Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An Experiment

In the last weeks I've been looking for more ways to win my not-so-eternal struggle against sweatshops. I figured drawing a picture about it is pretty much useless right now, since I'm simply not good enough to make enough people look at the picture to make a difference (which is why I'm holding back some ideas for painting for later, when I'm - hopefully - good enough to get them out into the world).
So, instead, I did a little experiment. I went to city centre (in Salzburg) and went into every single shop and had a closer look at the clothes that were being sold, and their labels. Every single shop includes the small shops that are always empty because they are so posh that average people don't dare to walk in. A pleasant surprise was that despite my obvious student-y look I was treated better in those shops than I was in the obvious sweatshop stores like Orsay or Schöps.
The result of the experiment was discouraging. As Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo", says on her website, when shopping for clothes we don't look at where the clothes were made, only at the price and (sometimes) the quality. So I pretty much only looked for the origin and partly the quality, and only had a sideglance at the price. In the end there were three shops in all of Salzburg's city centre that don't sell sweatshop clothes for sure. Instead, they sell designer clothes from Italy and France (and are priced accordingly). Interestingly enough, the quality of these designer clothes didn't really convince me. Sure, some items were well made, but for some reason the current fashion is this kind of ragged look that implies bad quality.
About half of the labels didn't mention where the clothes were made, and the other half mentioned Turkey, Greece, Hong Kong, Morocco and China - typical sweatshop countries.

I created an Excel file with all the stores, mentioning the origin of the clothes, the quality and the price, plus some additional comments for myself. I'm also adding the law violations that are mentioned on for some of the shops (unfortunately, the website seems to target mostly American shops and brands). That should give me a nice list to compare the ethics of various shops/brands.

Next step is to repeat the procedure for the shops in Linz, and to do some more research on the shops/brands that don't mention the origin of the clothes. I'm guessing it means that they're also from sweatshops, since I can't imagine why else you'd withold the origin.

In the end, I don't have much faith in finding a shop that sells non-sweat clothes (apart from dedicated no-sweat online stores). I'd imagine a shop that considers non-sweatshop labour important would advertise the fact, and I haven't come across that yet in Austria. In Britain, there is the Ethical Trading Initiative, but looking at their list of members I'm doubtful if they can really hold up to their proclamed ultimate goal on closer inspection. I'll believe it when I see it.

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