A couple of weeks ago I got a great pair of Joe Fresh jeans at the MCC Abby East Thrift Shop where I volunteer. I hate buying jeans – I find them so hard to fit, so when I find a pair that do fit I’m usually thrilled. (These needed hemming, which my friend Belinda did for me – so grateful for people who can do that.)
This week, a building in which 2000 people worked, many of them women making clothing for Joe Fresh, among others, collapsed, killing over 275 people – a number that will surely rise. The news reports I heard said that police had condemned the building the day before but the owners forced the workers back the next day, apparently saying the building would last another 100 years. Several hours later, they were proven wrong.
The average wage of a person making clothing in Bangladesh is 14 cents an hour. North American companies like Joe Fresh, Walmart and Dress Barn all have clothing made in this country. We Canadians like to shop at these places because the clothing is affordable – totally understandable when you’re not making a celebrity wage or have a family to clothe. I know that I don’t want to pay $50 or $100 for a pair of jeans. These companies have all said that they have done due diligence and have had their worker’s situations audited for safety. Now it is coming to light that these audits are bogus and no one is holding factory owners truly accountable.
So what am I to do?
One of the reasons that 95% of my clothing comes from thrift shops is because I prefer to give my money to charity than to big business. The irony of that is, of course, that someone else did buy that same clothing at the big business store, wore it and then donated it so I could feel virtuous buying it at the thrift shop. I don’t know how to get around that. I have to wear clothes and even if I could sew everything I want to wear, I imagine that purchasing fabric to do that would be fraught with the same ethical challenges. Short of growing my own cotton, wool and silk, learning how to shear, spin and weave, I will always be faced with this hypocritical conundrum.
Still, if I have to choose the lesser of all evils, I will continue to support organizations like MCC by purchasing my clothing there. I work for MCC, so yes, I am biased. I have also been to Laos, Cambodia and Ukraine (3 of the 60 countries in which MCC has relief, development and peace programs) and have seen first-hand where my money goes and what it does. MCC is also in Bangladesh, where it has served people in need since 1970. Many of the projects it supports there directly benefit the poorest of women through micro-loans, employment and literacy programs and food and water projects. MCC thrift shops in BC contributed $1.5 million dollars to the work of MCC last year – and I’m sure that other charities also benefit in that way from our purchases there.
So, I’ll wear my Joe Fresh jeans that cost me all of $3 but I’ll wear them with mixed feelings. I know that my purchase made a difference in the life of someone in need. I also know that I need to do much more to make this world a place where the word “need” is redundant.
What do you think consumers can do to make a difference?