Blood, sweat, tears, us.
Sweatshops have been a problem for so long that talking about them feels almost unfashionable, like a Save The Whales bumper sticker fading on the arse end of a VW. But despite decades of whistle-blowing, campaigning, lawsuits and settlements, sweatshops still exist. They’re still fashionable. Because the fashion industry depends on them.
In the interests of getting you cheap clothes and themselves big buckaroos, corporate arseholes pack people into hellish factories where they’re forced to work punishingly long shifts and unpaid overtime; where human rights are ignored; where trade union rights are crushed; where wages are so lousy they make life intolerable; where physical and sexual abuse are expected; and where child labour is not just fine but also dandy. In sweatshops we have a modern descendant of slavery: Humans kept and crushed and ruined because we like cheap shoes.
The model, not the exception
Sweatshops are intentional. And they are everywhere. In 2011, ActionAid reported on the horrific conditions in factories supplying Asda, finding workers slogging through 11-hour days, paid a third of the living wage and suffering verbal and physical abuse. In 2016, ASOS and Marks & Spencer were found to be using child labourers who were doing 60-hour weeks. In 2018, Disney was caught using a factory that paid workers 85p per hour and fined or fired them if they had the audacity to take more than three days off – unpaid – for illness. In the same year, Gap and H&M were caught using factories rife with physical and sexual violence.
This isn’t just in far-flung countries you’ve been trained to not care about. In 2016, Forever 21 were found using factories in California that paid workers $4.50 an hour. In 2020, Boohoo, Oasis and Warehouse were found using a factory in the UK that paid workers less than half the minimum wage and crammed them in without PPE while the Covid pandemic was raging. And this isn’t just in the fashion industry. In 2022, archbastards Facebook were found using sweatshop-like moderation farms in Kenya, where workers were paid $1.50 an hour in conditions that one whistle-blower described as “mental torture.”
When caught red handed, the response from companies is that those aren’t their hands. They claim they were unaware of abuses in their supply chains and that they’re shocked – shocked! – when told about them. They promise to do better but do very little, and in their lack of care, lack of action and lack of transparency are again shocked – shocked! – when the next scandal hits. Outsourcing gives them arms-length deniability to evade responsibility and escape prosecution.
What this all means is exactly what we already know: That companies don’t give two shits about human beings. That lives don’t matter if they’re caught up in supply chains. The Rana Plaza outrage is one of the worst examples. In 2013 the Plaza, an eight-story building in Bangladesh, collapsed after its owners shrugged off the cracks that had appeared in its walls the day before. While the good people in its shops and bank were evacuated immediately, garment workers were forced back inside under threat of losing a month’s pay if they refused. The building came down on them, killing 1,134 people and injuring another 2,500. The factories supplied a ton of our favourites: Benetton, Bonmarché, Prada, Gucci, Versace, Mango, Matalan, Primark and Walmart, all of which were shocked – shocked! – when told about their supplier’s casual disregard for human beings. Before the accident, Walmart had rejected reforms that would have forced retailers to pay more to their supply chains so they could improve safety standards. After the accident, Walmart and a bunch of others refused to join efforts to compensate the victims. On the plus side, though: Bargains at low, low prices.
This is on us
Like these companies, that when caught red handed deny those are their hands, as customers we deny our role in this thing. We position ourselves as unwitting accomplices shocked – shocked! – to discover the same outrages over and over again. We deny reality, telling ourselves wages are low because you don’t pay much rent on a one-room hovel, happily ignoring the cause and effect that keeps people in poverty. We tell ourselves paying people a pittance for our shit is better than paying them nothing for no work, happily ignoring that the alternative is not no work but better wages and higher prices. We know the true cost of our £3 T-shirts as we carry them to the checkouts, and we buy them anyway. For as long as we continue to do so we are not unwitting accomplices. We are perpetrators.
Sweatshops exist. And we are their customers.
Having graduated from the Bond Villain School of Bastards and Bastardry, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food and drinks company, apparently set out to also be the world’s biggest contributor to infant mortality, aggressively marketing its baby milk substitute in countries where the water used to make it was so filthy it killed babies…
Say what you like about climate change, it takes a lot of hard work. Wilfully destroying the planet, triggering climate breakdown and bringing on irreversible mass extinction takes effort and sticktoitiveness. It takes constant vigilance, lest we accidentally find ourselves reducing our kamikaze carbon emissions. Fortunately, humans are always working, always innovating. Always coming up with new ways to wipe ourselves out.
Something big might possibly have happened, maybe. As climate breakdown kicks off and the sixth mass extinction continues, the genocidal capitalists behind it all might finally be getting what for.
Dumb as we are, humans are still finding new ways to wipe out life on earth. The latest wheeze is deep sea mining, in which genocidal capitalists hunt for minerals and metals by tearing up the seabed, demolishing fragile undersea ecosystems we’ve barely begun to explore or understand. Add to this our love of chronic overfishing, plastic pollution and coral bleaching, and we’re properly giving the oceans what for. Which is a shame, given they’re currently keeping us alive.
It was at six dark forty on the 13th October 2020 that there was a great disturbance in the Twittersphere, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in pissy consternation and were, unfortunately, not suddenly silenced. Then it was that Apple announced they would start shipping phones without power adapters and earbuds.
It feels like we’re about due an update on the No More Page 3 campaign. It’s been six weeks since I added my influential signature to the petition to rid The Sun of its tits and yet the quickest of flicks through the paper indicates up to ten nipples a week are still featuring prominently. Indeed, this week marked the beginning of 2012’s Page 3 Idol in which members of the public are invited to display their breasts in the hope of winning a grisly five grand and a shot at a long-term career in tit display. If ever there was any doubt that The Sun encourages its readers to judge women on the quality and condition of their breasts, here we have an competition in which its readers are actually encouraged to judge women on the quality and condition of their breasts.
So there I was, all ready to announce Kiva as the Chazza of the Month for a second non-consecutive time when what should appear but a classic spot of Zero angst? You’ll recall how Kiva is a microfinance outfit offering loans to people in developing countries and how I’ve bigged them up a couple of times already. But after that last rant about payday lenders being arseholes the worries I’ve had about microfinance went from being vague floaty things at the back of my mind to being slightly less vague, marginally firmer things on a list of other things to consider thinking about at some point in time when I can be bothered.
It’s fair to say I’ve been banging on a bit about poverty recently, what with all those articles about the government assault on welfare and charities covering the gaps and such and such, and while this sentence started out with the intention of apologising for all my banging on it’s looking more like ending on a justification for it because banging on’s what you get for me being around poverty all day and everyone else voting Tory. Poverty, as I was saying, is shit.
Half the adult population of the planet has breasts, a fact the other half’s been struggling with for quite some time. Now, I don’t need to bang on about patriarchy and the objectification of women in much detail, partly because I’ve done it enough already and partly because it’s obvious and everywhere. It’s there in our horrific record on domestic violence, in the difference in salaries for women and men, in the difference in pocket money for girls and boys, in the attitude that says a man’s a player and a woman’s a slag, in pornography that casts women as sluts to be simultaneously lusted after and looked down on, in the pornification of pop culture that has singers writhing in bikinis to sell records, in the mutilation of women’s bodies pumped full of silicone and collagen and numbed with botox. Turns out I needed to bang on about it all.