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.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40444836/escalating-sweatshop-protests-keep-nike-sweating

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.

https://laborrights.org/our-work/sfc

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.

https://smallbusiness.chron.com/companies-need-overseas-58292.html

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

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