Idolatry’s control over us

In my previous blog I discussed how I believe society is in a selfish, self-indulging state because of our stuff. Well in this blog, we are going to address why/how we have gotten to that point. And that my friends, is where we address idolatry. We are an obsessive culture. We are also a culture based on fads. We feel the need to idolize one thing for two weeks, then something brand new and more hip comes along, and we turn to idolizing that instead. It is a never ending cycle that is causing our consumers to buy more and more products and cause more damage on people and the environment than we care to acknowledge.

First, I will address how we, as a society, are idolizing. One major contributor to why we buy and go through so many clothes (the problem Timmerman addresses in the book), is who we are idolizing. In an article I recently reviewed from The Odyssey, they discuss how we as a nation idolize celebrities. One way we idolize these celebrities is by emulating what they wear. What I think is the biggest factor in this ethical discussion of consumerism and idolatry, is that society sees celebrities wearing these fancy, new clothes all the time, and for whatever reason, people feel the need to go buy these clothes or brands! Yet, some people 1) can not afford these clothes, and 2) they do not need more clothes! Most celebrities wear these gaudy outfits once and then they’re done with them. But, we still idolize this. This idolization of clothing is such a problem because we under-use the products we do have, and instead where these fancy clothes once and then they sit in our closets for months! To further comment on the article, the author states one of the biggest reasons for this increase in idolization is social media. The article reads, “In today’s modern era, social media is relevant to every facet of culture, and it provides a bridge between these idolized figures and the everyday person. Which means that we subconsciously observe and absorb all of the content provided by these figures.” I think this article does a good job of calling out the cause for this idolization. I think acknowledging social media as a medium for this idolization is critical for addressing this ethical issue and how we will address it moving forward. Similarly to my last blog, this is a societal issue at a larger scale then just one group of people. This is going to need to be a movement started by many people and I believe Kelsey Timmerman opens that door through his book.

Below I have attached the article I connected to Kelsey Timmerman’s “Where am I Wearing?”

Image result for athlete wearing crazy outfits
Above is an image of NBA players in their “pregame outfits”. The fact that these celebrities have “pregame outfits” that are this fancy and cost this much money is just an example of the excessive outfits we are seeing by celebrities.

To tie this conversation to class, I want to talk about when we watched the Lorax video on April 15th. Granted I know it was a playful and fun clip, but I think it provided a real example of idolatry in numerous ways. For one, we see how the maker of the sneads idolizes wealth. He became so obsessed with making money, that he completely disregarded all the trees and environment he was destroying. The movie does a very good job of also portraying the affect this idolization had on the animals as a result of the snead makers decisions. I think this correlates well to my ethical issue of consumerism because we make our decisions to purchase goods without thinking about those we are affecting and how our decisions can hurt so many people. The second idolization I want to comment on from this movie was the consumers idolizing the snead as a fad. As I previously mentioned, we are very fad driven society who moves from one fad to the next. In this clip, we see a society that is obsessed with these sneads, but once everyone has one, they no longer care for the product and move on to the newest fad. The problem depicted in this film, and what happens in the real world, is just because we move on from a fad, that does not mean we do not face the affects of that fad. The environment was still destroyed as a result of this snead fad and it was an irreversible affect. Overall, I really enjoyed this example of idolatry and I think it simplified a very complex issue our society is facing.

Image result for lorax movie and destroyed environment
Pictured above is a scene from the Lorax prior to the destruction of their environment.

To bring this conversation full circle, we review the Bible and its commentary on idolatry. Deuteronomy comments on idolatry in numerous parts, but I will reference verse 30: 17-18 which reads, ”
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. ” Now I understand that this portion of scripture is referencing the idolization of other gods, but I think the principle of idolatry is clearly expressed in this reading. When we make the decision to idolize beings, or in this case material objects, we are turning our back to God and not appreciating His creation. We need to remember that everything we are idolizing and placing so much value on are all things that God himself created. Thus, we need to be giving credit where credit is due. By this, I am now connecting this ideology with giving credit the garment workers who make all of our clothes, and God for blessing those people the ability to make clothes. In addition, we must appreciate God’s blessing us with the financial ability to purchase these clothes. I think one of the most critical aspects of this ethical issue is we are not appreciating what we are so blessed with from God. Instead, we are too caught up in the moment of buying stuff that we do not stop to appreciate what God has created, and the people God created to manufacture our goods. One last piece of scripture I would like to include is from 1 John 5:21 and it simply reads, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” I wanted to close with this scripture because it is so straight-forward in addressing this ethical issue. Let us refrain from idolizing our stuff, and worship the one who created it.

Image result for idolatry and bible
Above is one last quote that I believe ties idolatry to the Bible and why it is such an ethical issue.

Selfishness + Self-indulgence = Bad news

Throughout this series of blogs I have discussed how consumers’ need for “more stuff” has resulted in more production across the globe, which has in turn lead to longer, harsher working conditions for those who work in these garment factories. In this blog, I will discuss the root of our consumerism; selfishness and self- indulgence.

Image result for selfishness
Above I think is a powerful quote about selfishness and its affect on the world.

We live in an era where everything is a constant competition. We need to have the newest and best version of whatever technology or clothing that these massive companies have to offer. This need and desire to have more stuff is a result of a selfish nature that our culture has developed. We are currently seeking fulfillment through the things we buy, rather than the experiences we have with others and time we spend in the Word. In an article I read from PopChassid, I believe their definition of “selfishness” is a perfect way to segue this conversation into my book, “What am I wearing?”. The author writes, “The very idea of selfishness is one that by virtue of its existence implies something deeply poisonous and wrong: that in order to get what we want, someone else must pay a cost”. I honestly do not think I could have found a better definition to tie this commentary about self-indulgence/ selfishness into the concept of consumerism. This definition discusses how someone must pay a cost in order for us to get what we want. In the case of consumerism that Kelsey Timmerman comments on, consumers want more clothes and thus, garment workers in these impoverished countries are paying the cost of working longer days, yet they are reaping no benefit. Consumers want more stuff, but they are not willing to pay the cost. Instead we are forcing people who we do not even know (and we do not realize we are affecting) to bear our burdens so we can have another pair of jeans even though we already own four. When we take a second to reflect, we are being incredibly selfish as consumers. This article was overall very eye opening in its ability to point out how America has become such a selfish nation and I believe is one of the main reasons consumerism has been such an ethical issue.

Image result for chart about selfishness
Above is a graph from the Pew Research Center that addresses how even Americans think we are selfish. So if we are going to address our selfishness, why are we not going to do anything about it?!

To tie this conversation of selfishness to scripture, we will look at James 3:14-16, a section we read in class during our wealth and consumerism unit. The scripture reads:
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

I believe this scripture does a perfect job illustrating the fact that self-ambition and selfishness is an unspiritual act. I especially like how the author calls it unearthly. I think it is important to recognize that when evil entered the world, so did selfishness. This is an earthly act because it is inconsistent with the word of God. To combat this, we need to recognize which of our acts are selfish. As we buy more things that we do not need, we are forcing others to work more and produce more. The biggest issue with this conversation of selfishness is that we are addressing an entire culture. We are not just simply telling one individual to stop thinking about themselves. Rather, we are calling on an entire society to stop performing one habit, and to change their inherent nature of consumption. This is most definitely a daunting task, but I believe people like Kelsey Timmerman are forcing us to have this discussion. Based on the previous paragraph, I believe Mr. Timmerman would again support the claim that our need for more stuff is the culprit of our selfish ambitions. This scripture further reiterated the point that selfishness is an ethical action we fall victim to, but need to work towards minimizing.

Above is the link to the article I read discussing America and its selfishness.

I additionally liked this article because I think it did a sufficient job illustrating the concept of how self indulgence takes a toll on others. The article states, “A person gaining in society must inevitably mean the fall of another.” I believe this is a topic Mr. Timmerman (author of Where am I wearing?) would agree with because as he observed the living conditions of people in countries like Bangladesh and Taiwan, he experienced first hand how these people were suffering. From our perspective as consumers, we do not see this “fall of another” that the article addresses, but I think Mr. Timmerman illustrates that for us. His entire commentary on this issue sheds light on a problem in our society we are not seeing and we do not want to address. No one is going to be willing to admit to their self-indulgence that they are committing, but we need to wake up. This is an issue we need to address head on as a culture and turn to scripture for our response.

To segue the conversation into a biblical discussion, we will review James 5:5 which reads, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” In class on April 15th when we read this portion of James, one thing I wrote down was that wealth will rot, and we understand this, but we are still feeding our greed by self indulging in material things. I think it is important to recognize too that both “luxury” and “self-indulgence” are used in the same sentence here. We in the Western world live such luxurious lives compared to the communities that Mr. Timmerman visited. We do not realize and appreciate all that we have been blessed with in comparison to those living in these struggling nations. I think this portion of James is especially important when addressing consumerism because we are living in luxury and in turn, self indulging. So, what does the Bible say in response to self-indulgence? The author of James directly calls us out for it. We are living this life that we should not be. So, let’s stop self-indulging and just buying things because we have the luxury and power to. Lets think more about our blessings, our safe living conditions, and our stable jobs. Let us appreciate what we do have and not just buy what we do not. As the author of the article below says, let us take our happiness back and place it in people/ experiences with value.

Below I have also attached a link to an article, by a Christian writer, that is about self-indulging

Poverty stricken communities

It is very well known that there is a distinct difference between the upper and lower classes of the world. We see this to be true in America, but this is made even more apparent in other countries where companies are taking over the communities they are built in.

Image result for chart about separation of poor and rich worldwide
Above you can see how there is been a steady growth of the top 1% in the US and decline of bottom 50%. This graph illustrates how if we are seeing this large of a distinction in the US, there are also much larger problems worldwide.

First I will address the issue this blog will comment on. In Kelsey Timmerman’s “Where am I wearing”, he continually comments on the poor living conditions of the communities he visits. Village after village, Timmerman speaks with and meets people who are living in poverty. Poverty, as we discussed in class on April 15th, is the destitution that results from impotency (ie. inability) to be self-sufficient and maintain one’s inherited status. This definition of self-sufficiency ties directly to Timmerman’s book because we see an example of an impoverished family when he visits Arifa in Bangladesh. In this story Timmerman discusses how Arifa is forced to live off of less than $1 per day as she is a garment worker at a local factory. In this same story, Timmerman discusses how the factory in Arifa’s village was massive, state of the art, and clearly not struggling to bring in capital. It is thus ridiculous that someone like Arifa is getting paid so little for her work. She is barely making enough money to support herself, yet alone the family of six she goes home to everyday after her long work days. I think this image of a woman working for less than $1 per day in a factory where she is a sweatshop worker, is a gloomy image, but a perfect picture to discuss the ethical issue of a place of wealth vs poverty in these factory settings.

Above is a link to a video about what it is like to live on one dollar a day. I believe this is an accurate depiction of this lifestyle because it illustrates the story of someone who is living this life.

To connect this discussion to scripture we will first review Ecclesiastes 5:11 which reads, ” As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”. Ultimately I believe this passage can be taken both literally and figuratively when commenting on the factories that are destroying villages like Arifa’s. This passage first comments on how consumerism has lead to the increase in production and thus increase in factory work. So first, this increase of goods has resulted in people like Arifa increasing their work, yet she is still getting paid such a minimal amount. How is this fair to her and how are we to ask her to work more, but see minimal pay increase?! This is the exact reason people like Arifa are living the poverty stricken lives that they are. Second, I think it is important to note that the “increase” can also be interpreted as consumers wanting more goods, and thus continuing this cycle of increased work for the already poor factory employees. This increase in consumption is again seen to result in increased work for those suffering poverty conditions. Lastly, to comment on the second half of this verse, we address the owners. In this intense, scripture is commenting on how the owners are feasting on the consumption of goods by the individuals. This exact scenario is comparable with these big companies. They are the owners taking advantage of the increase in consumption by consumers. As a result, the owners are not only feasting on this financial gain, but they are also feasting on the communities around them.

To further comment on the poverty of the communities in which these factories are built in, I found an article in “The Guardian” that discusses poor working conditions for those in Bangladesh even following the collapse of a factory. These workers were already living poor lives working in this factory, but now they were even harmed by the collapse of this factory. This article illustrates how poor the conditions are for these poverty stricken workers.

One other verse I would like to address in this discussion of wealth vs poverty is Matthew 6:25. This verse reads, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”. I think this verse is a healthy reminder to people like Arifa that there is more to life than just the amount of money you make or goods you own. Granted she is forced to do things like split her $1 income amongst her family, but at least she is blessed to have a family in the first place. I think this verse really wants the reader to understand that we do not need to worry about what we wear or how much we make in order to evaluate our life. Now I understand that this may be taking a step back from Timmerman’s whole message of valuing what all it takes to produce the clothes we make, but in regards to commenting on the distinction between the wealthy and the poor, I think this verse is crucial. One note I took away from our class discussion of this verse is that, “We are not more valuable than other creations”. I think it is important to recognize that we are all blessed to be created in the first place, and no one persons wealth or lack of it can define us.

Image result for where am i wearing
Above is a picture of Arifa and one of her children. She is the main character of Timmerman’s story in Bangladesh as he searches to find out where his underwear was made.

To conclude, I think this separation of wealth and poverty in these countries like Bangladesh is something we as Christians need to work towards addressing. Joel Osteen states that God wants us to be prosperous financially in order to fulfill our destiny’s that God has for us. One destiny I think we can do a better job at is loving thy neighbor (“neighbor” being the workers forced into these poverty stricken communities that barely make enough money to get by). I think now is the time that Christians, especially those of the Western world, need to begin using their wealth to help those that need it most.

Image result for picture of joel olsteen
Above is a picture of the the well known pastor Joel Osteen

Consumerism and its affect on the environment

Through Kelsey Timmerman’s “Where am I wearing”, there is a continual discussion about the effects that large companies have on the communities around them. In many instances, Timmerman addresses how these factories have a large ecological footprint on the region as well as worsen already poor living conditions. Following the increase consumption from the capitalist Western world, and then in turn increase in factory production, an ecological crisis as resulted.

Image result for chart about increase in consumerism
Above is a graph of the inequality of consumption worldwide in 2005. Here we see how the rich are affecting the poor through their consumption.

In our class discussion of “Imperial Mode of Living”, we discussed the implications of consumerism and its global effects. One key aspect of this article that I will use to address the side affects of consumerism discusses the ecological impact of globalization. The excerpt states, “Ecological crisis phenomena, like the erosion of biodiversity and climate change, have been caused by the spread of production and consumption patterns that fundamentally rely on unlimited access to resources, space, labour power and sinks, which implies a globally unequal appropriation of nature”. This quotation is especially important for this conversation because I believe it does an effective job of tying an issue laid out from the book, to a side affect of the globalization issue. Nowadays many companies are globalizing their supply chain by outsourcing their materials from countries outside of America. We now see an increase in production overseas which may cost company’s less in production fees, but is costing the environment much more. From this reading, the author additionally focuses on how ecolgoical issues have been caused by the production and consumption patterns. It is as if a chain of reactions has been set off due to consumerism. Ultimately, I believe these concepts tie into my book because “Where am I wearing” not only addresses factory conditions and individual products, but it is also a commentary about a much larger issue. Timmerman calls out the issue of consumerism playing a major role in this overseas production by his overall mission of this boo which is to comment on the various phases and places products travel before ever making it into the hands of the greedy consumer. “Imperial Mode of Living” then ties this conversation to an ecological issue and illustrates how the consumerism/ production lead to a discussion of the environment.

Above is a graph of the decrease in manufacturing establishments in the United States per an MSNBC report in 2015. The chart illustrates how we have seen a decrease in American manufacturing. If this is the case, where is all our production going? That’s right, overseas.
Image result for chart or article about increase in company outsourcing
Above is a table that comments on the placement of jobs in America compared to overseas. Here we see evidence of the increase of jobs being moved outside of America. In addition, this graphs fails to list other major companies that are now placing jobs overseas. This is also important to note that our overseas production is resulting in less jobs for America.

In another article I recently read, they discuss how globalization has resulted due to an increase in consumption, which forces an increase in production. This increase in production then in turn puts more stress on the environment. So although we may not see the direct result of our actions, we as consumers, are directly contributing to the ecological crisis. Thus, as a result of this increase production, more CO2 emissions and other chemicals are being released due to more factories and their increased production hours. This toxic release has severely affected the environment in many way and specifically the soils near these factories. Due to these toxins affecting the soil, they are taking their toll on the plants in this soil and then in turn affecting them as well. This toxic release is then what affects land resources the most. So as you can see there is a string of events that tie consumption to ecological crisis, but this article does an effective job of illustrating that point.

One city from the book I read that has experienced ecological effects by the increase in consumption is Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Within the book the author discusses the horrendous living conditions of some factory workers and how their living conditions got to be so poor. One thing Mr. Timmerman learns from these conversations is that many of these workers recognize and have witnessed the environmental affects taking place around them. For instance, Mr. Timmerman discusses with one man who now scavenges through garbage because he was a farmer, but now because of shorter growing seasons, he can not make enough money to support his family. This man is now forced to scavenge for food and anything worth money as a result of the increase in consumerism on the opposite side of the Earth. This was one of the most disturbing stories because we see how severe of an impact that results from our consumerism. In addition to this being a disturbing story, I believe it is a good representation of how we do not truly understand the ramifications of our actions and decisions and how they affect other nations.

Above is a video that discusses the living conditions that the people of Cambodia are forced to endure.

To connect this conversation to scripture, we will look at Psalm 8 and its discussion of how the Lord’s name is in all of the Earth. This is proven when the Psalm reads, ” Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”. In this excerpt, the author is glorifying God by his creation of the Earth and calling Him to be apart of it. In turn, this means that as we are tarnishing and breaking down the Earth through consumerism, we are breaking down Christ and His creation. I believe these verses are a reminder of who the creator is, and how our actions are affecting more than just we realize. I think Christians take for granted how crucial it is for us to take care of the Earth that God created. This is a command we are to follow and something we need to be more conscientious of. I think as consumers, we can work towards recycling, and using less products to better our environment. Then as a result of these decisions, we can closer live the life that we are called to.

Overall, this connection between consumerism and the environment is one we need to be taking seriously. Yes there are a few connections you must make before directly connecting consumerism and the environment, but we need to stop this problem at its source. We can not continue to destroy communities as a result of our consumerist nature.

Made in America

I really enjoyed part V of this book because the author provided an insight of his grandmother, a garment worker in a small Ohio city. This portion of the text provides the reader with a more relatable experience compared to when Timmerman is over seas observing all these horrific laboring techniques. Timmerman begins describing his lovely grandmother’s experience as a garment worker. Now Timmerman does not go into much detail about his grandmother specific work conditions, but he draws the comparison to the workers he met in various countries. I think this is a healthy reminder that each (being Timmerman’s grandmother and the various garment workers he met in other countries) have the same occupation, but the geographic location of their factory changes the entire dynamic of their work experience.

Above is a photo of apparel manufacturing establishments found throughout America. As you can see there are quiet a few in Ohio near where the author describes his grandmother working.

Timmerman moves on in this chapter with his journey of finding the final factory where an item of his clothing was made. With this expedition, he found himself in Perry, New York at a factory where his shorts were manufactured. Here he met a women named Debbie who had worked at the same Champion (which later turned into ACO) factory for 28 years. What is remarkable to me about this is that Debbie had worked in the same factory for 28 years and clearly enjoyed it. The fact that she worked there for so long highlights that the working conditions could not have been too strenuous for her. Otherwise, her body would not have been able to take that much stress. This also is a eye opening statistic because never in his previous factory visits did Timmerman meet someone that worked at a factory for as long as Debbie did. She also was not even the most experienced worker the author met! Kelsey soon was introduced to Maxine, the production control manager who had worked there for 37 years. 37 years!! That is incredible for any occupation! What also is interesting about Kelsey meeting Maxine is he was able to compare her experience to Sreekanth’s brief conversation when he was in Cambodia. The two held very similar positions, but on one hand you had Sreekanth who only had negative statistics to offer Timmerman, and on the other you had Maxine who was ready to talk Timmerman’s ear off about how much she loved making clothes. What I also compared between these interactions was the passion that the American workers had for their jobs compared to the international factory workers. In America, the workers were working because they had a passion for clothing and it was work they wanted to do. In the various countries Timmerman visited, the employees were working because they had no other choice for work and they needed money somehow.

Above is an article discussing the shutting down and production of Champion factories, including the one Timmerman visited.

One of the final stories in the book I found intriguing was Timmerman’s story of the migrant workers Edwin, Amiclar, and Oscar. The men had traveled from Honduras, through Guatemala, and then by bus to the Mexican-American border. Here the men made a run for it to sneak into the United States. Although the men were ultimately unsuccessful (sorry spoiler), what I found particularly interesting about this story was the background that Timmerman gave us. They discuss how within their journey the men ran out of food, were forced to drink dirty water out of puddles, and were at risk to be caught and sold by the cartel. One priest who aids migrants told the Spanish language news channel called Univision that “Migrants represent a lot of money whether it’s for the store owner along the railroad tracks, corrupt authorities and immigration officials, or organized crime.” This excerpt and story was ultimately extremely eye opening to me because this is yet another scenario where Timmerman is able to lay out the environmental conditions these abused laborers are forced to endure. If these men are going through all this struggle, pain, and adversity to escape the country they work in, I can not even imagine the brutality they faced at work if they were willing to endure all of this. All of this traveling was risky, but the men saw the reward at the end of the tunnel if they could find a way to work in America. America, a country where there is a minimum wage more than just a dollar, where there are strict labor laws, and where laborers are not mistreated the way they are in other countries. In America, most laborers are treated as real people, not just machines. (I say most because it may not see this way to certain people based on the leadership of their company). Overall though, I really liked this story because it then continues to describe all that these men went through to try and get into the country. They ultimately were stopped by border patrol as they were confronted on a train car, but they made a valiant effort. The men were soon shipped back to Mexico, but this was an incredible story about real struggles and attempts foreign workers make to come to America.

Attached in an image of a train of migrant workers near the Mexican American border

Below is an article discussing the Mexican-American border patrol and issues they have faced.

The more I read this book the more I respected Kelsey Timmerman, the journey he took, and him as an overall author. In his final paragraphs he could not have concluded the text better. He makes references to each of the items of clothing he went on a journey to learn about and the people he met along the way. He reflects on his interactions with Amiclar (his shirt), Arifa (boxers), Nari and Ai (jeans) and Dewan and Zhu Chen (flip-flops). I admire Timmerman’s determination to hunt down a person that contributed to every item of his clothing. Although, what I admire most about Timmerman, is the relationships he made along the way. Timmerman took the time to be away from his family, and learn about others and their families. He learned about the struggles they endure as a result of barely making a dollar a day, living in hostile cities, and living in horrid housing conditions. Timmerman literally put himself in the shoes of the garment workers to grasp what they were experiencing at work and how it effected the rest of their everyday lives. What Timmerman took away from his journey most (and what I took away most from reading this book) is that we can not underestimate all the work and people that go into making the clothes we wear. Each pair of jeans, boxers, t-shirt, etc. has had thousands of hands contribute to its manufacturing. These clothes are no longer just ordinary clothes we under appreciate. Instead, and as Timmerman puts it, they are untold stories.

Are they really an American product?

Levi Strauss, a company that prides itself in marketing itself as an American product. But the product isn’t even made in America!!!! Here I have attached a commercial campaign that Levi’s launched in 2009.

The campaign was called “Go Forth” and was meant to be a sign of optimism in a time that there was much pessimism in the United States. I believe Levi released this commercial to make them appear as if they were a truly American company looking to support the nation. In my opinion, they would have better served our nation by providing jobs and contributing to our fallen economy rather than releasing a commercial that portrays them to be something they are not.

At this point in the novel we find ourselves back in Cambodia, a country constantly being affected by mistreatment of laborers. In this portion of the novel Timmerman opens up the chapter with discussing how Cambodia is the producer of Levi’s, but they are not even allowed to be sold there. Timmerman describes Cambodia as the producer, while countries like America, England, and New Zealand are the consumers. In his time in Cambodia, Kelsey attempts to get a better feel for some of the business owners who run these garment shops. Many are Chinese and Taiwanese businessmen who Kelsey strives to learn more about. During one of his first encounters with these snobby businessman, they invite Kelsey to go to a nightclub. Timmerman describes to the reader that he is typically not the night club kind of guy, but is purely going to attempt to get to know the type of men running these businesses. Here at the club Timmerman is immediately confronted with show girls dressed in sparkling dresses, covered in make up, and even wearing numbers so the men can pay for dances. Some real classy business owners we got here. Here Timmerman learns more about the culture of the clubs and how it is a normalized thing to go out with hookers and one of the businessmen even describe them as “good people”. Timmerman finishes the chapter by coming full circle describing his evening as a time that the producer and consumer collide.

In the next chapter “Those Who Make Levi’s”, Timmerman moves into a report of the lifestyle of those who make Levi’s. He even provides an image of a mother bathing her son in the street prior to leaving for her shift at the garment factory later that day. To me this is wild to think that these workers are living in such poor conditions. It is sad that they are bathing their children in the street of all places. That can not be sanitary! These are the same people that are going to go assemble $30-40 jeans and get paid less than $1 an hour?!

Image result for child be bath in street in cambodia
Here we see a picture of a baby being bathed in a bucket in the streets of Cambodia. This is a similar image to what was the author describes.

As Timmerman does more digging in Cambodia he is finally able to make his was to the headquarters located in Phnom Penh’s Parkway Square. In this town square there was a lingerie store, a bowling alley, and a Lucky Burger. This factory locations differs from previous factory fronts because it appears to be located in a more central, urban environment and not pushed the outskirts of the city like most factories. Timmerman does more snooping and continues to search for someone who can speak to about merging the gap between producer and consumer until he finally meets a man named Pradip. Timmerman wastes no time and tells Pradip exactly who he is, what he is writing about, and the exact information he hopes to gain from his interview with him. As the conversation continues and Pradip gathers a further understanding of what Kelsey is attempting to accomplish, he realizes he will not have all the answers that our author is in search of. So he picks up the phone and calls their sourcing manager, Sreekanth. Timmerman truly exemplified his networking skills in this chapter because there is no better man he could have talked to besides Sreekanth and Pradip. Now Sreekanth is not as personable as Pradip, but he is still willing to help Timmerman’s cause. As the three men begin to converse, Pradip summarizes Kelsey’s ideas to Sreekanth. He then merely responds with a note from the tag of Kelsey’s pants. Following this note Sreekanth leaves the room. On this note Sreekanth has laid out a few financials that are beneficial to Timmerman’s research. With the help of Pradip’s translating skills he reads to Timmerman, ” Levi’s exports $90 million of merchandise per year, which retails for about $400 million. Only 5 percent of factories meet our standards (in Cambodia). We currently source from 13. Many of the big companies- GAP, JCPenny, Walmart, and Sears- source from Cambodia”. These numbers are staggering and what stood out to me was that only 5 percent meet factory standards. How can only 5 percent of companies meet standards and that organization as a whole still be functioning?! This is such a ridiculous statistic to me! Pradip and Timmerman then continue their discussion and finally are able to track the exact factory where the author’s jeans were made. Pradip regretfully informs the author that they were made at factory #890, but they no longer work with that company. Pradip continues to tell Kelsey about how this most likely was a result of the factory’s poor working conditions, inefficiency, or poor price. He then tells Timmerman that although this factory is closed, he has set up a visit for him to tour another factory.

Below is an article that further highlights the poor working conditions of the Cambodian workers.

This chapter then concludes with Timmerman’s final interaction with Nari, a garment worker he had met. He begins discussing how at lunch time the “mob” of workers escapes with urgency to either head for vendors or their apartments for lunch. Nari is amongst the group that heads home to make her own lunch. Here she makes lunch for younger garment workers who were forced to move to the city due to their inability to find work in the rural towns of Cambodia. What next saddens me is that Timmerman talks about how the girls Nari helped support actually have to send money back to their families even though they were not living together. One girl claimed to send $7.50 of her $45 per month. When I read this fact I was immediately humbled for two reasons. The first being the sacrifice this young girl was making to help support her family. She was literally sending home nearly 20% of her already minimal earnings. The second thing that stood out to me about this statistic was how little she was making and surviving on per month. I take for granted that I get paid $7.50 an hour for my on campus job and there are people being mistreated to make the same amount for their family over a month long span. This conversation and overall time Timmerman spent with Nari reminded me I have a lot to be thankful for in regards to what I do for my work and the compensation I receive. I think this interaction between Nari and Timmerman furthers the point the author makes about the financial mistreatment these workers are also facing.

In the middle we see the author Kelsey Timmerman surrounded by the garment workers he met in Cambodia. To his left (in the vertically striped shirt), Nari is pictured.

The Power of Perspective

As I progress reading this journey by Mr. Timmerman, one thing I appreciate is his ability to incorporate the perspectives of people he encounters. In Chapter 8 titled “Arifa, The Garment Worker”, he actually begins by describing a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon. It is brief, but Timmerman begins the chapter by describing Mr. Moon as bland and serious. Although, these are the characteristics you would use to describe someone writing about labor laws and what is going on in countries like Bangladesh. What I think troubled Timmerman about Mr. Moon was that he had been known for writing many pieces about how the work and labor of garments was actually good for the people of Bangladesh. He even attempted to make it sound beneficial to women and families. With this information, Timmerman created a very distinct image in my mind of this man as he described his posture and even Moon’s office space. I think Timmerman ultimately includes these brief details about Moon because he wants the reader to understand the importance of knowing who is writing about these conditions. He wants consumers and readers to know exactly the type of person who is going into these shops, writing about them, and how their perspective is purely financially based rather than looking out for the well-being of the factory workers.

Attached is an image of Timmerman and some of the garment workers he met on his journey.

Timmerman’s main focus in this chapter was Arifa, a woman worker at the garment factory. Timmerman sets out to follow Arifa from sunup to sundown to determine if her work makes her feel empowered or dehumanized, two totally different extremes. The conditions of Bangladesh are daunting and threaten Timmerman’s task . The author wants to get up and start his observing and questioning at 5am, but the hotel clerk warns him otherwise. He tells him it is very dangerous to be in the streets before 10am because of the threat of hijackers. Timmerman then replies that he just will not bring anything. Extremely frightening to me, the clerk even claimed these hijackers would then just stab someone like Timmerman because they would be angry he did not have anything valuable on him. This scenario ties back to a previous topic I discussed in my first blog. One of the major issues with these sweatshop factories is the areas they are located. We see the author yet again in a situation where their life is threatened and they are not even in the factory yet. This is such a foreshadowing and contribution to the factory conditions. In following Arifa, Timmerman wants to discover if Arifa is able to support her and her family on less than $1 a day. By the looks of her apartment, smell of her building, decay of her belongings, and the fact that she keeps her rice and vegetables underneath one of the family’s two beds, Timmerman is lead to believe it is not. This is just so humbling for me to read because it opens up my eyes to the real conditions some people must face and live with. Arifa is a real women trying to make a living under $1 a day and is living this life. Timmerman even describes how she cooks for no less than 7 people at a time, has an apartment that is full of stench and stains, and still supports a family. She even has a business sense and subleases out an apartment across from her’s to some of her coworkers at the factory. Timmerman continues to describe the life Arifa lives and it just gets worse and worse. Finally after a day of walking the streets and following the everyday life of his new friend, they make it to the Standard Garment factory. Although, Timmerman does not get the tour he desires. Arifa describes to the author that his presence any farther might cause a problem. She goes into detail how the consumer is never supposed to meet the producer and the hardships they face. She does not want to put her job or safety on the line, so she kindly asks Timmerman not to follow her into the factory. This was the end of the journey for Timmerman and Arifa, a rather anticlimactic one. One thing the author clearly taught the reader though was about living conditions of these workers. When you are getting paid less than $1 a day you learn to appreciate little things and stop caring about others. We who live the luxurious life of the western world do not understand this concept. In this chapter though, Timmerman humbles us and sheds light on a whole different, broken world. I appreciate the depth of detail Timmerman goes into because it allows the reader to truly grasp these conditions.

Above is a chart to understand the perspective of people who are working for less than a dollar per day. This is a direct correlation with the working conditions they are experiencing.

The next chapter I will describe to you is titled “Labor Day”. This chapter begins by discussing the author’s visit to Cambodia on Labor Day. Here he goes into similar detail of experiences he has had in Honduras and Bangladesh. Is this tight closed city, Timmerman witnesses more begging than he has ever seen, especially from children. What is interesting about this chapter is it is May 1st when Cambodia “celebrates” Labor Day, but in America it is celebrated in September. This point is important because I think we look at these days from very different perspectives. For the people of Cambodia it is nothing really different from an ordinary day. For Americans, we think back to 1886 when workers protested down the streets of Chicago to provide them with an 8-hour work day. How little did we know that we would soon be worried about more important things like keeping our jobs in our country, not even the duration of the day. I like that the author chose to describe this day following depicting it in another country. It shows how times can change so drastically and how perspectives are completely different from two different worlds.

Above is a link to an article that discusses how the Cambodian workers took a stand on “Labor Day” against their poor working conditions.

Ignorance is Bliss

For my blog I decided to chose the book Where Am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman. As we journey into this blog and book, we will be uncovering the ethical issues behind the mistreatment of workers and facilities worldwide. We will observe and learn more about the working conditions of factories and how managers are treating their laborers. This book ultimately explores an issue most of us consumers are ignorant to. Also, this book relates to my major because I am a Supply Chain Management major. What this means is I study the movement of products from manufacturer to retailer to consumer and this is exactly what Mr. Timmerman does in this book. Throughout this blog I will hop around key ideas/concepts and highlight chapters I find especially important. Enjoy!

Where Am I Wearing  starts out strong with calling out the ignorance of consumers. One thing the book discusses is how as a culture, we are so concerned with how we look and what we are wearing, but we never stop to think how we got it. We are merely worried about if it came from Lulu Lemon, or if it was Nike’s hottest new running shorts. We never stop to think about where these clothes came from and I think that is something we consumers take for granted. As the book states in the opening chapter, consumers do not see the chain of manufacturing and transportation that occurs prior to making their purchase. They only see the end result. We only care about how comfortable or how fashionable we look, not what story comes with the clothes we are purchasing and wearing. But, the author of this book, Kelsey Timmerman did care and he was determined to get an answer. He was on a quest originally as a curious consumer, but what he found lead her to writing this book. He would have originally told you too that he was just trying to bridge a gap between producer and consumer, but her findings quickly turned into so much more. What he also found was that there is a long line of players that are involved in clothing production. As he states, there are “workers, labor sharks, factories, subcontractors, unions, governments, buying houses , middle men, middle men for the middle men, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), importers, exporters, brands, department stores, and you and me”. Now I understand that was a lengthy quote and somewhat of a run on, but I think it is essential in understanding how there is so much that goes into the process of clothing production that we the consumers do not even realize. With these hoops to jump through, we are then putting so many more people to work and they are not always the best conditions.

Image result for chart of mistreated workers international;
Above is a chart of the amount of people forced into labor globally (courtesy of the International Labour Organization website). This image puts into perspective the global crisis of labor mistreatment.

The second chapter of this book was very compelling to me because being the ignorant consumer that I am, I assumed most clothes were manufactured in places like China, Thailand, or Indonesia. Although, the author begins with a discussion of her experiences in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Before Timmerman can even begin to discuss the working conditions of the factory, her description of the entrance to the factory is enough to get me to cringe. Timmerman paints a very graphic, yet realistic images in the readers’ mind by describing the mobs of people that flood the alleys where the buses pick up workers to bring the factory. In these alleys, merchants push through to grab the attention of specific Delta Apparel Factory employees who will pick who will work for that day. All of this fighting is for a mere daily earnings of $4-5. The author describes how the the minivans and vehicles must push through the crowds and one even knocks over a girl, as well as runs over her foot. There are so many things wrong with this scenario starting with the fact that people are in crowds fighting to merely earn $4-5. This seems like such a little number for so much struggle for work. What also stands out to me from this scenario is the lack of safety placed on the transportation into the Delta Factory. I can not believe that it was perfectly normal for a car to hit a woman, and then proceed as if nothing had happened. This snapshot of what the outside of one of these factories looks like alarms me to what is to come as I read more about conditions inside of factories.

Attached below is an article from 2017 about NIKE Sweatshops that address Honduras layoffs and protests.

The next chapter of Where Am I Wearing? discusses a SweatFree community conference that the author attends in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The general gist of this chapter was that Timmerman’s original intention was to gauge what types of people were on a quest to increase awareness for labor conditions. Now the author states he did not necessarily agree with their tactics, but he does recognize the importance and impact groups like SweatFree have. He states that without these groups, countries and people would not have originally been aware of the brutal working conditions under which these massive companies are functioning. What I found most interesting about this chapter was the shift of focus that SweatFree had. The author states that the group originally targeted large companies such as NIKE and Gap, but soon shifted its focus to schools, private institutions, and voters. I find this shift of focus important because it proves that this group was able to make a difference in the management of the larger companies, and has now shifted focus to a new target group. This is an important shift because SweatFree is now making a large impact on a totally new group of manufacturers and distributors.

Below is a link to an article about SweatFree to help the reader better understand their organization.

One other interesting topic that Mr. Timmerman discusses in the first portion of this book is how in his home town, many clothing stores were relocating in the 1980’s causing many storefronts in smaller towns to close down. I found it interesting that these stores were deciding to relocate their productions to cities in Mexico and even Bangladesh. With this movement by these companies, it left a serious impact on communities like the authors’. The concept of up and moving your business to a completely different country is peculiar to me because I feel as if that would take so much time and effort just to lower production costs. Evidently though, there was a significant enough difference in the price of production and labor compared to that of the United States. The last comment I have on this topic is that I think it is discouraging to see what companies value and how little thought they have for the communities they are leaving. These relocation’s caused significant job loss, as well as economic tolls on the communities they formerly resided in. Overall, this chapter shows what these companies were prioritizing and how they did not care about the impact they had on the communities in which they originated.

Above is the link to a brief article that provides some reasoning for why companies are taking their factories and headquarters abroad.