Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fair trade knickers!!

The other day, I was delighted to receive my first ever fair trade knickers!  They come from PACT, one of only two companies I've found that do fair trade underwear (the other is Pants to Poverty, sold in Australia by Etiko).
Why was this so exciting?  It means that I'm able to buy more of my clothing from higher in our buying hierarchy.

In general, Martin and I try to buy clothes (and other textiles) in the following order of preference:
  1. Second-hand.  Second-hand goods don't require the use of any new resources, so they're a gift to people whose lives are endangered by resource extraction/forest clearance for farming etc.  Practically all my outer clothes are second hand, as is much of our linen.  Much fewer of Martins' clothes are, though - it seems that guys are more likely to keep wearing their stuff till it's worn out :-)
  2. Fair Trade (ideally certified fair trade, but also goods from companies that make a plausible claim to be 'under fair trade conditions').  The people who make these goods work under decent conditions and there's no slavery/indentured labour or child labour (both of which are very common in Uzebikistan in particular).  And it's not just the people in the factories who get good jobs: to be fair trade certified, everyone in the production chain (farmers, spinners, dye-ers etc.) has to be working in fair trade conditions.  By buying fair trade and encouraging others to do so, we're expanding the pool of good jobs available in the Majority World.  In practise, though, I've actually bought very little fair trade clothing for myself (as I've only needed to buy underclothes and socks new, and I couldn't find those) and Martin's only bought a few T-shirts and one cotton shirt.  Fair trade clothing for adults is hard to find in NZ, although I've earlier listed a few online options here.
  3. Organic cotton or alternate fibres, made in the Majority World.  I don't like buying 'conventional' cotton.  There's a lot of evidence that the conventional cotton industry forces Indian cotton farmers into such crushing debt that it's estimated 270,000 of them have killed themselves in the last 20 years.  They also often have little choice but to use pesticides without proper protective clothing, leading to poisoning from chemical exposure.  By buying organic cotton, I'm expanding the number of farmers who can farm more safely.  If I can't do this, I'll choose alternative fibres: either synthetics or other natural fibres like wool, bamboo or hemp.  Martin has a great sturdy hemp T-shirt and I love my snuggly warm rabbit/wool blend socks :-)
  4. Anything else made in the Majority World.  If it doesn't say it wasn't made in a sweatshop, I assume that it was.  I'd rather buy clothing made in a sweatshop than clothing made in New Zealand.  In the vast majority of cases, people are working in sweatshops because it's the best option available to them.  Take, for example, the story of Shumi and Minu, two sisters in Bangladesh making T-shirts for the Western market.  They (along with Minu's husband) live in a single room with a concrete floor, cook on a single gas ring outside and work crazy hours at a not-wonderfully-safe factory.  They're so happy to be doing so!  The factory has gotten them away from cooking over a smoky open fire in a mud hut back in the village, where the hours were just as crazy, safety was also poor and everyone else had a say in their business to boot!  I don't want to take that option away from women like Shumi and Minu just because their sweatshop conditions don't look great to me.
  5. Clothing made in the West, whatever it's made of.  I'm conscious that, in leaving this to last, I'm doing a woman in my church out of a job.  She's in her late 50s or early 60s and trained as a seamstress.  She's a great seamstress and loves the work, but she's recently had to retrain because there aren't many jobs in dress-making any more.  It makes me sad because I know how hard this has been for her and I know that my choices contribute to her situation  But I'm not going to change my choices.  After all, she's been able to retrain and get another decent job (even if she doesn't much like it).  But if all the work at Bangladeshi sweatshops dried up, there's nothing else that Shumi and Minu could train to do: they'd have to return to the village and lose all the advantages their sweatshop jobs have brought them.
How high in this hierarchy we buy depends on what we can afford as well as what we can find in the time we have available to look for it.  I'm delighted to have been able to buy knickers from higher up than we've previously managed.  They're also super-soft and comfortable :-)

PACT is based in the US, and shipping to NZ starts at US$25 (or get a US friend to onship them for you - shipping within the US is free if you spend more than $25).  Pants to Poverty ships to NZ for £25 (although they offered to halve that for me if I bought 5 pairs or more).  If you buy their products from Etiko, shipping starts at Aust$18 and is free if you spend Aust $200 or more.

If you intend to buy anything from PACT, could you let me know before you do?  They'll give me a reward for having referred a friend :-)  Thanks!

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