Magazine article Momentum

Naked Justice

Magazine article Momentum

Naked Justice

Article excerpt

One of my greatest struggles as a teacher of social justice is to increase awareness among my students of the sufferings of the world. In so many ways - culturally, educationally, economically and socially - they are insulated from the pain of the world. I must admit that this challenge holds true for me as well.

Sometimes the remedy is as close as our kitchen table or the clothes on our backs.

Sitting in our kitchen a while back, my wife came home from a morning of shopping. With a smile on her face she held up a t-shirt for our daughter and asked, "Guess how much?" Taking the bait, I said, "$2.50?" "Nope," she replied, "lower." Amazed at her shopping prowess, I halved it and offered, "$1.25?" Shaking her head, she said, "Wrong again. I got it for 80 cents!" Mind you, this was no garage sale find, but a brand-new product purchased from a major retailer. At this point all I could do was laugh and say, "Something is wrong with the world."

In the intervening days since that episode, I have been struck by two things: One, the exchange between my wife and I was far more serious than I was willing to admit. Two, getting something for the lowest price may not be the best thing.

A few days later I had another revealing encounter. 1 was changing clothes from working out when the label from the hat I was wearing, something I usually pay little or no attention to, caught my eye. Made in Bangladesh. Interesting, I thought. I proceeded to look at the jacket I had just taken off. Made in Bangladesh as well. I then did the same thing with my other articles of clothing. My t-shirt was made in Mexico, sweatpants in the Dominican Republic and athletic shoes in China.

I was surprised by my sweatshirt, which read: "Assembled in Mexico. Made in the U.S." It was the first time I'd ever encountered a "dual" byline on an article of clothing. It brought to light, however, a term we may have never heard of but one many of the products in our homes bear witness to - maquilas. These are factories (many located in Latin America) that take parts imported from the U.S. and assemble them in their country only to re-export them back to the U.S. for sale.

Why? Because it makes good sense (cents)! Labor is much cheaper in Mexico and other Latin American countries than it is the United States (and other industrialized nations). Environmental regulations and work safety standards are far fewer. Taxes are lower. Perhaps the most important reason is lower accountability. Given the distance created between the consumer and the product, we tend to be less likely to ask questions about how our products were made and by whom the further away they are.

Interestingly enough, due to public awareness brought to light concerning business practices with contractors overseas, Nike, the world's largest manufacturer of shoes, created an executive position with the title "vice-president for corporate responsibility." This, however, doesn't relieve us of our own responsibility. Far too often, though, I absolve myself of responsibility by putting the burden of many purchases on my wife.

It must never be forgotten, however, that when we buy a product we also encounter a person. We don't have to go to New York City to visit the United Nations; we're wearing it right on our back and cooking with it in our kitchen.

The question that arises in this context is what is the relationship between the clothing in our closet and other products in our home and ourselves? …

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