For $9.90 at Forever 21, you can buy Harriet Dyer’s “The Little Book of Feminism,” a “helpful little guide [that] will teach you… everything you need to know to become a CARD CARRYING FEMINIST.”
If only they read it to the underpaid mothers and immigrant women at the factory they work at with what LA Weekly called “sweatshop practices.”
With the demonstrations, speeches and celebrations of International Women’s Day each year comes the inevitable parade of corporate pandering. Disney, Nike, and H&M are all happy to inform you of Women’s Day on social media – while their factory workers make well below minimum wage in appalling conditions.
But don’t be fooled. The insipid “Feminista” and “Girl Boss” merch at Forever 21 often doesn’t match up with reality. With Pride Month just around the corner, let’s have a reality check – corporations do not care about activist movements beyond turning a profit.
Don’t listen to their lies. Lip service means nothing unless they walk like they talk.
The problem with corporations like Urban Outfitters and H&M talking about women’s empowerment – even if they make well-intentioned donations to women’s organizations – is that their brand of feminism rarely extends beyond the first-world.
Sweatshop labor works through supply chains – a company will outsource the work to a different factory, according to the Sydney Herald. Because of this, it’s easy for them to downplay conditions or turn a blind eye. Technically, after all, it’s not H&M exploiting their workers – it’s the factory conglomerate they’re buying from.
Sweatshops can disadvantage all of their workers, but women can be especially at risk. A report, described in an article by Kate Hodal for the Guardian, details an epidemic of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse to women in factories for H&M and The Gap. Not to mention, underpaid mothers struggle in the cycle of poverty, spending almost all their income on food and have few alternative places of work to turn to.
So what can you do to avoid sweatshop labor?
The key to getting sweatshops out of your wardrobe, when you have the ability and the means, is ensuring they’re listed as ethically-sourced or sweatshop-free.
Ethical sourcing means that workers are paid a living wage and treated fairly, and that corporations do not use harmful environmental practices.
But don’t take company propaganda at face-value. They’re in the business to make money – they’ll inevitably self-select the information they present to consumers, while leaving out the dirt and grime.
Look to outside sources. Do your research on the companies you’re buying from and their histories. In general, a nonprofit selling feminist T-shirts or a group with a proven activist record is a lot more likely to consider labor ethics than a big-box department store.
When companies promise to uplift women, make sure that includes the women thousands of miles away sewing their products.
Feminism should include everyone, not just the people who can afford it.