Gap pulls ‘child labour’ clothing

Is there really any surprise about child labour stories in the developing world? Surely by now anyone who buys clothing that is made outside the Western World must know that there is a strong chance these clothes are made in sweat shops which may or may not contain child labourers. What I also find somewhat contemptible is the fact that were there not to be children involved in such sites the moral outrage would simply not exist, at least certainly not on the level of being newsworthy. So it is considered quite acceptable for 25/35/45/55/65 year old men and women to work for the amount of money per week most people in the West earn in minutes but for a child to be placed in that situation is a step too far.

It is surely so blatantly transparent to hear the industry and even NGOs talk about how difficult it is to monitor because there are some estimated 20 million children working in India and yet The Observer did not seem to have trouble finding a 10 year old to film working in a factory making clothing for GAP, neither does it come as any great shock to most of us with a brain that they should have been able to do so, I know India is a densely populated country but 20 million is a tough number to secrete about the place and in so many of the documentaries about India that I have seen such as the excellent Bombay Railway the problem is highlighted and shown as widespread and hardly covert.

Of course the story is rendered more alarming that it is such young children who contribute to our designer clothing but this alone masks a more worrying problem. No-one denies that to have our clothing cheap the exploitative nature of capitalism seeks to keep costs as low as possible and that the easiest way to do this is by paying as little as possible in outlay. So whilst it is the cutting edge of globalised labour that it should involve children sold effectively into slavery no-one has been batting so much as a metaphorical eyebrow that such practices should be commonplace in sweat shops populated by adults.

Production is an expensive business, companies that keep production costs low can maximise their profits on the sale of their goods, it is therefore a natural part of capitalism that companies will seek to do this at every available opportunity. Thus it stands to reason that since labour costs represent a major part of this expenditure that companies will seek to drive down the labour costs where they are provided it remains financially the best option to remain there and should an opportunity emerge to relocate and further save money over the medium to long-term they will choose this option. One cannot expect them to do otherwise they are not philanthropists they are beholden to shareholders who range from people with pension funds to speculative money-grabbing bastards!

Costs of labour are being driven down across the world, in Europe the problem is especially bad because over the years workers have built up extensive labout laws, health and safety guidelines and trades unions, these are not in a corporation’s best interests. I heard a number of talks at the European Social Forum in 2005 where central European comrades were detailing a systematic policy of blackmail being perpetrated by the multi-nationals. In Germany for example workers were being told that their factories were scheduled for closure and production was to move to Eastern European countries like Hungary or the Czech Republic. The only alternative to this was for the German workers to accept lesser conditions such as a pay cut, longer hours and less rights for items like union recognition. If they chose to accept these conditions obviously the cost benefits for the company of the move were negated, at least for the time being. However this is just the first step, were workers not prepared to accept these conditions and production shifted to the Eastern European country the cycle would quickly begin again, Hungarian comrades had already started saying that the companies were impressing the need for them to adhere to the same standards as Romanian workers or production would have to shift again. It seemed likely this trend Eastwards would continue until production reached India or China.

This process can only be stopped with a concerted effort of solidarity across the world, I know ‘Workers of the World Unite’ is regarded as something of an old political cliché but not to do so will result in the continued fractionalisation and exploitation as corporations ruthlessly use the fact that people just want to feed their families first and foremost. Trans- and Multi-National Corporations do not care about their workforce – they may sometimes recognise the need to keep them sweet but they will always be of minimal importance when compared with profits and mangement salaries and options. Politicians are either too stupid or too corrupt to recognise this, prefering either to look at the short-term electoral benefits of a new factory opening in their constituency, or the victory over the local trade unions in order to keep the factory open temporarily at the expense of half the workforce. Or perhaps they are looking longer-term with the possibilities of kick-backs, directorships, pension provisions, stock options, business trips abroad and the like, or is it the covering up of the last time they were caught in flagrante delicto? Cynical, me?!

Getting back to the point, it’s your choice people. If you want clothing that has the special labels, and you want to pay as little as possible for it then you must recognise it comes at a price. If you buy goods without looking at labels or trying to find out if they are produced ethically then I’m afraid ignorance is not an excuse, just as if you want to buy Israeli goods it’s your lookout. Did you buy South African in the old days of propping up a systematically racist regime? If not why was this, because of politically-correct peer pressure?

WAKE UP! There are always consequences. Your decision is when is a price too high a price to pay.

Song Of The Day ~ Jamiroquai – When You Gonna Learn?