Every now and again, I read something that seems to expose the truth about human beings. It’s not always a pretty truth. Nor is it easy reading. Yet such words are essential reading, for they uncover blind spots and force us to face up to our flaws.
This was one of these articles – brilliantly titled “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour”. I read it in the Observer on Sunday and it’s been bugging me ever since. Bugging me because I know it is true. I know that I am guilty.
Like so many of us, I get upset when I hear about the appalling conditions forced on those who make our clothes/ipads/mobile phones. I might even occasionally boycott a product. But this standing-up-against-injustice tends not to last. Convenience – or my desire – eventually wins the “will I-won’t I?” battle. So I go back into the shop and buy those cheap jeans because – if I am honest – they look good. And I like them. And I want them. I wish this wasn’t true. But, as I face myself and my complicity in the mirror this morning, I just know it is.
Indeed, I recently decided to boycott GAP. My favourite clothes shop in the whole world. And it has been my first choice for years. I love the GAP. And then I heard that, following the collapse of that garment factory in Bangladesh, GAP chose not to sign an accord to improve working conditions in these factories. So I decided not to shop there anymore.
I’m not telling you this to make myself look good. Far from it. But rather to confess the emotional tussle I feel when I walk past a GAP store. I still miss going in there. Even though I now know some of the true cost of their clothes. I still want them.
Isn’t this the modern day dilemma? We want that thing, but we don’t like how it was made. And yet, we are so far removed from those who literally slave away to make these things, that we need journalists and campaigners – others far removed from us – to highlight what is really going on.
We live in a globalised world. And it has, in many ways, dehumanised us. It is easier to turn a blind eye when those suffering are far away. Easier to justify our behaviour when we categorise “them” as different from “us”. I know. Because I do it all the time.
It is only when I read words like these – “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child labour” – that I stop for a moment and think, “Yes. You are right.”
And I don’t want to be that person, even if it means never shopping in GAP again.