Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Target boycotts ultimately miss the mark

So you all have heard that Target CEO donated money to conservative politicians who oppose gay marriage, and the Internet got as worked up as it did last year about Whole Foods - just like it does every time it becomes obvious that corporate interests are NOT the interests of their customers. Well, they're not, and boycotts only serve to reinforce one's role as a consumer rather than a political entity. Voting with your wallet is not voting or activism. (Schoolmarm aside: the term boycott refers to a mass action, because in order for a boycott to be successful, a significant chunk of the population needs to participate. Hence saying "I boycott something" is meaningless.)

Also: any place that sells you a new dress for $20 does not have good labor practices, no matter what they say. So if you indeed want to vote with your wallet, supporting child labor and unfair wages seems like a good reason to avoid fast fashion retailers, not just Target. Items produced while paying fair wages cost more, and unless we come to terms to t-shirts costing more than ten bucks, these practices will continue. American Apparel got slammed for higher prices - aside from the perviness of their ads and hiring practices, they went after the same demographics as F21, which has the same teen-disposable stuff that costs a lot less. I think they would've had a better chance emphasizing quality and domestic production and at least trying to appeal to people over age of fifteen/size 4, but they went with softcore and entirely too many mismanaged stores. Sic transit.

Ultimately, I see the debate about fast fashion going the same way as the debate about fossil fuels: we want to help as long as we don't have to sacrifice. But with biodiesel, we simply cannot make enough to make current demand, and both fossil fuels and modern clothing industry have too high a human cost. We have to reduce consumption - buy less clothes, carpool - rather than simply decide to boycott retailers who offend our industrialized world sensibilities. It's the volume of consumption that's the problem.

This is why I've been advocating vintage and indie designers -- sure, the indie designer stuff costs more, and the oft-heard argument is 'I can't afford to pay hundred bucks for a dress'. And this is the idea behind readjusting one's clothing budget -- even when it's small, there's always a choice of buying one (more) expensive thing vs several cheap ones. And that's a good reason to avoid Target and other cheap clothing retailers -- even if they give money to all the right causes, the labor practices they condone aboard (and domestically, in many cases) is reason enough to ignore them. Additionally, I believe that activism -- demanding that labor exportation is restricted and the corporate practices are overseen and regulated -- will yield better results than wallet-voting. Perhaps one day we'll be able to walk into a store and expect to buy things without worrying how horribly mistreated the workers were, or how young was that kid working the sewing machine.

1 comment:

annimal said...

How are modcloth and ruche not sweatshop clothing sellers? I noticed you link to them on your sidebar and I don't understand why they get a pass when they are not selling ethically manufactured clothing either, and in fact much of it is identical to forever 21 clothing. I proudly boycott all of the above!