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Let's Face it, Most of Us Love Cheap Clothes -- and Don't Think much about whether Child Slave Labor made it so Cheap

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Clothes For a Change page.

Until three years ago I did not believe in magic. But that was before I began investigating how western brands perform a conjuring routine that makes the great Indian rope trick pale in comparison. Now I'm beginning to believe someone has cast a spell over the world's consumers.

This is how it works. Well Known Company makes shiny, pretty things in India or China. The Observer reports that the people making the shiny, pretty things are being paid buttons and, what's more, have been using children's nimble little fingers to put them together. There is much outrage, WKC professes its horror that it has been let down by its supply chain and promises to make everything better. And then nothing happens. WKC keeps making shiny, pretty things and people keep buying them. Because they love them. Because they are cheap. And because they have let themselves be bewitched.

Last week I revealed how poverty wages in India's tea industry fuel a slave trade in teenage girls whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Tea drinkers were naturally upset. So the ethical bodies that certified Assam tea estates paying a basic 19 cents* an hour were wheeled out to give the impression everything would be made right.

For many consumers, that is enough. They want to feel that they are being ethical. But they don't want to pay more. They are prepared to believe in the brands they love. Companies know this. They know that if they make the right noises about behaving ethically, their customers will turn a blind eye.

So they come down hard on suppliers highlighted by the media. They sign up to the certification schemes - the Ethical Trading Initiative, Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance and others. Look, they say, we are good guys now. We audit our factories. We have rules, codes of conduct, mission statements. We are ethical. But they are not. What they have done is purchase an ethical fig leaf.   


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