"I've never really thought much about how the clothes are made … I dread to think that my summer top may be made by some exhausted person toiling away for hours in some sweatshop."

In a mall, such thinking counts as disruptive activity. The lexicon for most retailers runs from impulse buy to splurge to treat; they prefer us to wander the aisles with our eyes wide open and our minds shut tight. The whole point of a shopping environment is to drown out those inconvenient headlines about dead textile workers in Rana Plaza with a bit of pop music and a lot of advertising. Which is what makes the UK Uncut rallies so splendidly aggravating – because they undercut the multimillion-pound marketing with point of sale information about poverty pay for shop staff or high-street tax dodging.

They also underline how little we’re told about what we're paying for. Look at the label sewn into your top: the only thing it must tell you under law is which fibres it's made out of – whether it's cotton or polyester or whatever. Which country your shirt came from, or the accuracy of the sizing – such essentials are in the gift of the retailer. A similarly light-touch regime holds for food: after years of fighting between consumer groups and the (now eviscerated) Food Standards Agency, and big-spending food manufacturers, a new set of traffic-light labels will be introduced. Thanks to heavy industrial lobbying, it will still be completely voluntary.

How much sugar is in your bowl of Frosties: this is a basic fact, yet it remains up to the seller how they present it to you. By law you are entitled to more information about the production of your eggs than your underwear. Under current regulations, we know more about our battery hens than we do about our battery textile workers.

Consider: just over a year has passed since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, which saw more than 1,100 staff crushed to death and another 2,500 injured, many permanently disabled. Those people and the thousands of others working in similarly precarious and punishing conditions make the garments we wear and the electronic goods we fiddle about with. Yet they rate barely a mention. Outsourcing and globalisation may have brought down the price of our shopping, but it has also enabled retailers and brands to engage in a facade of blame-shifting and plausible deniability:

So here's a modest proposal: a new law that mandates more, and more relevant information, on the products we buy. Call it the Truth on the Label Act, which will require shops to display where their goods are made, which chemicals were used in production, and whether the factory is unionised. Stick it on the shelves, print it on the clothes tags. Big retailers can also display prominently in each branch how much tax they pay, and what they pay both top staff and shopfloor employees.

Such information is not hard for the big retailers and brands to provide. This information in itself won't change an entire economic system. But forcing businesses to admit exactly who is responsible for their economic success, and who reaps the profits, is a good start. Otherwise, we're entirely dependent on activists in changing rooms. By Aditya Chakrabortty The Guardian.

No comments:

Post a Comment