I know some pretty cool people. They are passionate about doing good in this world, and they put their money where their mouths are (?!) to actually make a difference to the things that bother them.
Take my friend John, for instance. This year, he and two of his friends (both called Andy) disposed of all their clothes (yes, all of them), and committed to only wearing garments if they knew who had made them, and knew that those people had been able to enjoy ethical employment practices (like not having to work in dangerously overcrowded, unstable factories, for instance).
That’s quite a challenge!
I wouldn’t know where to start looking, and, to be honest, I hear ‘fair trade’ and I think ‘expensive’ (and with good reason, with prices like £28 for a t-shirt or £78 for a shirt, replacing more than one or two items from my wardrobe is simply beyond my reach), and no matter how bad I may feel for the people making the clothes, it’s not quite enough to make me want to bankrupt myself.
Except I know those are at least to a certain extent just excuses, and they are born of the invisibility of those nameless, faceless workers overseas. I don’t know them, I don’t understand the world they live in, and to my shame, I find it all too easy to forget that they are real people.
That’s what John and co want to change. That’s why they’ve called the blog on which they’re sharing their experiences WhoMadeMyWardrobe.co.uk
They believe that people matter, and that the anonymity of our supply chains is a big part of the reason why so many workers around the world have such appalling working conditions, which in some cases amount to slavery. Just as consumers in the 18th and 19th centuries told themselves that the Africans taken from their homes to America and the Caribbean to work as slaves on the sugar and cotton plantations weren’t really people like the rest of us, so we turn a blind eye to the humanity of workers in Bangladesh, India, Uzbekistan or Argentina.
As an example of how John and two Andys want to change this, read this story about the origins of the waterproof coats they bought, and meet the Colombian nun who had a hand in them. It makes a difference, doesn’t it, when you look into the eyes, even on video, of the person who cut the fabric that made the coat that you’re wearing. I can’t afford £150 for a waterproof coat, but I know that in future, when I see their business name (Paramo), I’ll take a second look, and pay attention to their products, because I know they’re doing good.
But what to do?
So, I have a dilemma. I want to care. I know this matters, and I want to be able to make a difference, but at the moment the gap between desire and ability is (or at least seems) just too great.
I know we don’t all have to be so drastic as to give away all the clothes we already own and start from scratch, so maybe I could start at least checking out the manufacturers these guys find when I next need something new. I think they’d say that even starting to wonder who made my clothes, where they lived, what their working conditions were like, what their hopes and dreams and opportunities were would be a start.
How about you? Where are you going to start? Maybe for you it’s a different area that has grabbed your attention, and I’ll start seeing websites asking ‘who made my tea bag?’ or ‘who tubed my toothpaste?’ Maybe it’s something else entirely.
A group of us were discussing some news stories the other day and thinking about how we should respond, and came to realise that one part of the answer was ‘don’t try to be an expert on everything’. We can’t care about everything, we can’t tackle every issue or be passionate about every injustice, so maybe the first step is to ask yourself ‘what do I care about?’
Then do something about it.
[Update: 31 March 2014. The guys want to make it easier for you to get involved, should you wish to. They are looking at creating their own clothing label, where all the clothes are produced fairly. Read more here, and help them out by taking their survey.]