The Toronto Star's "I Got Hired at a Bangladesh Sweatshop. Meet My 9-year-old Boss"
Last Friday the Toronto Star published an article about one of its writers going undercover in a Bangladesh sweatshop. It's an incredible piece, and one I think everyone in our industry should read.
On my own read-through, I was expecting a straight-condemnation of sweatshops, but the piece actually presents a much more complex and multifaceted picture. While the work conditions described are absolutely horrible, there are several ideas and details brought up in the article that I'd classify as "meaningful silver linings to abusive labor practices," which I know is a super-weird thing say, but I'm not sure how else to describe it. Take this passage from back part of the article:
Taaniya [a 13 year-old female sweatshop employee] told Meem [a 9 year-old female sweatshop employee] that if she earned enough, she wouldn't have to get married and move away to live with some strange man who might like her, or might not.
She could also buy a colour TV set one day, Taaniya said.
Taaniya is the third of four siblings and she regularly buys gifts for her oldest sister's daughter.
Cheap fashion has fueled a social revolution in Bangladesh. It has given women more economic freedom, and to an extent, the power to make some decisions. By all accounts, working women are changing their lives, their families' lives. There is more food in homes, and cleaner clothes. There is electricity, even if it's one bulb, and there are toilets.
But it has come at a price.
Meem liked playing in the rain. She liked sleeping in on Sundays and holidays. She liked playing with her three baby sisters.
The factory has become her life, the life she will likely know for a long time, maybe all her days.
So, that seems like somewhat of a good thing, right? Or is it a completely shallow and unsubstantiated justification for child slavery and human torture?
The article has a bunch of other tough moral knots like the one above, all of which we should be thinking about. Is Westernization and social empowerment worth the suffering and death caused by these factories? Could this choice be a false dichotomy, and there's some way to have the democratization without the suffering? How do we police how our clothing is made, if we even should? What responsibility does the promotional industry have, if any?
I don't have answers to any of these questions, but I hope some of you out there do.
Thanks for reading guys, and see you all next week!
MONDAY MIKE FACT: I just finished reading Questlove's autobiography Mo' Meta Blues. It was pretty good! I'd recommend it to anyone interested in music, art or hip-hop history. Also, there are a couple priceless stories about Prince, Diddy and Tracey Morgan in there, which are so weird and good it's nearly worth picking up the book just for them.