Recently I was talking with my aunt about the April 24 textile factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,127 workers. I was surprised when my aunt told me she was boycotting clothes from Walmart in solidarity with the factory victims. Sure, I told her, Walmart’s goods are undoubtedly sourced from factories with poor working conditions, and Walmart stores themselves probably maintain some of the worst working conditions in the States, but you think Walmart is the only store you shop at with fishy product origins? Think again.
Contrary to popular belief, cheap clothing is not the only apparel manufactured in places with poor working conditions. Clothing from luxury brands like Timberland and Puma, for example, is also produced by cheap labor. In fact, unless you are super conscious of your buying habits, even the companies you trust most are likely to have their goods manufactured in unregulated factories across the world (for the techies out there, just look at Apple’s FoxConn scandal in China). Take Levi’s, the jeans company known for its strong US heritage. It’s a brand we associate with cowboys and the American Dream, but in actuality Levi’s goods are manufactured all over the world, including in Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. Levi’s promises that they “champion improved working conditions and workers’ rights globally,” but how do we know the factories producing their goods won’t be the next to collapse?
Global manufacturing, however, doesn’t always equal unfair labor practices. Patagonia, for example, is another highly-regarded company that produces globally sourced goods. Unlike other companies, though, Patagonia takes care to make fair working conditions an inherent company value, and they explain those working conditions to the public. On their website, Patagonia provides extensive information on their factory scoring system, fair labor principles, and workplace codes of conduct.
To help you become more aware of where your clothes come from, data journalist Anna Flagg, along with Jasmine Du, Chad Smith, and Stephanie May created an interactive map to show you where some of the largest clothing manufacturers source their goods. Click below to visit her infographic and then, once you’ve checked out the map, research the working conditions in the factories of your favorite brands. Knowledge is power, after all.
Note: This piece was edited after publication to include the names of Jasmine Du (data collection, GIS analysis), Chad Smith (data collection) and Stephanie May (data wrangling) as part of the Mapping the Garment Factory project.
What do you think clothing manufacturers should do to enable better working conditions for garment factory workers across the world?