Poor working conditions for workers in South Asia and South-East Asia are not new phenomenon. With long hours, in high temperatures, low wages and little to no breaks, this is hardly any different from slave labour. While a lot of the literature on this area of employment is interesting, it certainly reveals some of the harsh realities mentioned, which workers, particularly garment workers, who produce the clothes supplied by household names, such as Nike, Primark and Monsoon, have to face on a daily basis.
The following image depicts a handful of informative booklets I picked up when popping into Traid, which is a charity dedicated to reducing the waste from the clothes that we buy and wear – to stop them from being thrown away. I love their mission, aims and values, as they not only advocate towards reducing clothes waste, but also funds projects to campaign for and empower workers to know their rights, and improve their working conditions. Check out their website to find out more.
What has inspired this particular blog post is an article I read in The Guardian this week. It reminded me of a piece which I wrote and published in my university’s student newspaper: Concrete. It describes some of the changes I have noticed in myself regarding the injustices in the world, which I have learnt about in my first year of studying International Development, and how my way of thinking and being has slowly evolved. You can read the full Guardian article by clicking on the link below, and read on to find my original piece:
How my Degree is Reshaping Who I Am
I’m a first year undergraduate in the school of International Development, with my second year now fast approaching. A common motif within my field of study is change, which can sometimes be perceived as a pleasant experience in some communities yet, more often than not, is detrimental for others. And while I find many aspects of studying International Development incredibly fascinating, I do think that the most noteworthy of all is its subtle ability to gradually change one’s worldview. This is an account of how my degree is already reshaping who I am.
I began to notice a change somewhere within the first few weeks of the course, when the realities of being a ‘fresher’ at university reigned in. I felt excited. The soft haze of summer just gone was slowly slipping away, and I was beginning to settle into university life. However, I also felt something else. I felt disgust. Sitting in a politics lecture, I was learning about the ‘politics of production’, which, to my understanding, is the study of power relations within each strand of the supply chain, from the factory floor on an operational level, to a more decision-making level from (majoratively) Western retailers, such as the likes of Tesco, Monsoon, and Nike, to name but a few. And Primark. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building near Dhaka, Bangladesh, some four years ago today, which accommodated a number of garment factories for retailers including Primark, was used as a case study to illustrate the inequalities among the supply chain. More than one thousand garment workers died in this unnatural disaster.
When this occurred, I was still in high school, only vaguely aware of such global development issues. In fact, I frequently shopped at Primark, knowing that I would practically be buying a whole new wardrobe at a ridiculously low price. But fast-forward a few years later, and I now cannot fathom walking into such a store; simply walking past one makes me squirm. In this way, my degree makes me question the clothes and other products I buy and wear from certain retailers, for I am now more conscious of broader structural inequalities. If anything, I much prefer traipsing around car boot-sales or charity shops at the very least.
Along the same vein, another retailer that crops up more often than not is Apple. Almost all students in DEV appear to own an iPhone – an observation which, admittedly, somewhat surprises me. Now the last thing I want to do is cast judgements on others’ choice of mobile phone device, but it is far from unknown that iPhones are an overstated, superficial fashion trend. Apple (or rather, Foxconn), also have their own ethical issues, namely poor working conditions, which have led to several cases of suicide, hence my disillusionment in finding so many DEV students with a phone that not only reproduces inequalities in labour conditions and the capitalist system, but is also unnecessarily pricey. I thought that DEV students encouraged sustainability and ethical living, not superficiality and consumerism.
Furthermore, my degree has altered the types of food I consume. If there is one thing that DEV students also have in common, it’s vegetarianism or veganism – and everything else in between. Though I am not a self-proclaimed veggie (as of yet), I am certainly advancing towards the lifestyle. My consumption of meat has decreased considerably since being at university, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that Norwich seems to be a Vegan haven (or could it be watching a certain DiCaprio movie on climate action, I wonder?) I rarely buy meat in my weekly shop, and if I feel tempted, I usually buy substitutes of Quorn or succulent Linda McCartney sausages. Such good food.
Finally, my degree has invigorated my interests in learning more about other religions and beliefs. Recently, I took part in an introductory course into Buddhism, where I had an overview of several Buddhist teachings and values, most of which resonate with my own interests in practicing mindfulness and interconnectivity. This not only helps with self-development and growth, but also is an insight into other cultures in the Far East and South, which predominantly practice Buddhism, namely China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These countries are where I only dream of travelling to, and doing potential development work. Thus, learning about other cultures is a large part of why I love studying International Development.
I don’t mean to sound like a cynical, judgemental nag, but I do strongly believe that your degree, or whatever you do, should have some influence in the choices you make in your life. Next time you find yourself in a store like Primark, think about the effort that has gone into producing yet another ridiculously cheap top. In fact, think about why it is so cheap.