The other side of consumerism

“We must make ourselves look at the closet,” says the official in Spain of the international network Dignitex, warning that, with our patterns of consumption of clothing, Western societies are accomplices of labor exploitation and environmental pollution in the rest of the world.

Some 25 years ago, Inditex -the company that owns Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka or Pull & Bear-, transferred a large part of its production outside Galicia to countries where labor is cheaper and production standards are less demanding. Subject to fierce scrutiny, the Spanish multinational has been a pioneer in the implementation of an ambitious corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy. The approximately 7,000 factories that work for her all over the world must sign a strict code of conduct and the company has signed an agreement with Comisiones Obreras that allows the union to present itself without prior notice in any of those centers to be inspected.

The reality on the ground, however, is more complex. Each of these 

production centers must meet unattainable production objectives, especially in the face of demand peaks such as Christmas, sales orBlack Friday . In practice, this means that their only alternative is to subcontract to other producers, who operate outside the umbrella of the Inditex CSR. This is stated by Magdalena Pérez de Vallejo, member of the Solidarity and Self-Management Internationalist (SAIn) party and representative in Spain of the international network Dignitex, which brings together eight organizations from Uzbekistan, Argentina, Morocco, United Kingdom, Mexico and Spain allied in the complaint against labor exploitation in the textile. Citing data from a report released by the public television France 2, Pérez de Vallejo gives as an example the case of India, where compared to only 24 legally hired workshops, Inditex indirectly uses another 3,000.

Complaints have been filed in a dozen countries against the company. The last, in Argentina, is promoted by Gustavo Vera, president of the La Alameda association, a member of Dignitex.

But neither in this the Spanish multinational is an exception. Christian Dior, Nike, Benetton or H & M have been accused of the same practices. “Clandestine textile workshops are being found everywhere. And the owners who are they? What are the multinationals involved? “, Asked recently in an interview with Alfa and Omega the head of Migrations in the Holy See, the Italian priest Fabio Baggio, who previously worked in Buenos Aires with Archbishop Bergoglio as diocesan head of Migrations, where the current Pontiff set the fight against trafficking as one of his priorities.

As deputy in the local parliament of the province of Buenos Aires, Gustavo Vera, friend of Jorge Bergoglio, promoted in the last legislature anti-trafficking legislation that, at least in theory, requires companies to document the origin of each garment, thus ensuring control throughout the production chain. “The problem -recognizes this weekly- is that the majority of workers in Argentina are not protected by an agreement. This explains that there are thousands of slaves in the country ».

But as scandalous as the situation in Argentina is (according to the Walk Free Foundation, there are about 40,000 slaves, of which a good part are women victims of sexual exploitation), it pales in the face of the situation in Asia or Africa, where the weakest links in production and commodification chains that reach consumers in Western countries. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 20.9 million people suffer “forced labor” in the world, not infrequently linked to the payment of debts. Textiles are one of the most problematic industries, with strenuous days with misery wages. In India, the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) gave as an example the case of girls with days of more than 72 hours per week for 0.88 euros per day, money that could only be charged after three to five years and strictly as matrimonial dowry Among the companies for which this provider worked, were El Corte Ingles, Cortefiel, Primark, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, H & M, Marks & Spencer, Diesel, Gap, C & A and Inditex.

How to avoid being an accomplice

To tackle abuses in the textile industry, a resolution passed by the European Parliament in April urges the Commission to legislate to ensure transparency at all stages and to protect small and medium-sized enterprises from unfair competition by large companies that do not respect human rights or environmental standards in third countries.

It has been shown that the self-regulation of companies is not enough, says Magdalena Pérez. And it alludes to the documentary Coton: l’envers de nos tee-shirts ( Cotton: the reverse of our shirts ), recently released in France 2. The research focuses on the Better Cotton initiative, which presumably guarantees that Garments have been made with ethically produced cotton. “The documentary brings to light what this label hides, with which companies such as Inditex, Carrefour or Ikea work. These labels confuse consumers by making them believe that they choose products that are respectful of the environment and that they comply with the labor rights of workers, “says the head of Dignitex.

What can the consumer do then not to be an involuntary accomplice of the wildest labor exploitation?One response is “to press the big brands through the boycott of their products so that they begin to take steps in the right direction, compensating the victims of landslides, fires, hip explosions, trafficking, exploitation and slavery …”. Proof that this strategy is effective, says Pérez de Vallejo, is that child labor “has been drastically reduced in recent years in the textile sector thanks to social pressure.”

“We also believe that we must demand from our governments legislation that prevents the exploitation of human beings and the degradation of the environment,” he continues. “Especially at this moment we must urge the European Commission to put in place the binding legislation that has been requested by the European Parliament.” The web carries out a collection of signatures with that request.

But none of this will be really effective until we break “the circle of consumerism that leads to an unbearable lifestyle for the environment, the economy and the person,” says the activist. The so-called fast fashion (a term similar to fast food ) is the engine that drives this gear, with the continuous renovation of shop windows and a fierce price competition between textile multinationals obtained from the reduction in ethical standards in the production. “We have to look at the closet,” says Pérez. «It is somewhat exaggerated. There are garbage dumps exclusively for clothings. Do we really need to buy so much? “

Ricardo Benjumea

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