We have all seen the photographs of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman sporting the “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts.
I came across this story absolutely by chance when it was in its earliest days; seeing a headline in the Daily Mail (not my purchase, it was at my Grandparents) saying that David Cameron had refused to wear the t-shirt, implying he was somehow supporting gender inequality.
Now it has been revealed by the Sunday Mail that the t-shirts were in fact made in a sweatshop, by a person in Mauritius, who is paid £120 (or 6,000 rupees) a month, and sold in the UK for £45. Expensive for a t-shirt anyway.
Before the ‘scandal’ was revealed, I supported David Cameron’s decision not to wear the t-shirt. It shows a one-sidedness, perhaps an open affiliation to the company who offered the t-shirts, Elle, and opening himself up to a situation that could easily be avoided.
Harman’s wearing of the t-shirt in Commons was totally unprofessional in my opinion.
However, that is not what I seek to address.
Almost paradoxically, the three politicians have actually opened the lid on the issue of sweatshops being used by fashion companies in an attempt to reduce costs and maximise benefits. It is a problem that has perhaps been brought about due to the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which allows for resources to be dropped or found in different areas in order to reduce costs.
Things such as factories are moved out of countries such as the UK, as the pollution they create in the air and waters does not comply with UK law, and so the problem is moved elsewhere.
In this instance, the minimum wage in Western countries discourages companies from gathering their workforce from the USA and Europe, and so shift the work to places without such laws.
Therefore, it is to the benefit of campaign groups such as Green America, and Clean Clothes Campaign that this story has hit the headlines.
The fact that three high-ranked politicians in the UK parliament have been caught out wearing clothes made in sweatshops will hopefully make people see the violation of human rights these sweatshops allow. However, perhaps if the t-shirts had not already been in the news due to the PM’s refusal to wear one, then this issue might not have even been looked at.
It is likely that many of us, right now, are wearing clothes made in sweatshops. I doubt Harman, Clegg, and Miliband have never worn clothes made in sweatshops before, possibly in Commons or on TV. Many of us now take this sort of thing as the norm nowadays. It has become almost an inside joke that someone’s t-shirt or jeans “were probably made by a kid in a sweatshop”, and yet nobody bats an eyelid.
I hope that this story will not stop here, and will in fact raise the issue of sweatshops in a manner that cannot be simply thrown aside.