How college students can exchange ethics for sales

How college students can exchange ethics for sales

How college students can exchange ethics for sales
July 11
20:47 2017

When there is a sale or a coupon involved, you don’t ask questions, you shop.

But behind the crop tops and light wash jeans, which we carelessly throw onto the counter, is an abused workforce overshadowed by the half-off sticker we came for.

Air conditioning, popular radio hits and cheery sales associates are starkly contrasted by the cramped, putrid warehouses textile workers spend their days in. We are bombarded with flashy pictures of scantily-clad models accompanied by advertising for the latest sales, while factory workers are forced to work overtime and are denied sick leave or short breaks.

The conditions in countries such as Cambodia where large brands like Gap and H&M manage factories have been studied and documented by groups such as the Human Rights Watch. Recent reports detail an atmosphere of blatant abuse among labor workers. Although Cambodia enacted strict labor laws in 1997 and later revised them in 2016, the enforcement of these provisions is a joke.

The Human Rights Watch detailed a story of a young woman who was demoted and docked pay for being pregnant. Although labor laws require pregnant women to receive accommodations and maternity leave, factory managers usually never honor these requirements. Workers were disciplined if they did not want to work overtime or perform extra duties. If someone was found to be working too slowly, they were reprimanded and did not have their work contract renewed.

Such conditions are beyond “unbearable,” and are more abusive than anything.

As stereotypical broke college students, we often focus solely on the price tag. The factory workers are out of sight, out of mind. But we don’t think about the people forced to make our #ootd under such horrendous conditions. If college students were more aware of the abuse behind the clothing they buy, would they forgo the sale and give their money to a company that values the working conditions of its employees?

Even the most socially conscious consumer struggles to answer this question when their personal finances are involved. Stores like H&M are able to offer such low prices for its clothing because they pay its textile workers so poorly, according to The New York Times. It is hard for the cash-strapped young adult to justify spending more on clothing when the sales at H&M are so wallet-friendly. However, paying an extra five dollars for a T-shirt or an extra 10 dollars for some jeans from a brand advocating safe working conditions is well worth it.

Finding companies that support the proper treatment of its employees isn’t much harder than conducting a Google search. The Fair Labor Association has been working to improve the working conditions of laborers since 1999. This association partners with companies and organizations to make sure companies do not participate in abusive labor practices. Companies such as New Balance, Adidas and Fruit of the Loom have partnered with the FLA. It is simple for students and other consumers to find the companies that ensure quality working conditions and avoid those who do not.

With the ease of finding which companies to avoid, it’s hard to understand why consumers still flock to companies who seem to care little about its employees. Should we blame this behavior on a lack of awareness? Maybe these companies understand its target demographic cannot afford more expensive clothing and will continue to shop at its stores regardless. Whatever the reason, consumers who have the ability to educate themselves have no excuse when it comes to finding a suitable place to shop.

It is understood buying one T-shirt over another will not save the people who suffer in factories across the globe, but small steps and increased awareness are far better than ignorance.

Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins

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Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee

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