|Primark demonstrating Irony
||[Feb. 4th, 2010|11:09 pm]
|[||Tags|||||baby, blade, blog, child labour, chocolate, mr varley, north korea, primark, shoe, slavery, sweatshops, unicef||]|
My sympathies to Mr. Varley, who reportedly found an inch long blade in a pair of baby shoes he bought from Primark for his 4 day old son, Oscar. I well remember the fragility of having a newborn, and this is just the sort of event you don’t need to add to your already rampaging paranoia. My son is three and a half now and I’d still be horrified if I found a blade in any of his newly purchased garments. I wait with interest to see the outcome of the investigations being carried out by Primark.
However, I cannot let this news article go by without commenting on the irony of it. Primark has a well documented history of manufacturing their clothes in sweatshops that employ children working in dreadful circumstances. Of course Primark is by no means alone in this; you’d be hard pressed to find many high street stores that have histories much better. As a consumer it takes only a minimum amount of common sense to understand that if you are purchasing something for a ridiculously low price, someone, somewhere is being had.
I once had a conversation with a former work colleague who, like many people, had never really given child labour much thought. She was genuinely curious and asked me what the furore was all about. When I explained that children as young as 5 were forced to work 12 hour days in sadistic conditions, and subjected to all kinds of abuse, she actually said “I know it sounds terrible, but as long as its not my child having to do that, I really like Primark.” While you’ve got to give her points for honesty, anyone who can’t see the inhumanity of that sin we are all a part of has a drastically tunnel-visioned way of viewing life.
There are stamps for food being vegetarian friendly and gluten-free. We have a traffic light system to remind us not to consume too much fat. I want it made clear on every item purchased if it was made by an adult, in decent conditions and earning a fair living wage.
A spokesman for Primark said: "Primark is investigating this issue and is extremely concerned to hear this news and the company is taking urgent action to investigate this issue. The company cannot comment in detail on this complaint until its inquiries are complete, but the company apologises to the customer for any distress this must have caused. Primark will of course keep the customer informed about the progress and outcome of its inquiries."
I wouldn’t wish ill on any child. I would like readers of this story to take a moment to reflect that with only a small twist of fate Mr. Varley’s four day old son would be destined to grow up to stitch those shoes, not wear them.
UNICEF, on child labour
North Korea using forced child labour
Children sold into slavery to make chocolate
I continue to be amazed at the level of blindness people have over this issue. As you said, there are very few high street stores that can honestly put their hands up and say' no child labour (or even exploited adult labour) was used anywhere in our manufacture/supply chain.
The problem this causes for us aware consumers is that, unless you have a substantial income and time, you can't always boycott the large companies; the alternatives are often expensive and difficult to source.
I get round this by up-cycling/ recycling and making my own stuff where ever possible, but not everyone has the time/skill to do that. It is a difficult one, but I do think every one should know the consequences of their choice, even if they can't do much about it practically.
I agree that there often seems little we can do while shopping, and that part of the solution is in consuming less and getting creative, but like you said not everyone can do that for various reasons. Some people, through economic or other personal reasons have very little choice about how or where to spend their money, even if they do hate it.
There are placed like http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/home.aspx
that can help you make informed decisions. In addition to this, while it may be a part of our reality at the moment we can all work together to change it for the future. On the website I just linked to there are suggestions about how to make a positive difference, and of course there are many other places on the internet. I am working on compiling a list myself for this blog but I havent finished yet.
To me, Erin, there is little to distinguish Primark, or even textiles generally, in such injustice. Perhaps what does distinguish textiles is the remaining labour-intensiveness of it, despite mechanisation. Downsizing and Export Credit Zones have ensured terrible conditions in the likes of Indonesia. A gradiated improvement of such conditions would require an international union movement of a size and scope to challenge current, rampant international capitalism, a.k.a 'globalisation'.
'Every little helps' - true, but we've yet to realise that the shaving off the consumer cost doesn't necessarily help the consumer at all, and sure as hell doesn't help the consumer's grandchildren.
2010-02-15 10:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Every Little Helps ...
If I understand you correctly you're saying (in a better way than this!) that the way to stop this is to replace the capitalist system? Please do correct me if I'm wrong, I could be projecting my opinion on what I read.
It is my belief that radical thinking is necessary to save us from an extreme (global) situation. People say "this cannot be done" and I say "why not?" rules and systems etc - well, change it. It is within our power, it just isnt what is chosen, that is the difference. Of course I am not in charge.
Were I in charge I would think of the ideal - unattainable, yes - but then I would work backwards in gradual steps until I approached something within grasping distance. Much of what we have now needs flushing if we want true progress. Anything less is just doing the doggy paddle in a swimming pool.
I didn't say what you said, Erin, but I don't have any problem with what you said. It's dream talk anyway right now. But we must dream, we must aspire.
You'll probably be familiar with Znet, with ParEcon. The dream there is simply proper costing - of labour, of material, of processes. National boundaries suddenly lose their pre-eminence and power shifts to the real stakeholders. it is a perceivable and conceivable dream, no more. It is an honest and genuine attempt to 'replace the capitalist system'. Sadly, unlike a new drug treatment, for example, it cannot be tested unless it happens.
Thanks for your understanding. My problem is I randomly have major blindspots with understanding the technical parts of an idea rather than the concept so sometimes I need explaining to in laymen's terms to fully get something.
I do know only a small amount about ParEcon. However I think within the system we have at the moment (capitalist, obviously!) there could be huge progress made with regards to unfair labour practises if pressure groups made the government require that all goods had clear labelling that signalled the circumstances they were made in. By all means, let the manufacturers continue to use the methods they are using. But when it isnt so easy to ignore they will feel it in their pocket and fork out the money to tidy up a bit. It would of course have massive knock on effects, but that's rather the point as far as I'm concerned.