Investigative journalism: on exposés & fair trade

Cheap clothes galore

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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 12p 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.

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Source
Gethin Chamberlain (2013) Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour. The Observer 28 July (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/28/india-sweated-labour last accessed 25 October 2013)

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