labor, learning, personal growth

On going sweatshop-free


I’ve written and rewritten this post for months. Time to stop being a perfectionist. Here I go, starting with a blank page and writing it once and for all, being okay with publishing it even if it’s raw and unpolished.

I first found out about sweatshops in high school and was appropriately horrified. First, I boycotted the Disney store. Over the next few years, I boycotted the GAP and Old Navy and Banana Republic. Then Nike. Then Victoria’s Secret. Then Wal-Mart and Kohls and JCPenney. Then the Express and Limited. The more research I did, the more “bad” clothing labels I found and the more I boycotted.

As the internet fleshed itself out with information in the early 2000s, I finally realized that “uses sweatshop labor” was the default for clothing manufacturers, not an exception to the rule. I realized it made little sense to approach this by opting out of confirmed sweatshop-using brands. If one wants to avoid sweatshop-made clothing, one must consider all brands guilty until proven innocent. One must boycott everything and only opt in to brands that declare themselves Fair Trade, ethical, or sweatshop-free.

For years, I tried to do this. I tried to avoid supporting sweatshops by buying used clothes from vintage and thrift stores and supplementing them with Made in the USA clothing from American Apparel. It wasn’t enough, though, and at least a couple times per year I still ended up going to regular stores and buying the same old stuff that was probably made by children or slaves (or both). I justified this by telling myself there weren’t enough sweatshop-free options out there, and that I didn’t make enough money to be able to afford them anyway. I rationalized my guilt by telling myself I was helpless to do anything about the situation so I should stop wasting time thinking about it.

This past summer, I became more mindful. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and I turned to long meditations to deal with it. This led to me becoming more aware of my emotions. I noticed that my sweatshop guilt had not left me. I noticed that every time I got dressed in the morning, I had a slightly unsettled feeling of doing something wrong, of contributing to something bad. Although I wanted to keep pushing those feelings aside, in the spirit of mindfulness and acceptance, I looked straight at them.

It was rough. At first I found myself defensive and argumentative, wanting to push back against this nagging voice telling me to pay attention to the unsettled feeling I had. “You’ll do this later. You care. You’re a good person. That’s enough for now. You’re a broke graduate student. You can’t afford to make any change this minute. Wait until you graduate and have a real job and more time and then you’ll only buy sweatshop-free for the rest of your life.”

It didn’t take much reflection to recognize the absurdity of that. First, the sweatshop issue isn’t about me or my identity as a good or bad person, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is about the workers who are suffering. Second, how ridiculous is postponing action until after grad school? “Slavery is bad and should end, but right now is inconvenient for me. Let’s end slavery later, when I have completed my luxurious graduate degree in creative writing.” I mean, really.

So I told myself I’d listen to the nagging voice and begin paying attention to the issue I had tried to push out of my mind in recent years. I started doing research. True Cost, a documentary about the fashion industry, was immensely helpful and I encourage everyone to watch it (it is available to stream on Netflix). I plan on watching it every few months just as a reminder, as something to motivate me to continue living in line with my values on this issue. I learned about Fashion Revolution and the “Who made my clothes?” movement. I read countless articles about various specific sweatshops and began compiling lists of ethical clothing brands and organizations.

Most importantly, I vowed to start buying sweatshop-free clothes only. I recognize that this is an imperfect action, and probably not enough, but it is a start. Ideally, the US should ban the import of sweatshop-made clothing. That would make sense in a country that is anti-slavery, right? For our country to boast about ending slavery then voraciously consume slave-made goods is disingenuous.

We didn’t end slavery–we moved it outside of US borders. I’m not discounting the significance of the end of US slavery. That was a good, important thing that needed to happen. But to pat ourselves on the back and talk as if that was the end of that, to teach our K-12 students as if that was the end of that, is disingenuous. We did not end slavery; we pushed it onto other people that we don’t have see in person.

I’d like to do what I can to help people realize that slavery has not ended and that we as Americans continue to benefit from it and perpetuate it. I’m not sure of the best way to approach this. People don’t want to feel guilty or bad, especially for something that seems out of their control. Also, I don’t think the responsibility should fall on the individual. Our corporations and government are failing us. They are creating and perpetuating this situation, and then obfuscating it so individual consumers have trouble figuring out what’s what. To make an individual buying a shirt feel guilty when these systems are to blame seems misguided and will probably backfire. Most people will probably feel defensive or make excuses, just like I did for years.

I debated writing a journalistic style article detailing the atrocities and widespread nature of sweatshops. Right now, I just don’t have the time. Also, my purpose isn’t journalism. My purpose is to identify what I personally can do to help end this injustice. (If you are wanting information on sweatshops and modern slavery though, look here, here, and here.)

Moving forward, I will only buy sweatshop-free clothing and accessories. I will probably write about the items I buy here and post photos of some of them on instagram. I recognize that this is an imperfect, consumerism-centric start, but I believe an imperfect start is better than no start. I recognize that, as True Cost points out, the whole “fast” fashion industry is a problem. That we cannot just slightly improve working conditions yet keep the whole larger system in place. But this is the start I see available to me now.

I have faith that, with time, I will learn more, gain knowledge and wisdom, and gain clarity on what action to take. I have faith that, with time, I will be able to do more than “conscious consumption” and a piddly blog post. I have faith that I will think of ways to join a larger movement, to put pressure on corporations to change, to put pressure on government to properly regulate. I know that this issue does not only extend to clothing and accessories. That is where I am beginning because that appears to be the most accessible “in” to ethical manufacturing and consumption. I have faith that, with time, I will find ways to promote modern slavery-free food, furniture, technology, etc.

If you have any knowledge on this issue that I do not yet seem to have, please leave a comment. Share your resources. Share your thoughts. This isn’t something that can be tackled individually.


8 thoughts on “On going sweatshop-free

  1. Canadian Friend says:

    “…We didn’t end slavery–we moved it outside of US borders…”

    That is absurd.

    Sweat shops would exist without us; that is how they treat their own people.

    That is how they have treated each other for centuries.

    I suppose you are too young and too uninformed to know about these things.

    Those people did not start to mistreat their employees the day western nations asked them to make stuff for us.

    You do not know what you are talking about.

    • Jessica Thompson says:

      “Sweat shops would exist without us; that is how they treat their own people. That is how they have treated each other for centuries.”

      I never claimed sweatshops would not exist without the US. There would be fewer of them, though. The point I was making is that I want to do my best to not benefit from sweatshops.

      “I suppose you are too young and too uninformed to know about these things.”

      This is both rude and incorrect. I’m 34 and hold a master’s in public policy. You might disagree with my opinion, but you can’t write it off as coming from someone immature and ignorant.

  2. Canadian Friend says:

    Many centuries ago, when Europeans ( or whites…am I allowed to say whites?) found other people, they found that they treated each other quite horribly and there were sweat shops back then.

    That is how it was when we found them.

    No I do not have a link as I have learned about this before the internet and wikipedia were invented, I have read about it in many books, magazines, and I have seen it in tv documentaries.

    The west did not invent slavery, it has always existed in almost every antion at some point in time

    Romans used to have white slaves.

    In some part of Africa right now as I am typing this some tribes own slaves ( I read it in some United Nations report so yes it is a fact, nope I do not have a link, can not save ten thousands links, I read up to 16 hours a day )

    Many nations treat their own people like I would not treat a dog, and they have for centuries or milleniums.

    Before those people ever had contact with Europeans or North American Companies ever gave them them contracts to make stuff for us, those people had sweat shops of their own.

    That is how it is in those nations.

    We did not create this.

    We could cut ties with all those nations where there are sweat shops and there would still be sweat shops for the stuff they make for themselves because that is they do things in those nations.

    You are young and under informed.

    But then again in this crazy age of ” blame the white race for everything” that information has been pretty much erased to better brainwash young people into believing the west and white people are the cancer of the planet.

    I can not really blame you, you are a victim of this anti-west/anti-white indoctrination.

    • Jessica Thompson says:

      Huh? Reread what I wrote–I never “blamed the white race” for sweatshops, nor did I claim people of European descent created slavery. I didn’t type that because I’ve never thought it and don’t believe it. I’m not uninformed. You assumed I was trying to make some additional argument that I was not trying to make. The United States is diverse and all of us are benefitting from sweatshops, not just white Americans.

      Again, I also never argued that sweatshops would cease to exist if the US stopped allowing sweatshop-made items in. That doesn’t matter to me. Burglaries don’t cease to exist just because I personally refrain from committing them, but I’m not going to commit burglary because I think it’s morally wrong. Same thing with sweatshops–they might not go away because I try to avoid their products, but I still believe they are morally wrong which is why I think it’s important to avoid them.

  3. Canadian Friend says:

    Your master’s degree has some value, I respect that, but judging by how old you are, you attended University fairly recently thus were subjected to a lot of anti-western, anti-white, anti-male, anti-capitalism and anti-USA propaganda/brainwashing.

    For the last few decades , Universities have been more and more infested with anti-white radical left professors and men hating feminists who have rewritten history to blame the white race, white males and western nations for everything wrong on this planet… they also despise capitalism ( yet love their high income and tenure, how hypocritical ).

    Again this is not an opinion, about 90 % of University professors are leftists, surveys have been done, this is a fact. And everybody knows what they teach these days is very different from what they used to teach before the left became the establishment and institutionalized anti-white male racism.

    That reminds me of a report from the World Wildlife Federation that came out about 15 years ago. It revealed that in India ( or was it pakistan, it does not matter) people mistreat horses like you could not believe.

    They give so little food to their horses that they are so skinny one could think this is a photoshop job, but they force the horses to work ( pull heavy carts of merchandise) the horses are so weak they shake and sometimes fall on the ground, the owneres beat them up until the horse starts pulling again.

    That the merchandise is destined to be sold to Locals or to American companies is irrelevant; those people mistreat cruelly their horses because that is in their culture and has been for a very long time. Same thing as with sweatshops; it is how they do things.

    Of course now that we live in an age where no one is allowed to say anything negative about non-whites, females and gays, that WWF report has been swept under the carpet.

    Now that the left is the establishment a lot of important information, a lot of truths have been erased or it is now unacceptable to mention them.

    Only a few brave men – such as myself – and even fewer brave women dare mention them.

    We already have millions of leftists writers who all say pretty much the same thing; USA is bad, white man is bad, capitalism is bad and blablablahhh

    If you want to stand out as a journalist or writer, seek those hidden facts, shine a light on them.

    Bring attention to stories like the Rotherham scandal where the authorities in England chose to ignore – for about 15 years – that thousands of young teenager girls were being raped and gang raped by Pakistani men.

    Why did they chose to ignore it? because “saving” the positive image of multiculturalism was more important to those brainwashed leftists ( and some corrupted ones ) than those thousands of young girls whose lives have been damaged forever.

    If you are just another leftist/feminis/”blame whitey”/blame men writer you will not go far, we have more of those that we know what to do with.

    • I don’t think there’s any point in furthering this discussion. You aren’t listening to me and you’re being insulting. First, the post had very little to do with race or ethnicity. Believing sweatshop labor is bad and not wanting to help perpetuate it with my purchasing is in no way anti-white. How you jumped to that, I don’t know other than to think you probably jump to that often or are looking for it.

      As for all of the other things, we’re not going to agree. I’m a feminist. I’m not anti-men. I’m politically independent but I often vote liberal. I’m not anti-white. You’re conflating things. If you want to insult me and claim that I’m things I’m not (anti-men, anti-white, etc.) you can go ahead and do that, but I’m not interested in spending time defending myself to someone who doesn’t know me and is essentially making things up about me.

  4. Canadian Friend says:

    I am not making up anything.

    You blame men for failed relationships and you blame the west for bad things in non western nations.

    So you are a feminist? don’t feminist care about women’s issue?

    so when are you writing a story about Rotherham and the dozens of other small towns where multiculturalism is the main reason thousands of young girls are being gang raped by third world immigrants?

    Or the rapes committed by “refugees” in Germany?

    • Jessica says:

      “You blame men for failed relationships”

      No, I didn’t. No, I don’t. Hence, why I won’t continue a discussion with you. You’re seeing what you want to see. I’m telling you I don’t think that.

      “and you blame the west for bad things in non western nations.”

      Again, nope. I’m done responding. I can’t argue with someone who tells me I believe things I don’t believe and tells me I wrote things I didn’t write.

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