On Saturday, Nov. 24, a fire inside a Bangladesh garment factory resulted in the deaths of more than 100 trapped workers. Yet again I was prompted to be a more responsible shopper and avoid products made by workers who suffer inhumane conditions. But how do I know which brands are the offenders?
The apparel and textile industry historically has had a shameful reputation for unfair labor practices around the globe, including the United States. Even now, fashion sweatshops use forced child labor and exploit victims of poverty or human trafficking, primarily women. Major retailers, such as Walmart, Sears and Target, shop for factory suppliers that offer the cheapest products, which invariably translates to the cheapest labor costs to maximize profits.
I wondered how many brands in my own wardrobe might support unfair labor practices and human-rights violations in these sweatshops. Because most of my clothes come from Macy's, I expected few would be tossed away. As I began to purge my closet of foreign brands, I quickly realized I would have nothing left.
For lack of a better culling strategy, I retained only garments made in China and the U.S. I overfilled an empty box from a case of California oranges with clothes made in Kenya, Cambodia, Mexico, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Jordan.
The next step was searching the Internet for how my remaining clothing brands were ranked. I found www.greenamerica.org, formerly the Co-op America site, where I narrowed my search to the clothing category and found a useful product comparison and ranking system.
For personal fit, style and quality, I have preferred three fashion brands — Polo/Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne and Jones New York — for more than 20 years. When I compared them to Green America's Responsible Shopper website, only Liz Claiborne had a tolerable rating, sixth out of 20 brands listed. My wardrobe clearly needed rebranding.
I'm fortunate to live in Southern Oregon, where several small women's apparel shops in Ashland and Jacksonville offer plenty of Made in USA or eco-friendly clothing labels. I often support those stores but will purchase more from them in the future, although unfair labor practices can be hidden behind even the Made in USA label.
According to Green America's best and worst companies for overall responsibility, the only women's clothing stores in our local Rogue Valley Mall that placed in the top 10 out of the best 20 were Eddie Bauer and Victoria's Secret; a curious choice for a 71-year-old woman like me.
It's not going to be easy to be an ethical dresser, but nonetheless it's worth the effort to buy with a conscience when I think of the disadvantaged women and children enslaved in the global garment industry.
LEARN MORE: See the Responsible Shopper guide at www.greenamerica.org/programs/responsibleshopper/learn_hub.cfm
Joy reader Judith Ticehurst lives in Medford.