stories from my red thread life

Reflecting on a tragedy in Bangladesh: Is it possible to shop with a clear conscience?

On April 24, we all heard about a factory building collapsing in Bangladesh. Dozens of people were declared dead, and it was horrifying to hear about this tragedy unfolding from afar. Photos of the scene showed a garment labelled Joe Fresh, and Canadian consumers suddenly felt they had played a part in this tragic event. Now twelve days later, the death toll tops 600. Terrible grief has come to countless people in Bangladesh, and journalists around the world have grappled with the questions raised – some searching for solutions, others laying blame. Many shoppers have been questioning their role. Major retail players whose clothing was known to have been made in the building, namely Joe Fresh in Canada and Primark in the U.K. (with overlapping corporate ownership), have announced plans to compensate the victims and to change the way they work in Bangladesh. In this they were recently joined by a few other clothing retailers whose garments were also found in the rubble. Would they be doing so if their connection to the building had not been exposed? We have no way of knowing. What next? The scale of this tragedy is enormous – I hope it will turn out [...]

Read more →

Use it or lose it! Three great reasons to buy local

As a student of arts administration several years ago, I learned about a survey in which the vast majority of urban residents said they were very happy to have a ballet company located in their city, but only a small percentage actually attended ballet performances.  As we have all learned from Facebook, it’s far easier to like something than to do something. A few years ago I received an order from an independent children’s boutique in a small Ontario city. This beautiful shop had existed for many years, and featured many Canadian-made products. When I visited to meet the owner, I noticed a large Loblaws store just a few steps away, with enormous Joe Fresh banners featuring children’s clothing. “What’s that like, being virtually next door?” I asked the owner. “The price competition must be a challenge.” Indeed it was.  A few months later, she decided to close up shop. I don’t know precisely what went into making that decision, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the choices of local shoppers had something to do with it. It’s hard to resist a great bargain – why buy adorable locally-made clothing when you can buy adorable cheap clothing? I’ll [...]

Read more →

No Exit

This hand belongs to a real person who deserves to be treated with respect I’ve already shared with you my outrage about the lax safety standards in garment factories that have led to the deaths of hundreds of workers overseas in the past few years, workers sewing clothing for us and for our children. But our outrage, however deeply felt at the moment of a catastrophe, is clearly not making an impact on the safety of workers, particularly those in Bangladesh, and I just can’t let it go. These are not rare events. The devastating fire that killed more than 100 people in a garment factory in Bangladesh last week was notable only for its scale. Authorities declared that the loss of life would have been dramatically lower if the exits had not been locked from the outside. Why would any company allow its products to be made in a facility that permits workers’ lives to be put at risk? Are we truly willing to sacrifice human life in exchange for low labour costs? What’s stopping us from demanding answers to these questions? Katrina Onstad wrote an excellent article in The Globe and Mail last week on this subject entitled [...]

Read more →