For years, I’ve asked students to use sourcing websites and internet articles about labor rights to search for the factories in which a couple of items of their clothing were made. Usually a pair of shoes and a favorite shirt.
By undertaking this search, students think about the labor that supplies them with so much. They tend to think with new empathy about the people, often Asian, mostly female, who make their clothes. This focus also shines a powerful, unflattering light on advertising and its role in obscuring the often unpleasant experiences of those who make our things.
This year, my students will become sourcing consultants, putting what they’ve learned about supply chains and ethical consumerism into practice.
Three students at our school have begun designing and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Proud to be a Feminist.” The young women are dedicated to human rights but–as one of the students told me–they have no ideas about the conditions under which the shirts were made. Enter my Globalization class!
I have given my students the option of working for proudtobeafeminist.com or pursuing another similar project:
Even if your school doesn’t have start-ups, you can still run this project with your school’s athletic gear. In the US, student clubs often buy t-shirts. This project could help with those purchases as well.
I have told my students they’ll need to follow some steps:
- What do we need to know? Numbers, goals, costs, etc. You need a meeting with the proudtobeafeminist.com team.
- The current companies: what are their practices?
- Finding and contacting workable options for sourcing shirts AND printing/ink based on what you learn from proudtobeafeminist.com
- Making a pitch with 3 viable options.
They’ll be looking for companies owned by women, companies with strong labor and environmental records and, because it’s a priority of the client, local shirtmakers and screeners as well.
It isn’t difficult to discovery the human rights record of a company like Gilden or Fruit of the Loom. Even a simple Google search” “Gilden” “t-shirt” “labor rights” with results limited to the last year brings up enough to narrow the search and find stories of chronically hungry Gilden workers in Haiti in 2014. Even with this information, students have to decide if three-year old reporting still matters and whether companies that have recently cleaned up their acts would be given another chance.
Of course, with such a project, I cannot control exactly what my students learn. They also might not be successful in finding ethical shirts (and screening) that comes in at budget and fulfills the client’s requirement for social responsibility. I bet they will succeed–but if they don’t? Even that will be a valuable lesson–a lesson within and assignment that I doubt any of them will ever forget.