Am I Right?

How to live ethically

What You Wear Matters

Ask about the conditions under which your clothes were made

Take a look at the labels. Mine say: Honduras, India, China and, of course, Bangladesh.

Until the fire in Dacca that killed more than 1,000 workers, I didn’t give much thought to the origins of the apparel I put on my body. It is disconcerting, since I think a lot about what I put into my body.

I don’t mean only calorie counting or stressing about animal rights. I buy my tea from two companies that promote individual farmers http://www.ajiritea.com, and http://www.adagio.com; my chocolate comes from a socially conscious company started by former Peace Corps Volunteers http://madecasse.com; and I get my coffee from a purveyor who pays coffee farmers more than Fair Trade prices. http://www.georgioscoffee.com

But I never gave much thought to my clothes. That has changed with the Bangladesh tragedy. But it is infinitely more difficult to consume ethically when there are few, if any organizations to help guide you.

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This is now changing in the apparel industry, with several European countries taking the lead. Companies there will be labeling their ware much in the way that Fair Trade assures consumers that farmers aren’t being ripped off.

Out of the tragic fire comes other good news: workers can now form unions without prior consent from the company that employs them and the government is set to raise the minimum wage to something that goes beyond what the pope called “slave wages.”

When consumers, workers and government work in concert, conditions can improve, even for the least fortunate amongst us.

Now when you purchase your next item to wear, ask where it was made and what the store knows about the source. The more we ask, the better the chances that substantive change can happen.

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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