an idea i’d love to see become reality: fair-trade clothing

jeannie and i are trying to make some changes in our lives. part of this is simplifying: we’re been seriously consider selling our nice suburban home and moving into the city. we’d have to give up almost half our square footage to do this; but we want to live in a neighborhood, not a homogeneous gated community. and we don’t want our kids growing up with our beautiful house as normative.

but much of what we’re changing or wanting to change is in response to our growing theological understanding of the kingdom of god. we want out faith to be expressed not only in the words we say and how we treat people we know, but in how we treat god’s creation, and how we treat people we don’t know. some time ago, jeannie started only buying organic food. that was primarily a health choice. but it’s a lifestyle choice as well — a care-for-god’s-creation choice. we’re pretty sure our next car will be a hyrbrid, once my mini lease runs up in 18 mos. we pay a bit extra for environmentally-friendly dish and laundry soap.

we drink a lot of coffee, and have recently decided it’s just irresponsible for us as followers of jesus to buy anything but fair-trade coffee. i realize that to some, this sounds ridiculously petty, even trendy. that’s not it for us. it really boils down to this: how can we say we love our neighbor when we aren’t willing to pay an extra buck for fair trade coffee now that it is so easily and constantly available.

but here’s one that’s starting to bug us: how do we be responsible when buying clothes?

again, many would be quick to dismiss this question or label us new-day hippie radicals, or worse, l i b e r a l s. just last week i read comments on my blog by people who were claiming that christians shouldn’t buy american girl dolls because the company that makes them gives a bunch of money to a foundation that helps girls, and a small portion of those funds go to things those christians don’t want their money going to (pro-lesbian organizations, for example — they say; i have not actually looked into this). while i might or might not agree with their conclusion about buying an american girl doll, i strongly support the notion of making purchasing decisions that are in congruence with the life and teachings of jesus. so i ask: how can someone raise a question like that about american girl dolls, but buy clothes made by sweatshop employees who are treated horribly and paid worse? does not buying clothes that, by their very purchase, support oppression of “the least of these” contradict the life and teachings of jesus?

but here’s the rub: it’s almost impossible to tell what clothes are really made in conditions that treat their employees with fairness. at best, we have the word of the seller (like: target), saying they don’t use sweat-shop suppliers. but, i’m sorry, that’s not good enough.

food has an “organic” standard. coffee has a “fair trade” standard. companies are working toward lowering their “carbon footprint”. even the publishing world is rushing to embrace (tricky and costly as it is) “green publishing” (the publishing company that owns zondervan — our parent company — has just launched a massive campaign called “harpergreen” to move aggressively in this direction).

i would love to see a “fair trade clothing” standard. i would love to see a neutral non-profit rise up that would become knowledgeable about the industry, then set some reasonable standards. create a “fair trade clothing” logo, and allow clothing makers to include it on their tags if they meet the criteria. this organization would need to have knowledgeable staff who travel to producers around the world to spot-check their compliance. and they’d need to make sure there’s a randomness to which field agent visits which factory, to prevent corruption.

jeannie and i would pay a bit more for clothes that we knew had a “fair trade clothing” stamp of approval.

54 thoughts on “an idea i’d love to see become reality: fair-trade clothing”

  1. Amanda, I’ve thought seriously about the scooter thing, but my problem is that I’m so often transporting things back and forth to work, plus with my own 4 kids and potential youth connections, I always want it available to pick kids up for whatever reason. I do live walking distance (or biking distance) from the church but find that I rarely do those things for the same reasons. But, that’s the issue here though; are we willing to change some of our life-style choices for the sake of the environment (and our pocketbooks!).

    Btw, instead of laundry detergent, we use this new thing that runs water through this purification method and you can wash all your clothes on cold water only and never use detergent and the clothes (from our perspective so far) seems to come out cleaner, fluffier and without the detergent, so it seems cleaner. It’s called Laundry Pure by Ecoquest. Google it for more details. I know I’m sounding like a commercial here, but we’ve been amazed by it! Better for the environment, better for you and saves money (though the initial cost is high). They use an ionization process and their patented RCI technology along with some kind of silver ions nano-technology or something. I happen to be a dealer for this thing and not like I’m trying to drum up business, because I’m a terrible sales person and have pretty much given up trying, but I can get them for below retail for anyone.

  2. i found Tim P.’s comments interesting and it reminded me of an experience i had a few years back, i think it was 1996.

    We were on a short term mission trip with our Youth Group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It happened that there was a big stink going on in the USA at the time about a Hollywood-type star’s clothing line being produced in sweatshops, one of them being located in San Pedro Sula. (sorry, can’t recall which personality it was, although i think it might have been one of the morning show hosts)

    On one of our first days in San Pedro, as we were driving around the city, our host missionary, Windy W., pointed & said there’s that “sweatshop” that’s been on the news so much lately, and starts laughing. i asked him why he was laughing and he said because they paid the highest wages in the city that any uneducated worker could get and every time they offered to hire there were literally thousands of people who lined up. He said the conditions were harsh compared to the US, but far better than most other jobs available to those working there. i asked him about the pictures (shown in the US) of men armed with machine guns who were supposedly there to force the people to work. He laughed and simply said by the end of the trip i would understand. He was right: almost every morning we ate at a Wendy’s (yes, this one served breakfast)there was an armed guard with a machine gun there every morning. In fact, every restaurant we ate at throughout the entire trip had it’s own armed guard (or guards), many carrying machine guns! Simple truth:anywhere money was handled, armed securty was considered necessary.

    The sad thing is that Windy said that if they shut down the factory because of our isolated perceptions in the US, it would be catastrophic for hundreds of families who would be missing their only chance of working their way out of poverty! But, of course, our consciences in America would feel really good about it.

    Like Tim, i understand there are real slavery and sweatshop issues (have been blessed to minister in Chimhoacan Garbage City in Mexico City and in the “bustees” (slums for the “untouchables”) of Jaipur, India), but if we are not careful we will actually make things worse, instead of better.

    A major consideration is WHO gets to determine what is “sweated” or “slave” labor? So many times this is viewed from a strictly “American” or “Western” perspecitve which warps intended help into actual harm. Unfortunately, much of the material i have read and watched on these subjects lead me to believe that those who would be given this power would, in very many instances, actually make things worse for the workers, but feel great about what they’ve done- because, honestly, their main focus (for many of them) is a hatred of the companies who are “exploiting” people, rather than a desire to rescue the people.

    i’m all eliminating exploitation, but it must be done in a way that actually helps, rather than making matters worse.

  3. Mark,
    Hey, just a few weeks ago, I saw a PBS documentary which chronicled the life of a young Chinese girl as she obtained and worked a job in the denim factories. Whew, what an eye-opener!
    I found myself exploring a few websites (search: fair trade clothing) that operate under fair-trade policies. The clothes are lovely, yet simple and not particularly Westernized (yeaaa!). They were also a bit pricey compared with the sales we would find at our local mall, but knowing that the person who made them is being treated with dignity made them quite appealing. Wish I had the seed money to fund a boutique that I believe would draw LOTS of conscious consumers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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