Tag Archives: ethics

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Workers’ Rights 99 Years Later

Yesterday marked 99 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned on New York’s Lower East Side, killing 146 of its 500 workers, who were locked inside the building.The fire, and the campaign and reform for garment workers’ rights to follow, is well chronicled in Cornell’s Triangle Factory Fire online exhibit, where you can find photos, letters and original articles from 1911. It’s well worth a look, especially since nearly 100 years later, garment workers around the world still have to fight for a living wage, the right to organize and even their basic safety.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Photographer Unknown

Earlier this year, 21 workers were trapped and killed in Bangladesh when a fire swept through the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory, which made clothing for companies like H&M. The factory had been audited just months before, but clearly key safety issues had been missed. (Ken Silverstein touched upon the issue of ineffective audits in his Harper’s piece “Shopping for Sweat,” which I linked to in January.)

This past Tuesday, in Stockholm, I met Malin Eriksson, who coordinates the Clean Clothes Campaign, a worldwide network committed to improving working conditions in clothing factories. She talked about how a well organized workforce could essentially serve as an in-house audit team on a daily basis. But that barely seems realistic when most of these workers have no job security and can’t afford to jeopardize their income by protesting unfair conditions. (Another CCC representative estimated that in countries where the organization is active, less than 5% of the garment workforce is unionized.)

When I asked Malin about Nicholas Kristof’s argument that abominable work conditions in a factory are better than no work at all, she explained that’s why the CCC’s urgent actions, which directly implement workers’ wishes usually involve letter-writing campaigns, rather than boycotts of the garments they produce.

In the case of the Garib & Garib fire, CCC has organized campaigns to demand medical care for injured workers, compensation for deceased workers’ families, a criminal investigation of the fire (CCC claims it wasn’t only preventable, it was predictable) and the direct support of these demands from brands doing business with the factory.

H&M Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Ingrid Schullström announced today that the company would donate 1 million Swedish Krona (about US $135,000) for preventative safety measures at factories in Bangladesh, and that they are waiting for reports commissioned from Save the Children and Incidin Bangladesh before deciding on further reparations for bereaved families.

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Johhny Weir’s Cold Shoulder

Like me (see last post), figure skater Johnny Weir, who’s headed to the Winter Olympics next week, has recently had to grapple with the ethics of wearing fur.

Last week he agreed to replace a fox fur complement on his skating costume with faux fur, in what he called a “a draw” in his standoff against Friends of Animals after, wait for it…President Priscilla Feral wrote a letter to Weir that he called scary and threatening, setting off quite the tiff.

Weir made the change, but said in a statement first published by icenetwork, “I do not want something as silly as my costume disrupting my second Olympic experience and my chance at a medal, a dream I have had since I was a kid.”

Silly?!

image via NYMag

Check him out in Rodarte’s custom-knitted costume in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Amazing. I’m actually going ice skating tonight, and while I haven’t quite worked out what to wear, you can bet I’m going to have Mr. Weir in mind for inspiration.

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Is Old Fur the New Fur?

A few weeks ago, after I finished an interview with Jade Harwood, one of the lovely designers behind Wool and the Gang, she pulled on a blonde-colored lush fur coat. I told her I thought it was beautiful. She told me it was her mom’s, and that she didn’t even know what kind it was.

Image from Let’s Get Ripped and Go to the Aquarium (Doesn’t that sound fun?)

Then, last weekend, my friend Indrani wore a chocolate-colored “chinchilla” (she reckons it’s really rabbit) to a dinner party. The moment someone paid her a compliment, she said it was second-hand, from Sidney’s in Williamsburg, since displaced by an overpriced supermarket. It makes her feel gangsta. Come to think of it, Indrani usually listens to NPR, and that night she picked me up bumping Hot 97.

Puffy and Kate Moss photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue, 1999

There’s no getting around it. Wearing fur is fun. It makes us youngsters feel like we’re playing dress up–whether in our mom’s closets or Puffy’s. But it also makes us feel kind of guilty. Fur, after all, comes from animals. (My mom used to tell me her full-length beaver coat, which I named “Buster,” was made of roadkill, the implications of which I never fully understood.) It seems second-hand fur eases that sting.

Faran Krentcil of NYLON asked in the Huffington Post whether her hand-me-down black Mongolian lamb jacket was more ethical than her friend’s “vegan” fast-fashion. I would surmise that it is, and though I’ve seen neither, I’d be willing to bet money that Faran’s jacket is  much better looking, and a hell of a lot warmer.

Ethically, it’s the “it’s already dead,” justification, taken one step further, because the profits are removed from the brand that commissioned the slaughtering and skinning (sorry, it’s the truth) of the animal, so we’re not really supporting fur, per se, but rather…recycling! My mom has yet to send Buster my way, so for now I’m rocking this trend on my feet. I’m honestly not sure if the goats these came from were shorn or skinned, but I know these Lotto boots, which were my final purchase of the last decade at Amarcord in Williamsburg, are from the 1960s.

They are SO much warmer than Uggs, and less embarrassing to leave the house in. Okay, that second point may be debatable, but when it’s too snowy for sneakers, I wear these to the gym with leggings and a Patagonia top, and pretend I’m aprés ski, rather than midday yoga. Also, they’re a consistent hit with men of a certain age, and by a certain age, I mean toddlers. One such little fella was grinning at me on the subway the other day. When his dad asked him what he thought those shoes were made of, the boy gave me a little smile as he considered the question.

“Dinosaur,” he said.

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