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.