What Nike doesn’t want you to know

Dylan Grosser

I know my shopping habits change based on the season. Summer is when I work, so that means designer shorts from American Eagle and socks from Express. When I’m broke during the school year, it’s the clearance section at Walmart or Goodwill.

Clothes shopping is a big part of our culture; it’s how we express our personalities and show off to the world.

Even though we love shopping, we typically don’t pay attention to where our clothes are made. Sure, it’s a common joke that everything is “made in China,” but the conversation doesn’t go far beyond that. There’s actually a dark truth behind where our clothes come from.  

A lot of clothing and apparel companies like Nike, Adidas, H&M and Gap use cheap, exploitative labor in foreign countries to mass produce their products. The clothing industry is notorious for outsourcing manufacturing to countries where there are few labor regulations making for cheap production of goods. These companies do this to maximize their profits with heavy expense to the overworked and underpaid people in their factories, known infamously as “sweatshops.”

Everybody works hard at their job, but workers in countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, China and Vietnam work insanely long hours in these sweatshops for little pay and in typically unsafe working environments that don’t receive regular inspection. Imagine working in a factory with no air conditioning during the hottest time of the year and having no breaks, no fire exits, little pay and no benefits.

In our country, we have the privilege of labor laws that guarantee us some fair and reasonable treatment in our jobs. These other countries, however, don’t have that luxury, and the brands that some of us may be wearing right now take advantage of that to cut costs.

It’s not something we typically think of while we’re out at the mall or buying things on Amazon, but the reality is that large corporations exploit cheap, unethical labor to deliver convenience to you, the customer.

Despite that disheartening fact, it won’t stop us from shopping from our favorite stores, and honestly, it shouldn’t.

The responsibility to change this pattern of exploitation shouldn’t fall onto us, especially since most of the clothing industry is guilty of sweatshop labor. Rather, the burden should shift to the companies themselves.

We should not be compelled to boycott certain brands, because clothing is a necessity as well as a luxury; we cannot just decide to stop buying clothes one day. No, instead companies should be required to have independent oversight of their labor abroad by both our government and the international community.

Unchecked, corporations will seek out the cheapest means possible to make a profit. Sometimes that comes at the cost of people’s health and well-being. In Cambodia on April 24, 2013, the eighth floor of the Rana Plaza factory, which operated without a safety license, collapsed killing 1,100 and injuring 2,000. Cambodia is the second leading exporter of clothes in the world. Examples such as these show the toll that a reckless desire of greed without regard to safety has on human lives.

While boycotting and protesting are not bad ideas, it would be more impactful if it were every American’s priority to vote for representatives who favor regulations on businesses to prevent them from abusing cheap, unsafe foreign labor. Perhaps at the same time, bring some of those jobs back to the U.S.

Anyone who works to pay for college recognizes the struggle of working long hours for minimum wage. Multiply that unfairness by a million to understand what these sweatshop workers are being asked to do, so that we can buy our clothing.

Vote for people who want to put an end to companies using sweatshops to make their clothing, or become part of the movement by joining the United Students Against Sweatshops. The student led organization has a national campaign of demanding fair labor regulations, especially in factories that produce collegiate apparel.