Aditya Chakrabortty on the Great Cheap Clothing Scandal Of 2014:
Somewhere in Swansea is a woman whose hand I want to shake. My guess is that she’s the one responsible for giving Primark such a stonking headache over the past few days. You probably know her handiwork – at least, you will if you saw the stories about how two Swansea shoppers came back from the local Primark with bargain dresses mysteriously bearing extra labels.
Indeed we did, Aditya. But most of us know a hoax or a publicity stunt when we see one. As even you have to admit.
The much-more-likely scenario is an activist, holed up in a south Wales fitting room, hastily darning her protests.
In which case: well-needled, that woman.
Ah. ‘Fake, but accurate’, eh? That rings a bell.
Not only has she gummed up the Primark publicity machine for days on end and brought back into discussion the costs of cheap fashion, she’s also given pause to two shoppers. In the words of one: “I’ve never really thought much about how the clothes are made … I dread to think that my summer top may be made by some exhausted person toiling away for hours in some sweatshop.”
Who, after their pause, and their interview with the breathless media, will … go right on back to buying their clothes from Primark. Of course.
Look at the label sewn into your top: the only thing it must tell you under law is which fibres it’s made out of – whether it’s cotton or acrylic or whatever. Which country your shirt came from, or the accuracy of the sizing – such essentials are in the gift of the retailer.
Christ, how big do you want that label to be, Aditya?!?
By law you are entitled to more information about the production of your eggs than your underwear.
Well, yes. Because a salmonella-laden egg will make me sick, or maybe kill me. A cheap T-shirt provided by a sweatshop worker won’t.
It might just save the sweatshop worker from having to take up the sex trade, though.
So here’s a modest proposal: a new law that mandates more, and more relevant information, on the products we buy. Call it the Truth on the Label Act, which will require shops to display where their goods are made, which chemicals were used in production, and whether the factory is unionised. Stick it on the shelves, print it on the clothes tags. Big retailers can also display prominently in each branch how much tax they pay, and what they pay both top staff and shopfloor employees.
And when you get this, and people still knowingly buy such clothing, what then?