Clothes industry: What are you wearing?

What are you wearing now? Well, most probably what you chose from your closet this morning and last night. Making sure that it combines well, that it’s fashionable and even that it complements your mood. Now a question arises. To do all this, what size of a closet do you need to have? And where does it all come from? And I don’t mean the shop, but what came before the shop. Do you want to know? Then read on.

The industrial revolution brought among other things the manufacturing in large scale of textiles of all sorts, including those to dress with. Manchester (United Kingdom) centralised this textile revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, that represented a great leap not only in production but that changed societies forever.

But where did this textile production move to in the following century and where is it now?

The first great leap in decentralising production from Europe and North America to peripheral countries took place in the 1970s to what we know as the Tiger economies in South-east Asia. This move is not that suddenly a South Korean company could export to the US, but that a US company set foot in South Korea. The aim of the move was to lower production costs (specifically labour costs) and led to the signing of the Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA) in 1974 between governments of the mentioned nations This agreement set out the rules and allocated importation quotas for textiles from poor countries to rich ones. With several renewals the MFA lasted for 25 years, including more and more countries, within the spirit of trade liberalization.

The shift of countries went on to include other Asian nations, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philipines, Sri Lanka and Thailand as well as nations that were close to the market, Mexico, Central America and North Africa during the second and third MFA signings in the late 70s and early 80s respectively.

A later strategy in the 1990s was to include in the agreement countries that were heavily in debt and fully incorporated in the liberal agenda of the IMF and World Bank: Botswana, Cambodia, Kenya, Laos, Myanmar, Tanzania and Uganda.

But we must know that these countries didn’t reap the benefits of the clothing industry, since they were only delegated the part of the process that adds less value and is more labour intensive. Moreover, these are foreign companies that come backed-up by their governments, as the only opportunity for development, with total impunity and arrogance. So what really happens in these countries?

Well, as flags of development these companies negotiate that since they are developing the nation they can

1) Introduce their own labour conditions: Even below the labour conditions of the country, which include paltry salaries, long working ours, malnutrition that derives from the latter and the compulsory adoption of debt toward the company, that makes it impossible for anyone to leave. The use of child labour is the most appalling fact, but the rest is not less worse.

2) Have tax exemptions:  These companies shouldn’t be hampered by taxes, please? We are here to help and we have to pay? So no cash is directly collected by the state.

3) Disregard and attack trade unions and any other focus of resistance against their practices: Not allowing their workers to be unionised, destroying any form of organisation, having their leaders arrested or even killed.

All these points transgress national and international laws as well as human rights. But who will voice it out. The country subdued into thinking this brings development? The country that reap the benefits from cheap clothes? The company that reaps more and more benefits?

No, the action remains on you. You can participate in many ways, by actively campaigning or not buying from large clothes stores, making sure where what you purchase is made. But most of all you can reduce you closet, you can revamp old clothes, you can take second-hand clothes and then perhaps it won’t be your clothes stating your mood, but your mood stating your clothes.Image

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Posted in Economy, Politics
9 comments on “Clothes industry: What are you wearing?
  1. […] had focused on funding these industries, but something interesting started in the 1970s, the de-localisation of industries to poorer countries meant that banks loaning clients decreased. But banks, as always, needed still to invest their […]

  2. Tell me about it. I write endlessly about ethical consumerism, and avoid buying clothes from sweat shop countries as much as I can. I also accept free and second hand clothes (recent post on one of my other blogs about that).

    I pulled on the same clothes I pulled on yesterday that are warm and functional. That’s it for me.

  3. […] with a change of government, corruption, etc.. Thus not a sound investment in unstable areas, even though several decades later manufacturing also was exported there. Agriculture however, involves much less investments and thus loosing this investment is less […]

  4. So much to say about this and where do I start?
    For one thing, I sincerely believe this is where unemployment in our own countries began.
    Extreme capitalism fuels the ever increasing need for profit and not just not a healthy profit but a grotesquely obscene profit. Ordinary folk, the workers always suffer and are sacrificed on the altar of money and greed. It creates unemployment in western societies and slavery in third world countries. It’s a vicious circle too, those of us on a low income tend to be the consumers of the cheaper goods manufactured overseas. Seemingly trapped on this merry go round. How do we escape?

    • magentalemon says:

      It’s true that we are locked into the system of thinking: What we should morally buy, is what we cannot afford, and what we can afford is morally wrong. But that is not true, since we can afford wearing the same clothes for longer, we can afford buying second hand, we can put pressure on companies for the abuse they carry out.
      Ford’s view of “I want to build a car that my own workers can afford” is long lost. The focus now is to make as much money as possible, whether that means selling more, selling cheaper, having child labour, using toxines, etc… Morality is of a few, and these get devoured by the many.

      • I too am happy to wear second hand clothes given to me and shop at op shops but I also design and make my own clothes. Currently because I am over fifty and unemployed, I’m in the process of hand painting and dying fabric to make and sell at markets and online to give myself a job. I have previously worked in the ragtrade on the manufacturing side of things, so I guess I have an axe to grind here. More recently I worked in the hospitality industry but was made redundant when the multinational resort company I worked for eliminated forty local workers to employ overseas workers on temporary visas, who worked for slave wages and conditions in comparison to what we had before. Clearly I am peeved at the state of the world. On a bigger theme of thinking outside of the box, i began to write my own blog to spread awareness and social commentary in the hope that one day we may all simultaneously raise our vibrations and begin to function differently in a less capitalistic consumer society! Yeah I know – I’m dreaming eh?

  5. magentalemon says:

    Well we are in this dream together

  6. […] is once more put forward. I spoke about the history of offshoring in the clothes industry on a previous entry,  but here I want to generalise on the issue itself, what is at stake in offshoring, what is at […]

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