Claiming connections: A distant world of sweatshops?
Claiming connections: A distant world of sweatshops?

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Claiming connections: A distant world of sweatshops?

1.3.4 Bringing remote sweatshops within reach continued

Another claim made by the movement is that we are all in some way connected to a market system which effectively allows sweatshops to exist in the first place. This is about more than targeting the big brand names and linking them directly to exploitation abroad; rather, it is about piecing together the global market machinery that ties the corporate buyer, the boardroom executive, the factory owner and the consumer into a system which establishes particular lines of responsibility (Hartwick, 2000; Young, 2003; Oxfam, 2004). On this view, the specific connection to those who, for instance, actually sew, assemble and pack garments on a remote factory floor may either be through the act of retailing the clothes, or subcontracting their assembly, or plainly and simply through the act of wearing them. In each case, it is how individuals, groups and institutions are tied into the market system that matters and that draws them closer to the lives of distant others.

Few people are really in a position to do much about, for example, Lern's predicament directly, but, it is argued, no matter how mediated the tie, everyone can do something within the limits of their power, position and relative influence. Choosing to buy one brand and not another is one option for a consumer, as is organising a boycott of a clothing label, but neither is particularly far-reaching in its impact on the everyday working lives of those labouring in sweatshops. For that, others connected in a more immediate way, such as the factory manager or sourcing agent would be targeted. In this more practical way, the movement has attempted to track the lines of responsibility across the globe to counter the claim that market forces are virtually untraceable, given their often taken-for-granted complexity and fragmentation.

It is debatable whether the lines of connection drawn by the movement have really done justice to the market fragmentation recounted in Section 2, especially given the myriad number of economic interactions involved and their often shadowy nature. But in many ways that is beside the point. Politically, the connections drawn have already served their purpose, which is to make present to those who buy and sell the clothes the conditions under which they have been produced. In fact, it was the tide of criticism which followed this insight which, for the big corporate retailers of the 1990s, made it just that much more difficult for them to plead impotence in the face of what, at times, really are complex market forces.


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