So, I’m driving home from a delightful afternoon with some old friends feeling really swell and I see one of those mammoth outlet malls. I’m excited because I’ve been to this particular one about a year ago and I’m still wearing the cute little dress and jeans I got from The Gap Outlet. Time to check them out again.
It’s Saturday, and never mind that I would have to park a gazillion miles away – I could use the exercise. I sprung out of my car and as I began my trek to the store my stomach started to get queasy. Do I really want to do this?
Earlier in the week, I was reading how The Gap and Walmart are not joining 40 other companies to raise the safety standards in Bangladesh after the horrific building collapse that killed over 1,100 people. This structure was where their ready-made garments were made.
I’ve been part of several boycotts in my life so I am not unfamiliar with making a conscious choice not to do something for a cause I believe in. But this seems to be different and times are different. In the back pages of business journals and magazines are articles discussing the pros and cons of such a boycott against the clothing manufacturers who kept a blinds eye to the conditions of their factory so that either we can have cheaper clothes and the profit margin for these companies can remain high. Good for the stock prices.
The con for a such a boycott as Timothy Hartford of the Financial Times argues is that “Bangladesh has been a development success story; poverty is high but falling fast. Literacy and life expectancy are improving.”
Okay, I get it, for the people of Dhaka working at these factories, is a windfall. They get paid about $1.50 a day. And we the consumer get to save lots of money when we purchase our jeans and tops. And for some of us, we cannot afford to spend any more. We are also spoiled and we want our lower prices – at any cost.
Still, after this tragedy, the 40 companies said that they will spend more money to assure the safety of the these workers. The Gap and Walmart will not join in as they do not want to be part of a binding contract. They are coming up with their own contract, and it will be non-binding.
So, back to my now not-so-joyous-walk to The Gap Outlet. I went in and began to ignore that part of my gut that said, “you weren’t going to do this.” I was super sweet to the sales clerk who directed me to my size jeans. $19.95 on sale. I tried them on along with a “pricier” $39.00 pair of jeans. My gosh, they looked great on me and for anyone who buys jeans, you know what a miracle it is to feel hot in the first pair of jeans you try on.
But I couldn’t hum out the voice in me that asked, “are you really going to do this?” And then I looked at the label. “Made in Bangladesh.” Not to be morbid, but considering the timing, it is a very likely chance that these jeans were made by one of the 1,100 workers who were killed in the accident. I couldn’t do it. And because, I like a deal soooo much I almost rationalized buying a pair made in China or Thailand. Please get me out of there!
I walked out, walked back to the car feeling very sad over the whole dilema. Low prices, horrific working conditions, “helping” a poor country. What will it take to bring to a heartful balance to it all? I don’t know…