Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Ethics of Buying Clothes Made in Buildings That Collapse

The notion that one would not wish to buy clothing manufactured in abusive circumstances strikes me as neither left nor right but Capitalist -- in terms of its appreciation of supply and demand and using reduced demand to create pressure for behavioral change by manufacturing owners & management -- and ETHICAL, in terms of using consumer pressure to advocate against the abuse of human beings involved in the manufacture of the goods we buy.

 To say, "Don't buy goods manufactured in Bangladesh," is to say, I don't want my dollars to support unethical treatment of humans beings who make the products I buy.

 It used to be a mainstream and unremarkable for Americans to be shocked by and non-controversially opposed to the consumption of clothing produced in sweatshops. Anybody remember years ago when Kathy Lee Gifford was publicly humiliated upon the discovery that a clothing line bearing her logo was manufactured at a sweatshop? Her apology and promise to rectify the situation wasn't even contested.

I sure as hell don't want to give my business to anyone who treats workers as undeserving of the basic safety and dignity we would want accorded to any human being. It should go without saying that I don't want my consumer dollars going to the profit and benefit of any owner or manager who treats his workers like so much expendable cannon fodder.

The site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire is on the campus of NYU, a block up from Washington Square Park, and a quick jog from where I studied Labor Law at NYU School of Law. Moreover, the women who died in that fire were my ethnic forebears: Eastern European Jewish women and their descendents. Those people in Bangladesh could have been me.

These are human, ethical considerations. Human beings should not be treated like that, and I don't want my consumer dollars to support that. Period. If that means I buy five shirts because I can't afford to buy 10 anymore, I'm cool with that.