Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Just Do It"

Today I write from a dark place. I have wept many times since starting this project, but today I feel an anger so deep that I want to scream and hit shit. The thread that I have pulled from the clothing of the dead has unraveled into one gigantic tangled mess of human degradation, sickness and death. There are is end to the stories of unimaginable suffering in the world caused by our lust for low prices and high fashion. Today I decided to investigate a recent protest in Cambodia at a factory that manufactures clothing for Nike. This Monday, approximately 3000 Cambodian factory workers, mostly woman, blocked a road outside their factory in Kampong Speu Province. They are asking for $14 monthly pay increase. The current minimum wage is $74 per month. Police moved on their protest with stun batons and injured 23 workers, including a pregnant women who lost her baby due to her injuries.  




Nike lives 11 miles from my home in Portland, Oregon. They employ about 8000 people in their 213 acre campus. Nike is Oregons' largest public company. In 2012 they paid around $8 million in property taxes to Washington County. Due to the lack of corporate tax disclosure, it is not publicly known just exactly how much tax revenue the State of Oregon earns from Nike annually. In December of 2012 Gov. John Kitzhaber approved an agreement to lock Nike's income tax calculation for between five and forty years in order to convince them to stay and expand in Oregon rather then move to Texas or Washington. This deal was rushed through the legislature during a special session called by the Governor. House bill 4200 passed 50-5 in the House and 22-6 in the Senate. 

Most Oregonians would probably consider keeping Nike local to be a huge win for the state. From the personal accounts I have gathered most Nike employees in the Portland area count themselves incredibly lucky to work for this corporation. They offer good salaries and benefits to their executives and support staff. The facility has a museum-esque aesthetic and Nike staff also enjoy a private portion of the beautiful Oregon forest, owned exclusively by their employer. Unfortunately the expansion planned for their corporate headquarters will be on top of that forrest but hopefully there will still be some left over for the employees to enjoy.



However not everyone saw this deal as a victory for the state.

"Very likely the company’s tax bill today is puny, compared to what it once was. Nike was a prominent member of the Loophole Lobby that succeeded in getting the Oregon legislature to adopt “single-sales factor” — the formula for calculating the share of a multistate corporation’s nationwide profits that Oregon gets to tax. Today Oregon counts just the percent of nationwide sales that occur in Oregon, where before the state also factored in the share of the corporation’s property and payroll in Oregon when apportioning profits that Oregon can tax," says Chuck Sheketoff, the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.  
http://www.oregonlive.com/playbooks-profits/index.ssf/2013/02/as_nike_looks_to_expand_it_alr.html

The protest on Monday and its disturbing outcome led me down the rabbit hole that is Nike and Cambodia which could fill an entire book.  I found this short documentary on youtube called "The Apparel Truth" which includes footage of sweatshops supplying Walmart, Nygard, H&M, Nike and GAP. In the course of their investigation the filmakers were able to get the following quote by one of the factory managers:

"Here basically people are very hardworking people, you tell anything, and they'll do it for you, they are raw people…you can mold them as much as you can. That is the best part of these guys…so you can use them however you can. Whatever we give, they are happy with that. They do not know exactly what they are worth. You have plenty of people over here, the labor is very cheap."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fve0xjEyk4U

This led me to another video, this time shot by Cambodian garment workers themselves, begging Americans to tell H&M and Walmart to pay them the back pay they owed them when they closed the factory. These displaced workers have been living on the street in front of the factory protesting their plight ever since. The worker's themselves collaborated on this video.




This is the entire text of the signs being held up in the video, which is a direct plea for help to American shoppers to put pressure on Walmart and H&M to pay them back wages and benefits.

"In Cambodia garment workers at a factory supplying Walmart were left unpaid and homeless.  After shutdowns in September 2012, bosses abandoned the Kingsland factory. Garment workers lost their jobs and were denied back wages and benefits. Factory workers hope consumers hear their voices. Please Walmart and H&M force factory boss to the solve the problem.

Workers tell their story:

SIGNS READ:
"In Camobdia, we are 400 workers making underwear Walmart and H&M."

"Owners closed the Kingsland Garment factory, suspended our work and did not pay severance and back wages."

"Owners have fled the country."

"Management actions are not legal. We demand factory owners obey the law and pay us. We worry bosses will remove machinery at night still without paying us."

"We are sleeping on the sidewalk outside factory gates. We are scared at night."

"I am owed $800 in back wages and benefits."

"I am owed $1600 in back wages and benefits."

"I am owed $250 in back wages and benefits."

"We want our wages and benefits."

"We ask that factory owners obey labour laws."

"We have no money for food. We are hungry."

"We think Walmart, H&M should be accountable."

"Cheap clothes from Walmart, H&M have a human cost.  Please help us." 

As I typed these words I could not help thinking about the quote above where the manager said the garment workers "do not know exactly what they are worth". If the quotes from their signs above prove anything, it is that they know excatly what they are worth.  Each person holds up their own sign with their amount due written into the space provided. I received the following comment when I reposted this video on FaceBook:

"These folks must be fairly desperate to be working in sweat shops. If those sweat shops are shut down, how will these folks make any money? In other words, is a crappy job better than no job? I would argue yes. Of course a good job is the ideal, but a developing country has to crawl before it can walk."

To which I replied that human decency should not be something that needs "development" when the money is coming from the West. 

I am planning to visit Nike in person next week to follow up with them regarding the protest in Kampong Speu. The associated press article about the incident did not include even a mention of the woman who lost her baby. I want to be sure that Nike is aware of the blood on their hands. I am going to ask them what they plan to do about it. It is my sincere hope that they will take me seriously. Honestly I am terrified to walk into their compound. Who knows if I will even get passed the front desk. But somewhere, deep inside of me, I hear the familiar mantra.....

"Just Do It"

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sisters of the Cloth

I am a seamstress. I hesitate to call myself a "designer" because I have yet to come up with many of my own designs.  But can I sew? Absolutely! I "borrowed" my Mother's sewing machine when I was about ten and never gave it back. That machine became my best friend. I would sew for hours in the summers, all night long. Nick Jr. was my constant companion during those sewing marathons. Mister Ed, Patti Duke and Gidget were my pals. I started by making baby dresses. My sister had a little girl so I was happily lost in a sea of lace, ribbon and bows. I made some of my prom dresses and lots of costumes for this and that.  

As I got older I continued to make things here and there and eventually I tried my hand at costume design for local theater. I enjoyed every minute of that experience except I could not keep up with the work and stress. I slaved for hours in my shop for weeks at a time, barely coming up for air. The payoff was getting to see my designs and handy work under the lights and beauty that is live theater. It was such a thrill and feeling of accomplishment on opening night. 

But sadly, that career did not pay much. I remember breaking down my hourly wage once and it was WAY below minimum wage. I decided never to do that math again. Even still, sewing is that thing I can't NOT do. I have spent hours at my machine, hunched over, sweating and sore in the back. Now that I am older I can only put in about three hours at the machine without my body screaming in pain. I have to take lots of breaks in order to keep myself in that position.



In Bangladesh the average garment worker stays at their machine for 8-12 hours a day, 7 days a week and earns between $38 to $60 per month. That means they are earning $.13 to $.20 per hour, which is slightly less then we pay our prison population. http://www.bop.gov/inmate_programs/work_prgms.jsp 

This amount will cover only their most basic needs. Most of the injured workers from Rana Plaza will have to go immediately back to work when they are released from the hospital. 

I cannot imagine being at my sewing machine for those long hours. My body would be in so much pain by the end of the day! Those long shifts must feel like torture. There is also no personal pay off for them. There is no opening night where they will see their hard work shown off to applause. They will continue to sit at their machines churning out garment after garment while we continue paying $10 to $20 for each piece. Eventually we tire of it, give it away, or leave it in our closet until it is forgotten.


Rozina Akter, 21, a sewing-machine operator who worked at the Phantom Apparels factory on the fourth floor of Rana Plaza:

"It's a hard job. At least I have a fan over my head and I can live in the city. I tried to open a tailoring shop back home, but I had to give it up... I didn't want to go to work that morning, but the supervisors said we'd be docked pay if we didn't go. Then the building owner turned up with some guys who threatened to beat us with sticks if we didn't start working … We went in and started working, but then the power went out and the whole building started to shake. I ran for the stairs. But after I ran down one flight, the roof crashed down around me. I fell and lost consciousness …" http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/may/23/bangladesh-garment-industry-women-opportunity


It breaks my heart that my beloved sewing machine has become a weapon of mass destruction. This beautiful gadget that has brought me so much happiness and fulfillment has become the means by which thousands if not millions of human beings have become slaves and victims to the greed of capitalism. I can no longer sit at my machine without thinking of girls like Rozina, or 18-year-old, Amena Khatun, who worked on the building's second floor of Rana Plaza. Her father travelled to the site of the collapse the day it fell. He began searching for any sign of his beloved daughter. He was up every day at dawn to begin searching and would not stop until midnight. Amena was trying to make her own way in the world and did not want to depend on her brothers for support. He never found her. 

"There has been no help from officials. I am a poor man. I am illiterate. Who will help me?". http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/may/23/bangladesh-garment-industry-women-opportunity

He attended the mass burial to say goodbye to his sweet girl. He will never get to honor her body with a traditional Bangladeshi burial. He will never know exactly how she died. All that remains of her life are memories.



I cannot stop thinking about these beautiful young girls, lives wasted so we can look good. I feel a solidarity with these women so strong that if I had the means I would go visit them, if only to tell them that somebody cares about them, that they have value and worth in the world, that I appreciate all that they have done for me. We are sisters of the cloth, literally. I weep for the loss of such beauty, such potential.

They have stopped searching for bodies in the wreckage of Rana Plaza. Today I burn a candle for Amena and the 1120 confirmed dead. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Victim 3: My Concert T's

I am a music festival junky. My husband and I attend several a year and every once in a while I splurge and purchase a tour shirt. My tour shirts, though not many, mean the world to me. I remember the shows I bought them at, the smiles, twirls and good times. It also feels good to support the bands by purchasing their merchandise. This is my current stack of shirts.



They comprise the following four brands:

Anvil
http://www.anvilknitwear.com/
Recover
http://www.recoverbrands.com/
Bella
http://www.bella.com/
HYP
http://www.hyponline.com/
  
First let's talk about Anvil. I found an entire section of their site devoted to "compliance" where I found this:

California Transparency in Supply Chains Act:
http://www.anvilknitwear.com/Compliance/California-Transparency-in-Supply-Chains-Act

"To ensure that we meet or exceed our strict Code of Conduct requirements, we conduct a series of independent internal and third party audits each year, ensuring our commitment to responsibility for our employees, customers and other stakeholders. In 2012, 142 monitoring audits were performed. Of these, 90 were conducted by Gildan's internal auditors or by external auditors on Gildan's behalf, and 52 were conducted by external auditors or assessors for WRAP, the FLA, Better Work or by customers…Gildan audits all of its owned and contracted manufacturing facilities yearly. All Gildan audits are unannounced. The majority of the audits are conducted by our trained internal auditors and we also use independent third party auditors in some instances. We are also subject to audits from some of our customers."

I decided to dig further and add Gildan to my search since Gildan owns Anvil. I found this assessment released in 2012 by the Worker's Rights Consortium, an "independent labor rights monitoring organization, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. Our purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products." http://www.workersrights.org/

Excerpt from theAssessment (Star is owned by Glidan):
"The WRC investigated two sets of allegations made by Star workers. First, workers alleged that management gave tacit approval and/or engaged in active collusion vis-à-vis threats of violence and acts of harassment against members and leaders of the union. Second, workers alleged that Star management violated the collective bargaining agreement and Honduran law by refusing to share information with the union about policy changes at the factory that affect workers." http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2797&context=globaldocs

In light of this assessment, a horrific read, and the fact that Gildan has still failed to complete agreed upon remediation steps with the WRC, my beloved shirt will go on the burn pile.  

From the HYP site:
"HYP strives to be a company where people want to work, and with whom customers and vendors want to do business because:

We are the best prepared company in our industry;

We communicate better than any company in our industry; and

We take full responsibility for our actions and behavior."

These are just words on a screen though. They have not responded to my emails asking about their labor practices.  I have been waiting three days for ANY response from both HYP and Recover.  Bella sent me the following response almost immediately though:

Hello Deborah,

Thank you so much for reaching out.  Yes, all our factories abide by the fair labor laws and we do not use sweatshops to produce our tee's.  I have included our Global Compliance as well as the CPSIA for you to reference.  If you have any other questions please let me know.

Have a great day!

Looks good right?  The attachment they sent me was a copy of their Global Compliance agreement that they give to their vendors.  I have heard about these agreements, they were found in the debris at Rana Plaza actually.  The problem with these agreements is that the vendor is half a world away and unless they are inspected regularly they can get away with murder (literally).  I asked Bella if they perform regular inspections and I have not heard back from them...

I found this on the Recover site:
"Beyond using 100% recycled materials to produce Recover products we take great pride in using the most environmentally sustainable manufacturing methods. The process in which the recycled materials and recycled cotton are produced into garments significantly reduces the environmental impact of the manufacturing process by eliminating dyes and greatly reducing chemical, water, and energy use. Ultimately the entire process, from design to production to packaging, contributes to the environmental impact of a garment and it is Recover’s goal to reduce that impact every step of the way."

All good, really commendable. But what about the laborers? I support saving the environment as much as anyone but I care about people too. There is simply no mention of them at all.  I would expcet that in light of Rana Plaza, brands like these would put a message up on their websites informing concerned customers of their compliance with safe working environments for their employees. Sadly I have not seen one, probably because nobody really cares.  

During the time it took me to write most of this post I finally got a response from Recover. They seem like a commendable company who are trying to work in harmony with the earth.  This is our correspondance so far:


Hello!

You have nothing on your website about your labor practices.  I am writing a blog about ethically made fashion and would like to recommend your company but I need to know that you do not use sweatshop labor for any part of the production of your clothing.  Beyond that I need to know that you do regular inspections of your factories to ensure safe working conditions.  What can you tell me about your company in this regard?

Hey Deborah,
That is a great question and the answer is yes! We are very proud of every step of our production process - the mission of the company is being the most ecologically friendly and socially responsible apparel possible. 

All of our fabric is manufactured in the North and South Carolina. For the final step, the cut and sew, we have a few operations. The first is a coop in Haiti that we are very excited to be a part of called Better Work Haiti http://betterwork.org/global/?page_id=316. Their goal is economic recovery of Haiti using the textile industry to provide better wage jobs and conditions. I actually went down there last year on an unrelated medical mission trip and talk about a country that can use all the help it can get! 

Our other cut and sew is in Guatemala at a state-of-the-art eco-friendly facility. They have good working conditions in a great facility that actually runs a large percentage of its energy from its own biomass. 

We are also playing with a cut and sew coop right here in North Carolina to have an entirely USA-made product. That is our youngest and least developed operations, but it reflects our belief that we can always adapt and continue to improve. 

I hope that answer your question. Please let me know if not. We at Recover hold the belief that we can always improve, so we continue to explore opportunities to make every aspect of the business more ecologically friendly and socially responsible. 

Glad to hear you're a shirt owner! We hope you love them! Who knew recycled plastic bottles could be so comfortable right!

I am very encouraged by this exchange and I have sent another email probing a bit further. Before I remove their shirt from my burn pile I want to know that they have visited these factories in person, more than once, to be sure their workers are happy. I am also going to sugest they put something on their website about their compassion for the victims in Bangladesh. 

I will give HYP more time to respond and I hope to receive a reply from Bella. For now all these shirts are on the burn pile. They have until June 21st, the date of my bonfire, to prove to me they deserve my business.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Time


Sweatshops are run entirely on a clock in order to improve maximum profit for the share holders. The concept of a sweatshop was first introduced between 1830 and 1850 in order to adopt the method of subcontracting piecework specifically in the industry of garment making.  In 1850 Charles Kingsley, a minister of the Church of England, university professor, historian and novelist, wrote a book called "Cheap Clothes and Nasty" which described the sweatshop conditions in London England. 

"And now comes the question - What is to be done with these poor tailors, to the number of between fifteen and twenty thousand? Their condition, as it stands, is simply one of ever-increasing darkness and despair. The system which is ruining them is daily spreading, deepening. While we write, fresh victims are being driven by penury into the slop-working trade, fresh depreciations of labour are taking place... What can be done?"

First - this can be done. That no man who calls himself a Christian - no man who calls himself a man shall ever disgrace himself by dealing at any show shop or slop shop. It is easy enough to know them. The ticketed garments, the impudent puffs, the trumpery decorations, - proclaim them, - every one knows them at first sight. He who pretends not to do so is simply either a fool or a liar. Let no man enter them - they are the temples of Moloch - their thresholds are rank with human blood. God's curse is on them, and on those who, by supporting them, are partakers of their sins. 

But it is so hard to deprive the public of the luxury of cheap clothes! Then let the public look out for some other means of procuring that priceless blessing. If that, on experiment, be found impossible - if the comfort of the few be for ever to be bought by the misery of the many - if civilization is to benefit every one except the producing class - then this world is truly the devil's world, and the sooner so ill-constructed and infernal a machine is destroyed by that personage, the better." http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/economic/sweat.htm

Sound familiar?  

The most notable difference between 1850 England and 2013 America is that our slaves work on the other side of the globe. Talk about "out of sight, out of mind". When we consider the issue of cheaply made clothing, it is clear to see its roots within the very foundation of our culture: Capitalism.

And that brings us back the concept of Time. Time is money! What could be more American than that? We value people in terms how how much money they earn per hour. We teach our children that they must learn to function in the world by the clock. Bells ring in their heads daily to signal that is time for their brains to shift gears and move on to the next subject or else they might fall behind their peers and be considered a "F"ailure. It doesn't matter if they were just about to make a breakthrough in a particular subject, the bell rings and they march on. There are wonderful schools that work against this model like Montessori and Waldorf but most of us can't afford those schools unless we shop at Walmart (if at all). We grow up learning how to segment our lives in order to earn the maximum profit. Captains of Industry learned very early during the Industrial Revolution to crack the whip to turn out more product in order to sell that product at the best (lowest) price as quickly as possible. Accounting reports break earnings into brackets of time so that profits can be graphed and analyzed so that factory workers can be told exactly how many shirts to complete in a specified amount of time. Today we accept that quality might suffer in this process but who cares, we will just throw it away or give it to Goodwill and then buy two more.

This is a sickness in our culture, deeply rooted in sacred memories of "girl time" and our insatiable need to qualify for the "cool" click of life. A wise friend of mine, Alexander Baretich, refers to this sickness as the "hungry ghost":

"Greed and addiction to consumption was and is seen in some cultures as an illness associated with spirits. In Buddhism the term "hungry ghosts" is used. Many Indigenous People were alarmed by the European greed for gold, land and material things that they diagnosed those infected with such cravings as having "cannibal disease" and among the Algonquian People this was called "Wendigo." Even the ancients of Europe knew of this disease for it is told that Demeter cursed Erysikhthon with insatiable hunger until he ate his own limbs after he killed her sacred trees."

We all have the "hungry ghost" within us. It is the voice that I hear every time I enter a mall or a Target. It has almost succeeded in devouring my soul. I know, dramatic much? But truly, it has. Right now as I type I am falling behind in my work and thus losing money. The time it takes me to write a blog post, edit it and promote it online costs me $50-$150 an hour. That is time I will make up by extending my work day into the evening as I tell my children to "fend for themselves" for dinner. I do not enjoy breaking down the time I spend trying to be a good citizen in terms of dollars, but unfortunately I live pay check to pay check and time really IS money. I do not want to sound like a martyr, I am most certainly not. I put myself in this position when I charged my way through my twenties and thirties. I am grateful that I have a job to pay for it all. I am a thousand times better off than many Americans.

Time remains a major factor in Bangladesh right now. The bodies are rotting, many unidentified. The death toll surpassed 1100 when they stopped looking. 


"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."







Saturday, May 18, 2013

Confessions of a Shopping Addict

I have a shopping addiction. In years past I could not walk into a Target without dropping $100 easily.  I get in a frenzy and just start grabbing things off racks.  I do not try anything on, I grab, charge and go. This addiction has led to over 30K in credit card debt. Yes I am making it public; I am one of THOSE women. I come by it honestly. My Mom and I use to have a lot of fun shopping together. She taught me the art of the sale. She never bought anything at full price and she would shop almost solely at discount stores. She had a walk in closet as I was growing up that was filled to the brim. I would often sneak in and hide behind the soft, sweet smelling fabrics. As I got older she allowed me to raid her closet every morning before school. There was something about wearing an item of hers that made me feel more beautiful. This addiction goes deep for me. 

That leads me to my next confession. I went on one last shopping spree the week after Rana Plaza fell. My dear friend was in Portland for a work conference and I stayed with her in her hotel so we could spend a lot of time together. Right next to her hotel was a bright and shiny Target. We do not have a Target anywhere near our new home so since we moved to Portland four years ago it has been easy to curb that addiction without access. But get me anywhere near one for an extended period of time and everything I thought I was melts into a burning need for more clothing. I have gained some weight lately and many of my Summer clothes were not fitting well so that was my main justification for the relapse. Of course I did not want to face the truth. Maybe instead of buying bigger clothes, I could just lose the weight. But where is the immediate gratification in that?  I was raised in America after all. We are taught to throw things away when they break instead of getting them fixed. We have so much excess that we fill up secondary stores like GoodWill and Salvation Army to over flowing. 


These are the items I bought on that last shopping spree:

Three tops, one skirt, one dress and one purse. 


This was a light haul for me but I was rusty and my conscience was SCREAMING at me the entire time. I knew about Rana Plaza but I had not looked at any pictures or followed the story. I'd seen a few FaceBook posts about it but that was about as far as I'd been willing to take it because of the inevitable conclusion. I do not remember the exact amount that I spent but it was definitely in the triple digits. When I got back to the hotel room I tore the tags off immediately so that it would be harder for me to return them later.

That weekend we travelled down to San Diego for my sister-in-law's wedding. I happily brought all my new purchases. On our drive back to Portland I had a lot of time to sit and think and read things on FaceBook. There were several posts about Rana Plaza and I finally started digging into the story and seeing the images. Just as I feared, the switch was flipped and I knew that I would never again wear any of the clothing in my closet that might possibly have made by the hands of the victims, or their counterparts in other countries. That is why this last shopping spree will take special honor in the bonfire. These are the items that I bought with full awareness of the deaths in Bangladesh. 

I announced my intentions to my family in the car. My husband wasn't surprised, nor was my son. My 15 year old daughter, however, was stoney silent and clearly pissed. My heart dropped. I remembered the trip we had just taken to Seattle together where we tore through the gigantic three story Forever 21. We had so much fun, just like my Mom and I used to. That shopping trip felt special and significant. It bonded us and allowed us some girly togetherness. It was a scene right out of my childhood.

My heart broke when I realized what I was taking away from my daughter. She didn't speak to me for over 24 hours. I must admit this made me waiver slightly. But in the end I knew that I had to follow through. If nothing else, FOR my daughter. I do not want to see her 30K in credit debt at the age of 42. I am completely held prisoner by my debt. If I were not so deep under I would be able to work part time and still pay my mortgage. I think about how much more time that would allow me for my family and for activism.

And finally for some GOOD news!



17 days after the collapse of Rana Plaza a cry for help was heard in the basement area of the building. It was the anguished cry of 19 year old Reshma Begum. 


"On the morning of April 24, she heard there were cracks in the building and saw co-workers, mainly men, refusing to enter. The managers reassured them: 

'There is no problem. You do your work,' she said.

Soon after, the building crashed down around her.

'When it happened I fell down and was injured in the head heavily. Then I found myself in darkness,' she said. She tried to crawl to safety, but could not find a way out, she said.

She survived on four packets of cookies she had with her and some water, she said.

'Another person, a man, was near me. He asked for water. I could not help him. He died. He screamed, 'Save me,' but he died,' she said. 

'I can't remember everything that happened.'

'I never thought of coming back alive," she said.'"

Reshma has vowed to never work in a garment factory again. Reshma is only 4 years older then my daughter. She could be my daughter. Talk about a healthy dose of perspective. I do not want to pass this addiction down to my daughter. We will find other activities to bond over.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Walmart


I am getting married on July 7. I am making my dress out of organic silk and bamboo. I bought the fabric before Rana Plaza fell. I have decided to use it even though I am not 100% sure that it was made ethically. I know, I know. When you do something like burn all your clothing for a cause you are supposed to follow ALL the rules. I hear that, believe me. Last weekend I cleaned out my sewing room in preparation for designing my dress but as I stared at the beautiful fabric, creamy white and perfectly ripe.


I decided to make this instead:



6 members of the Walton family appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. 
No. 6: Christy Walton, $25.7 billion
No. 9: Jim Walton, $23.7 billion
No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion
No. 11: S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion
No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion
No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion
That is a grand total of $103.1 billion for the whole family.

Walmart clothing was found amongst the decaying bodies and debris at Rana Plaza. In my mind, with all the billions they have, they could easily write a check and take care of every single surviving victim as well as all the families of the dead and not even feel it. 

We did the math.  If each of the Walmart heirs gave up 1/4 of their wealth, they could give 9 million dollars to every single person or family from Rana Plaza and still be worth a combined 67 BILLION dollars.

This sort of detached wealth does not compute in my head. I do not understand why people like the Walton family do not seem to have any compassion for the destruction they caused in Bangladesh as well as the countless small businesses and precious untouched land they have destroyed. There is so much I could write here about their disgusting business practices but it would take me all day and I have an appointment with a street sign later today to try to inform my fellow citizens about their impending invasion of Tigard Oregon, a few miles from my home. Yea, the BIG BAD is coming to town and there seems to be no hope in stopping them. Not only are they building in close proximity to a Costco, WinCo and Fred Meyer, but they chose a property that neighbors some wetlands where there are hundreds of living creatures who will be destroyed when they start polluting the area with their construction and traffic. Many small businesses will also be pushed out of business. There have been a few attempts to stop them with no success. I joined the fight last weekend.

There are only about 6 of us attempting one last time to stop them and we are having trouble getting more numbers to support us. I was at a store close to the future Walmart site the other day and mentioned to the employees that they their business might suffer when the Walmart goes in and most of them just looked at me with a vacant stare. One of them even said, "So?". I was taken aback. I guess I thought that everyone had seen this movie when it came out a few years ago:


video


If you haven't seen it yet, I suggest you do. It is important to understand the enemy, and make no mistake, they ARE your enemy. They want to sell you cheaply made blood clothing at the cost of human lives. They want you to believe they are good for America and that they are "job creators", but really they don't even pay their employees a living wage. Many of their employees can't survive without food stamps.  And unions? Don't even whisper the word if you work for them or you will be fired faster then you can say the word "organize". 

As of this date the following companies have agreed to sign a legally binding contract called the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which commits them to investing in basic safety measures like fire escapes and safe electrical wiring:

H&M
United Colors of Benetton
Joe Fresh
Loblas
Tommy Hilfiger
Calvin Klein
Izod
C&A
Tchibo
ElCorte Ingles'
Tesco
Marks & Spencer
Primmark

One notable exception is The Gap who refuse to sign anything legally binding. There is now a massive campaign to pressure The Gap into signing. You can take action here:



Also not on this list and not surprising in the least is, you guessed it, Walmart. 



This is the the future home of Walmart, Tigard Oregon.



There has been evidence that beavers might habitat in this area along with geese, ducks and many other beautiful creatures who call this place home. Keep in mind, only a few blocks away there already stands a Costco. But Walmart doesn't care about these creatures any more than they care about the 1100 dead Bangladeshi garment workers who died making their crap. We are at the last possible moment to prevent this from happening right now. We are trying everything we can think of to get people to care enough to try to stop it. After making the banner I pulled out all the stops and made this:


I stood on the busiest traffic street near the Walmart site and danced my ass off dressed like a sexy beaver. I swear this is not usually how I roll. Sure I am a bit theatric and have been known to dance at marches but this? I think this whole thing has made me snap. I just don't care at all what anyone thinks of me anymore. I could not care less about what image this might portray of me. I was called a "Crazy Bitch" and a "Dirty Hippie" as I tap danced around and it literally made my heart sing with pleasure to feel what should have been a sting but instead was bliss. I AM a crazy bitch and I am pissed off that we are so turned around that we allow this to happen again and again and again. Walmart moves in, small businesses fail, environment is paved over, workers go on food stamps and the people say "amen". 

I am not confident that we will prevail in Tigard. It is real long shot at this point. There are also 2 more Walmarts being built only 8 miles away in Sheerwood and 12 miles away in Oregon City. Both are facing local opposition but it's not looking good. The fact is nobody cares. Nobody wants to be accountable if it means they have to pay a little more or make due with less. Don't be fooled, this agreement in Bangladesh is a very good start but there is still so far to go. Even in countries where they have labor protections and slightly better working conditions they are still living with unacceptable standards. Until we stop treating the rest of the world as our personal slave pool there will always be another Rana Plaza. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Victim 2: Fashion Fuse


conscience |ˈkänCHəns|
noun
an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior: she had a guilty conscience about her desires to look good | Deborah was suffering a pang of conscience.


This is my favorite summer music festival top. It is made out of really light cotton so it is very cool on those hot days and SO cute with my favorite twirly skirts. I don't remember where I bought it, probably at a festival or second hand shop. After going through all my clothing on Monday I put this top back in the closet. Yesterday I wore it for about 5 minutes until I realized that since it had a label I should probably look up the brand and clear my conscience or put it on the burn pile where it belongs

This is all I had to go on:


I did some Googling and finally found their website:

As I looked through their clothing for sale my heart skipped a beat. I  love every single item they sell. My shopping addiction started to drum loudly in my soul. 

WAN'T WAN'T WAN'T!!!!

I started getting excited about all the clothing I could buy from them IF they use ethical labor so I wasted no time in sending them this email:

Hello!
I am a big fan of your clothing. Since the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh I have committed myself to wearing and buying only ethically made clothing. I have a few of your items and I was unable to find anything on the internet about your business practices. Can you tell me where your clothes are made and under what conditions? My top says "Made in India". I attached a photo. I would appreciate your response otherwise I will have to burn it.

Thank you!
Deborah Norton

I got a reply in about 10 minutes. I was really happy and excited to see they were quick to respond to such an important issue in their industry. Then I read the email:

Hi,
All of our clothes are Made in India. 
All of our suppliers are factory compliant and are up to code. 

Thanks
Fashion Fuse, Inc.
8 Caesar Place
Moonachie, NJ 07074
Tel: 201-438-8102
Fax: 201-484-8575



Um.....ok.....and who are you?  There was no name, no expression of concern for what had happened, just a brief and cold reply. I sent this back immediately:


I appreciate your prompt reply but what does that mean? Can you take some time to fill me in with more detail? You are not listed as Fair Trade and are not on any lists of ethical clothing brands. What factory do you buy your clothing from in India? I need more than this reply. You didn't even sign your name.

Best, 
Deborah Norton

It's been 24 hours and no reply...

As I tossed my beautiful festival top on the burn pile I was wistful. All the clothes on the Fashion Fuse site are beautiful and totally ME and I wish I could buy ALL of them. But something inside of me has snapped. I know I can never go back to wearing "blood clothing" again. It feels like the day I found out the LDS church was promoting and funding anti-gay marriage legislation in California. That day I knew that although I had loved my religion and lived it devoutly for 7 years, I could no longer associate with my church again. It was a clean break and I have never regretted it once. My entire life turned upside down due to that decision and I ended up divorced, working for minimum wage and struggling to put food on the table for my kids. I could have stayed in the church with my successful husband and lived in comfort for the rest of my life without having to work another day. 

I have never regretted that decision once.  Compared to that decision this one is cake.  I still have beautiful clothing in my closet and this decision will certainly not end my relationship or harm me financially. 

And while I took the time to agonize over 1 silly top, the death toll at Rana Plaza has surpassed 1100.  


Friday, May 10, 2013

How the Other Half Lives

"When the summer heats come with their suffering they have meaning more terrible than words can tell. Come over here. Step carefully over this baby--it is a baby, spite of its rags and dirt--under these iron bridges called fire-escapes, but loaded down, despite the incessant watchfulness of the firemen, with broken household goods, with wash-tubs and barrels, over which no man could climb from a fire. This gap between dingy brick-walls is the yard. That strip of smoke-colored sky up there is the heaven of these people. Do you wonder the name does not attract them to the churches? That baby's parents live in the rear tenement here. She is at least as clean as the steps we are now climbing. There are plenty of houses with half a hundred such in. The tenement is much like the one in front we just left, only fouler, closer, darker--we will not say more cheerless. The word is a mockery. A hundred thousand people lived in rear tenements in New York last year." 

How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York, Jacob A. Riis (1890)



I read "How the Other Half Lives" in college and it is why I decided to major in history.  It is a photo journal documenting the lives of the poor, as they lived in the tenements and worked in the sweatshops of New York City at the turn of the century.  It is a time in our history that we are not proud of.  People lived in abject poverty in disgusting and unsafe conditions and worked their lives away in factories.  


Sound familiar?



The words and images that Jacob Riis planted in my brain have haunted me ever since. Every time I buy something that I know was probably made under unethical conditions a bell goes off in my head.  I usually ignore it.  I have even made jokes about it to my friends.  


"How can this possibly only cost $15?"  



"It was probably made in a sweat shop in a 3rd world country by a 10 year old, that is why!"



But even through the nervous laughter I would see the images in my head, like these:






I may have thought about the small hands that made my precious garment once or twice post purchase.  After a while it would just blend in with the sea of other items that I could not live without.  After all, what were my options?  

"I don't make a ton of money and have two teenagers to feed so if I don't buy my clothes at Target how will I get by?"

"I work so hard and I just want to look pretty, is that so much to ask?  It's not like I spent $100 on it.  It was only $15!  Who cares that I also bought about 8 other items for $15, it was such a deal!"

This is the conversation I have been having in my head for years.  Until Rana Plaza.  Now that I have the burn pile the obvious answer totally walloped me.

"What if you had LESS clothing?"

Today someone remarked after reading my earlier post, "Who has 75 lbs. of clothing?"

Ouch.  Yea, I do, because for some reason I didn't think I could get by without them.  Because somewhere in the blur of television commercials, images and non-stop product endorsements I figured out that I constantly need new clothes in order to be awesome.  And what American doesn't want to be awesome?

It only took me about five minutes on Google to find the modern day versions of the photo's above.  






I have received a lot of feedback regarding this project in the last day or so. One argument I have heard is that we should allow 3rd world countries their opportunity to have their own Industrial Revolution. That we should just let them "work it out". Eventually they will start unions and begin the long fight for fair working conditions so we should "get out of their way" and let progress fight its own battle. I don't accept that argument.  We are all on this planet together and it is time we stopped thinking in terms of "Us and Them".  We have learned through the suffering of our own people that these conditions are unacceptable. We have the knowledge and understanding of how to make things better and yet we insists on getting cheap labor wherever we can get it so we can make more money. We the consumers insist on paying $10 for something we know full well was made by a 10 year old because it is "such a good deal"  We read books like "How the Other Half Lives" in college and then sell them back to the bookstore without another thought. But huge corporations like Walmart, with billions of dollars of profit, refuse to be a part of the solution for their workers. Instead they focus on their bottom line and they treat these precious human beings like they are worthless. The cheaper they can get their clothes made the more profit and for what? They will never spend all that money in their lifetime, why not send a few million to the victims at Rana Plaza? So far only two Western brands have committed to helping the victims. 

The UK clothing chain Primark issued this statement:

"We are fully aware of our responsibility. We urge these other retailers to come forward and offer assistance," said the retailer." 

Primark has committed to provide "long term aid" to the children whose parents died in the collapse. Canadian retailer Loblaw has also acknowledged that it sold clothing made at Rana Plaza and has committed to helping the victims.

“Our priorities are helping the victims and their families, and driving change to help prevent similar incidents in the future."


I am encouraged to read this but it is just a drop in the bucket of the sort of aid these families will need to repair their lives. And what about the 1000+ confirmed dead? Nothing will ever bring those people back to life. Most of them were young women. They had been evacuated from the building the day before because cracks were forming in the walls of the building. But the next morning they were all ordered back to work with threats of losing their jobs if they failed to show up. These people were forced back to work in that building.  In my mind this was nothing more than a forced extermination.  


And what about retailers in the good ole USA?  Many have issued statements that although they have sold clothing made in Rana Plaza in the past, they were not currently making anything for them during the collapse. The Children's Place and Walmart and many others have tried to deflect blame. There is proof that the clothing produced at Rana Plaza was made for New Wave Style, New Wave Bottoms and Ether Tex, who's leading buyers are Walmart, Benetton, Mango, Primark and The Children's Place. I am confident more American brands will be named. I hope they know that the whole world in watching and waiting for them to do the right thing.