|The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy|
I originally bought this book thinking it was going to cover more of the ecological impact of producing cotton t-shirts.
(I'm starting to see a theme in my book selections. I should probably read the blurb on the back more carefully.)
Instead it covered the history of cotton production and the politics and policies that move the cotton around the world until we get the finished product...the cotton t-shirt.
There are a lot of moving parts and parties involved in how we get something as simple as a t-shirt onto the store shelves. I really had no idea.
I had no idea that most of the risks of growing cotton is largely shouldered by the government. There is such a small window of opportunity to pick the cotton that scheduling labor is really difficult. You definitely don't want to pay people that aren't working...that's why slavery and cotton were so intertwined. The price of cotton has been subsidized by the government in order to take price pressure off the farmers. Import Quotas were imposed to minimize the international competition.
For every move made to protect the current interests, there was a counter move to respond to the market. Technology responded to the barriers put in place by politicians. Which is kind of cool, but sad that the people scrambling to save their livelihood had to watch that livelihood change into something they didn't recognize.
Reading about the quotas and the motivations behind how the numbers are set was sad in a way to read how much the world has changed and how hard it has been for people to adapt to the changes. Through the years governmental policy has been changed in an effort to protect the current interests and how those changes ended up failing to protect what they were designed to protect.
It was also kind of scary to read how people manipulate the system to make money. I don't see a way for someone to tell where their clothes are actually made. Or where the supplies came from. They come from everywhere. The cotton probably comes from Texas...then it's shipped somewhere else to make the thread...then THAT is shipped to somewhere else to weave the fabric...which is shipped somewhere ELSE for cutting.
THEN the fabric is shipped for cutting...and probably shipped elsewhere for assembly. The place those pieces are assembled is where the label says it's made. Where it's made, is who has it come out of their finished garment quota. (oh, yeah, there are quotas for all the other stages).
OR not. For every market there is a Black Market. They just buy labels from places with available quotas.
There is a chapter titled "Race to the Bottom".
We all know about sweat shops, and this chapter goes over how the changing labor regulations (when they're followed) is one of the main pressures on who is the king pin in the industry at the time.
Basically the US was the main cotton supplier, but then we started caring about people dying in factories...so manufacturing moved to Japan...but then they started caring, so it's moved to China. It's probably going to move soon, because the sweat shops are getting a lot of attention, which will pressure labor regulations for improvements which will increase costs.
Success (in the apparel industry) really is a race to the bottom in how horrible we can treat people.
Which makes me sad. I try to be aware of my actions, and choose the ecological option,, the economical option and source what I buy from "green" and "humane" companies. But to be honest, it just feels like there isn't a way to do that. There are just ways to be tricked into THINKING you're doing that.
But I guess that's why life can't be lived in absolutes. They don't exist on a practical level.