Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Musings on "Made in Bangladesh"

One of my shirts
When I learned that the death toll of the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse topped 1000 - I started writing.  A few months ago this would have put me into a steep tailspin. I'm still saddened, though instead of throwing my hands up, casting blame, and tilting at the windmills of "race-to-the-bottom" capitalism, I found myself thinking of the systemic causes and possible solutions in the context of our global economy and sprawling supply chains and possible actions to take to incite change.

A short digression...

Back in March I wrote about my personal responsibility for a long list of global environmental catastrophes and miscarriages of justice.  It was a dark time for my faith in humanity, and, if I am completely honest, listing things out made it easier for me to mentally disengage from them - on top of that, my intent was to instill a sense of responsibility for these challenges with anyone that might read the post - depending upon the readers' socio-economic background, responsibility should (a loaded word) be shared, correct? 

Before I published that post, I ran it by some friends that share my sustainability ideals.  They suggested that instead of focusing on a laundry list of problems and the guilt associated with them, it might be more useful to think about how I contribute to solutions.  Makes complete sense.

...back to the topic at hand.

With that in mind, relative to the Bangladesh building collapse, what might I do to make an impact?  Here are a few ideas that came to mind with questions and comments about potential impact(s):
  1. Buy garments made in another country
    • Reward those with better labor regulations, though there were regulations and policies in place in Bangladesh that were enforced poorly
    • Does this then unfairly punish the laborers that have improved their lives despite their dangerous working conditions?
  2. Buy garments made by brands with the highest level of supply-chain scrutiny working in Bangladesh
    • With the complicated supply chains of today, does this mean anything?
    • Where does one find this information?  Looking at my closet of recent clothing purchases, I know I did not look.
    • Note: the photo above is from a shirt I bought recently - with no thought to where it was made.  At the time of this writing, I could find nothing about the brand's responsible business practices in Bangladesh.  I've sent them a message and asked about this - we'll see where this goes.
  3. Buy garments from the brands that said they would be compensating victims' families
    • What impact will this make in the long term?
    • Is this slacktivism at its finest, taking an action that easy and ultimately not very effective?
  4. Buy garments from local / regional sources
  5. Buy no new garments at all
    • There are a wealth of thrift stores and other ways to find gently used items to cover oneself and extend the useful life of an item.
    • In the world of (assumed) requisite economic growth, where would this cause pain? 
  6. Make them myself
    • This would be a useful skill to have, and, in the world of neoclassical economics, is my maximum value in society manifested in making clothing?  Maybe.
I am sure important actions, ideas, and insights are missing.  What would you add?

I am indebted to friends Kevin Hagen, former REI Sustainability Leader and now on his own helping organizations start and continue their sustainability journeys, Asheen Phansey, Babson MBA, Bio-engineering undergrad with biomimicry expertise currently changing the world at D'Assault Systemes, Caleb Bushner, self-proclaimed philosopher of sandwiches, BGI MBA, and Associate Director at Digitas, and Paul Diegel BGI MBA and Executive Director, Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center for providing invaluable insights into these topics.  I am grateful for their help as I continue to challenge my mental models and unconscious assumptions about sustainability and my battle against a priori pessimism.  Follow them on twitter at @asheen  |  @kevinhagen  |  @calebbushner .