Sunday, March 8, 2015

Made in Britain: Working for half minimum wage?

It was with great interest that I read an article which popped up in my Twitter feed about labour exploitation in Britain's textile industry.

Made in Britain: UK textile workers earning £3 per hour

It seemed a timely article after my blog post earlier this week about fair value for knitting patterns and books.

One quote really stood out for me, in the news article:

“If you get something cheap, there is a reason for that – what has made it so cheap? Ultimately, businesses need to cut their costs, and where do they cut their costs – it’s usually with labour,” says Patel.

The article talks about how immigrants are the most commonly exploited in this "race to the bottom" to produce goods cheaply. “Through talking to the workers we found out that many of them were paid less than £3 per hour,” she said. “This factory was one of the better ones, yet it had no contracts, paid less than the minimum wage, health and safety breaches were widespread and the workforce had little or no awareness of what they were entitled to as employees.”

I'm not trying to equate the fashion industry's exploitation of immigrant or even offshore labour to the debate over what a reasonable price is to pay for a knitting pattern or book. But what interests me is this drive to get something cheap.

Businesses naturally want to maximize their profits by reduces their expenses. And consumers want to pay the least amount possible. Or, perhaps perversely, pay the most amount possible for designer labels to show their affluence or to be "on trend".

But at what cost? At what point should we as consumers vote with our dollars by putting them in the cash registers of companies who source their products responsibly?

I'm not suggesting we all weave our own fabric from locally source, ethically tended animal/plant sources and then sew our own outfits or pay someone local to sew it for us. I'm just suggesting we think about what we buy and how the employees are treated. And perhaps, where we can and when we're financially able, to make a point of supporting companies who are local, or who run their businesses in a sustainable, earth-friendly and/or employee friendly manner.

I like buying from my local farmers' market when I can. I love the local festivals with food and craft vendors; browsing through the stalls is like an adventure, seeing what people are creating. I don't mind paying a bit more for a knitting tool made out of wood by a craftsman, because then I have something that is beautiful as well as functional, and I've supported someone who is doing something he or she loves.

Awareness is a good start:

“If you get something cheap, there is a reason for that – what has made it so cheap?

1 comment :

  1. We have lived in an environment where the cost of goods has been ridiculously low because of cheap labour. It partially explains the excesses in goods most of us own. Your point is good about the inflated costs of 'designer label' items which are created in the same sweatshops as non-designer items. I remember when major stores (including WalMart) used to boast about goods made in the USA or Canada. Is hard to find goods manufactured in Canada or the US any more, which is also why there are so few manufacturing jobs. While travelling in the UK, it was notable that many of the goods for sale were indeed proudly manufactured in the UK.