Fashion Revolution Week 2017 (April 24-30) marked the four-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy in which over a thousand workers were killed when their visible unsafe factory collapsed. Consumers marked the week by asking “Who Made My Clothes.” This is a way to share brands and retailers that consumers care about the people who make their clothes.
The message has not gotten through to Ivanka Trump. During Fashion Revolution week, it was also revealed that a factory in China that produces clothes for Ivanka Trump, along with other well-known brands, had violated dozen of international labor standards plus China’s own overtime limits and benefits laws.
Unfortunately these conditions are not unusual. Low pay, compulsory overtime, inattention to safety precautions despite risks of accidents and injuries are all the norm in apparel factories throughout the world.
Supply chains are long, with spinning, weaving, dying, and sewing often happening in different factories, and because most production is completed through contracts and subcontracts. Factories, such as the one cited in the report, handle contracts for multiple bands. Transparency and accountability are severely lacking in the apparel sector. .
If most brands honestly answered the question “Who Made my Clothes,” their answer might be something like this, “Between all the contracting and subcontracting in our supply chain, we really don’t know who is making the clothes, but we can say with statistical certainty that whoever they are they are underpaid and exploited.”
(There are exceptions of course and you can learn about some of the pioneering brands creating new business models here.)
A few factors make the exploitation in Ivanka Trump’s supply chain especially disturbing. Ivanka Trump has nominated herself to be the voice and face of working women and this month puts forth a book on working women in an attempt to pass herself off as an expert on these issues. (It has already been criticized for its privileged perspective.) She is also public servant and is related to and working for the President of the United States. We need our leaders to be leaders, not conventional business opportunists willing to profit at any cost.
We often talk about how consumer demand for cheap clothing drives down prices, but her clothing line is not cheap. One of the workers producing Ivanka Trump’s apparel would have to spend their entire paycheck for several weeks of work to afford just one article of clothing, which means that her company is enormously profitable.
Compounding the outrage, the Trump administration has championed the “Buy American” movement to create decent jobs. An expensive apparel line that exploits workers in China is in sharp contrast to what the administration has promised as well as what we should expect from our nation’s leaders.
We hope someday all apparel brands, including Ivanka Trump’s, will have a better answer to the question “Who Made My Clothes,” but until then we need to diligently avoid the worst, seek out the best, and continue to demand all workers have the opportunity for dignified jobs.
You can help spread the word about the contradiction between exploiting women who work while presenting yourself as a champion.