in the DR adopt this model, to prevent this kind of poverty.
    @Millie: Thanks for the post! A-Dubs directed me to your site. Good to hear that we're of the same mind, although many would disagree with us.

  12. @FutureLint: That is really really sad. Poor kids. I hope that other factories in the DR adopt this model, to prevent this kind of poverty.
    @Millie: Thanks for the post! A-Dubs directed me to your site. Good to hear that we're of the same mind, although many would disagree with us.