Monday, April 27, 2015

Fashion and Child Labor

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where it appeared on July 3, 2013. Image credit: Pippalou at

After reading this Bubble...

I typed a comment that was apparently too long for this system. The computer ate my comment. So I'm posting these thoughts as a separate post.

Most U.S. citizens have noticed that the clothing "fashions" and household products we buy are produced in factories overseas. Most of us have even heard that many of these factories use child labor. Remember when TV hostess Kathie Lee Gifford launched her designer label, then self-exposed and expressed her horror at the conditions under which her fashion designs were being mass-produced? Kathie Lee may have recoiled in horror, but designers who aren't primarily TV stars are still working with the same system today. Most of us knew this, at the same time that we've noticed that there are fewer and fewer semi-skilled labor jobs for Americans who would prefer to work with their hands rather than with computers. We just tend to avoid thinking about it.

Some American writers who've tackled the topic of child labor (and/or underpaid adult labor) have concluded that it's not all bad. As John Stossel observed on his TV show, in his newspaper column, and in his book: When children are employed in factories, they're not being forced to earn even lower wages in even more appalling "jobs" such as begging, prostitution, and picking pockets. 

Young Americans tend to think that it's horrible and abusive if anyone suggests that American children might be doing something besides playing, going to school, and watching television. (Some American children, themselves, think an opportunity to do meaningful work would be fun and cool--much more interesting than another soccer game or TV show. Of course, their exposure to meaningful work has not involved sweatshop labor.) So what are they to think about children growing up in countries where "letting children enjoy their childhood" has never been the quasi-religious cult it is for many Americans? Either "That's terrible, somebody ought to stop it, but I have no idea who or how," or else, "We can't hope to understand these foreign cultures."
I don't pretend to understand foreign cultures. And I do think that, as long as the options open to a poor family include making children either factory laborers or professional pickpockets, factory labor is better. But I'd prefer to buy clothes and housewares that were made in the U.S.A., by Americans, who were earning living wages...not necessarily the inflated wages some unions have urged them to demand, but wages on which they could bring up children.