“The issue for consumers who want to buy goods without exploiting foreign workers is that it’s often very difficult to figure out where a piece of clothing came from and how it was made.
Buying a major brand or shopping at a well-known store chain, for example, is no guarantee that the item wasn’t made under questionable working conditions.
Villasenor says large retailers such as Wal-mart or Sears either work with a distributor, which in turn finds manufacturers to produce an item, or else they deal with the manufacturer directly. Working with a distributor could mean less oversight of conditions on the factory floor.
A strikingly low price on an item of clothing might suggest that it’s the product of sweatshop labour, but it’s not a precise indicator, says Villasenor. She says there are “many, many conditions” that could lead a store to settle on a sale price.
“It really depends on the margins the retailer decided to put on that garment,” she says.
Consumers worried about sweatshop labour should inspect the name of the country printed on the label, says Cheryl Hotchkiss, senior manager of advocacy and public engagement at World Vision Canada.
If the name of a country such as Bangladesh appears on the label, “I think you have reason to be concerned,” says Hotchkiss.
But Villasenor points out that this, too, is an imperfect gauge. A label will only specify the country of origin, but not whether the product may have involved an unscrupulous factory owner or distributor.
“It would be very unfair to describe all of the manufacturers in Bangladesh as having the same bad conditions for workers,” Villasenor says. “There are very good manufacturers there that fall into compliance.”
Last night, Julija Hunter, a spokesperson for Joe Fresh’s parent company, Loblaws, released a statement saying that it ‘has robust vendor standards designed to ensure that products are manufactured in a socially responsible way, ensuring a safe and sustainable work environment. We engage international auditing firms to inspect against these standards. We will not work with vendors who do not meet our standards.’”