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These Clothing Tags Tell You Where Your T-Shirt Really Came From

Spoiler alert: It’s kids working in sweatshops.

Flip over the label on a new sweater, and you might feel a twinge of guilt as you wonder about the factory it emerged from in Bangladesh or Mexico or Vietnam. But, of course, it’s hard to know much other than the simple fact of the country where it was made.

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A new mock label, designed as part of an ad campaign for the Canadian Fair Trade Network, goes a step further:

100% Cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya. Who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly-widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he worked. Now she works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes every day. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.

The stories on the labels are real, though the labels themselves are fake. The ads were the creation of an ad agency called Rethink, which came up with the work as a pro bono project. When the Canadian Fair Trade Network saw the idea, they realized it could be a way to reengage interest in the problem of sweatshops–something that consumers have been aware of for decades, but doesn’t seem to be getting better.


“There’s been a lot of talk about the industry, but from what I can see, there’s been almost no improvements,” says Sean McHugh, executive director of the Canadian Fair Trade Network. “The problems haven’t gone away. And they’ve probably only deepened, to be honest. I think what’s brought this whole thing back to the forefront is definitely the Dhaka disaster a couple of years ago, with so many lives lost, so many big brands implicated in that disaster. I think it’s resparked the conversation.”

Though brands have acknowledged the problem, McHugh says they haven’t found lasting solutions. “Companies agree to make changes, but generally those changes don’t have much teeth,” he says. “So this campaign is really centered on bringing this issue back to the forefront, and pushing companies to the table.”

Consumers can help by choosing Fair Trade clothing–but the problem is that there aren’t many options. Even more expensive brands are often made in sweatshops.

“The one limitation of this is that the list of companies is still quite short,” McHugh says. “That’s a bit of a challenge, because we like to link our work to tangible steps to take. Especially with apparel, the choices are still very limited.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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