Grade 8 Student,

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Would you buy unethical clothes?

In today's day and age, where companies are using institutions such as sweatshops, where workers are not paid living wages, child labor is employed, working hours are excessive, all topped of with a bad working environment, is it morally permissible to buy these clothes?

  • Apr 15 2011: Hi Brahm, I certainly would not wish to intentionally purchase clothing make by child slaves, though I am sure that this is so pervasive, and the clothing so widely distributed, that many of us unintentionally do. The first step would be to let the consumer know the manufacturing environment - maybe a label akin to the Fair Trade label. Government may need to play a role to be aware of the working environment of the manufacturer and to stop importation of clothing produced by child labor. The second thing would be to make sure that the parents of the children are compensated adequately for the work they do so that the children do not have to be bread winners for the family - that is a task for the government of the offending countries. The clothing will likely cost more but well worth it to keep a child safe.
    • Apr 17 2011: Hi Julie, thanks for your prompt reply. After reading your answer, I understand that you would like a label to inform us of the working conditions the clothes were manufactured in as well as compensating adults for the work they do so children need not be the breadwinners of the family.
      However, it's quite obvious that even today, companies are, shall we say, less than honest about the conditions in which their clothes are manufactured. If, for example, a government inspection agency is monitoring a certain factory, the entire onus will be on the agency to approve of a label.Now, unfortunately, these agencies are less than perfect and can make mistakes in giving out labels even after the most rigorous of examinations.

      As for your second idea, I completely agree with this in theory. However, in some cases, it is not possible for the parents to make more money than they are already earning. If their jobs are that of farming or laboring, which are not high-income jobs, and are being paid fairly, it still may not be enough to support a family. It probably would not be enough to move the family to a place where higher income jobs may be possible. Therefore, the families may have no choice other than to send their children to work in a factory. This is unfortunately a prevalent situation in many countries.

      I'd just like to know your ideas as to how to combat these problems.

      Please do not take this in the wrong way. I completely respect your ideas and am not challenging them so much as I am inquiring after your justification.
      • Apr 17 2011: Hi Brahm, Happy to have your comments. I know this is a very complicated topic. But I think the governments of the countries in question really need to take the lead to find the answers. Pressure can come from other countries, yes. but the governing body must take the responsibility for its people.

        This also brought up another thought - and that is, we purchase oil from countries with appalling human right records. Shouldn't this be considered unethical energy? Just a rhetorical question, we do not need to pursue it here. Cheers ;-)
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          Apr 28 2011: right withyou julie..but what do we do as consumers when this doesn't happen? do we just wiat fr some sort of global regulation?
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    Apr 28 2011: Hi Brahm..I am just noticing you are an 8th grader..how great is that. that you bring such a deep question to us and inspire us to answer it ifrom as deeply within ourselves as you pose it. I'm wondering whether what has unfolded here jibes with your own sense on this issue. Are people excused from unknowing purchases of "unethical clothes" because there is no labeling system in place to guide us or do we each have an obligation to be true to our values all the time..ie in this case to accept that we might have to work to find such clothes, that there might be less to choose from, that we might have to pay more in the beginning? Do you believe that if all of us who say we hold this value acted on it eventually there would be no room in the global marketplace for unethical clothes? What do your peers say about this?Your commitment and leadership inspired me to do a little research on how the government in Singapore alines withe the value of child labor laws ( which is only part of theethics issue for clothing) and see that the US has given Singapore high marks.http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4SNNT_enUS357US357&q=child+exploitation+in+singapore. Overall the government policy seems to affirm and uphold the diginity and rights of children. Do you personally agree with the findings of this report? Is Singapore "square" on issues of child labor?And by the way, if my favorite designers had made in Singapore label..not so hard to find this document ( took me 8 seconds and another 3 minutes to read it) so weven without labeling it might not be so hard to find out if the clotes we enjoy wearing are "ethical"..in fact here is a wonderful international resource on ethical clothes ( & other goods)http://www.sweatfree.org/shopping
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    Apr 25 2011: I hate the idea of buying sweatshop clothes but I do buy them. Some are well made........although I wish there were some way to force those companies that profit from such unethical practices to mend their ways and really care about their employees.
  • Apr 25 2011: I have no problems with buying clothes manufactured by sweatshops in third world countries. For one, I am a college student (read: strapped for cash), and also, the jobs that workers get in sweatshops are often better than their other options. Those jobs usually pay more than working out in the fields does and they are certainly better than being unemployed, otherwise the worker would quit.

    Would I prefer to buy "ethical" clothes? Sure. Do I think that clothes made by sweatshops should be boycotted? Not in any case. The benefits of spending our money on those clothes far outweighs the consequences that would be faced by the sweatshops workers should we stop spending money on the items they make. If we don't buy their items, they can't make a living.
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    Apr 25 2011: Don't we buy mostly unethical clothes when we buy at a lot of the corporate franchises sprinkled across the globe ?
    It isn't morally permissible to allow unethical work conditions but then we need to make choices when we buy and lobby "the big guys" to label their clothing and communicate about work conditions.
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    Apr 25 2011: Knowingly? Absolutely, no.

    However this question is quite shallow because it hides one important information: Buyers are not told the clothes are unethical - and there is not a way of knowing it.

    If it is there something to buy - at affordable prices - it is very likely I would buy it. I suppose that the goods on sale are legal and ethical at point of sale.

    If I should know that this good at stake is unethical, I would not buy it.
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    Apr 25 2011: It is morally not very good

    So If you can make a list with products we can and can't buy, put it in an app and let us scan to see it...

    As such we can make the decision. Now such considerations take too much effort.
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      Apr 25 2011: It's too much effort because every single thing isn't labled? Because someone hasn't provided us with a list? Isn't there some work and diligence each of us is reposnble for and should underrtake? Or are you saying it doresn't matter..we shouldn't worry about since no such list exists? I am beginning to understand why government is so big .
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        Apr 25 2011: no
        no
        not completely
        no

        and it is too much effort for me to explain why.
        Unless you pay for my time.
        ;-)
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          Apr 27 2011: and it is too much effort for me to explain why.
          Unless you pay for my time.
          ;-)

          ???

          Are there TED demerits for bringing this level of engagement to converstaions here at TED?
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    Apr 24 2011: .Brahm..a great post and at the heart of so many discussions here at TED..what you are really pointing to here is alinement between our values and our will.It is possible to accomplish that alinement choice by choice, purchase by purchase. We don't have to wait for, or seek defense in, the absence of governmnet regulations or global disclosures and labeling. It does mean, at least in the beginning, perhaps paying more or having less to choose from but if each of us make those choices all the time every time eventually there won't be room in the market place for goods and services that aren't produced or harvested in alinement with our values.Somewhere here on TED..in a talk about change or learning a presenter spoke of the 100th monkey (hhttp://www.wowzone.com/monkey.htm) The mokey's in the immedate island community modeled the first monkey sporadically with minimal impact on the 100th monkey did the same and then instantanteously, according to this presenter, the entire population of monkeys..not just on thr island but who had never been in contact with those monkeys adopted the change.( or so the much told story goes) Maybe we can bring about this 100th monkey magic even more powerfully through social media.by not only making our persobal choices all aline with our values but by sharing what we know of "ethical" products and indetifying and encouraging boycott of unethical products.?
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    Apr 15 2011: I try to get as much information on textile fabrication companies as I can, but it is almost impossible to find reliable information. Fair trade labels are helpful, but standards are too different, you cannot really trust them either.

    I know only one German company, a new one, where sustainability, fair wages, organic production and local trade are the values that set new standards for textile fabrication. I trust them an I try to buy there whenever I am in Germany. They do not send their products abroad to avoid transportation over long distances. And I try to buy clothes of high quality that I can wear longer than only for a few months. I prefer to have less clothes from reliable brands that might be more expensive than those out of mass production.