Visit an apparel store, choose the best, most trendy, or candy-colored t-shirt as you like, pay it, and wear it: these are, in a sequence of events, the same things all of us virtually do.
But hold on a second. Do we really bother to know how a t-shirt gets made, and arrives, in the long run, into our department store? The story itself, if you think deeper, doesn’t turn out to be as simple as we ever imagine. Before we ever set ourselves to go round the planet, the cotton, and the t-shirt afterwards, has preceded us.
Probably our cotton is planted, at its best, in United States, using all the advanced machinery and genetically modified variants to yield the best quality, or at its worst, in Uzbekistan, where millions of people are, in a Hobson’s choice situation, conscripted into the country’s repressive, forced-labor cotton-planting system run by the regime’s cronies. Probably the cotton is then processed somewhere else in Indonesia, Bangladesh, or in Colombia. Probably the t-shirt gets made in Bangladesh or in Cambodia, where most of the workers are paid decent wages with little safety standards. Or possibly, for happier end, produced in Colombia, where minimum wages are much slightly higher than those in average developing countries.
It takes money, time, sacrifice, blood, and even tears, to bring all these t-shirts to us, customers. 4 million people in Bangladesh, employed in the country’s garment industry, and mostly women, are salaried with one of the world’s lowest minimum wages; still, though, despite all the international protests, particularly after the Rana Plaza incident which killed up to 1,000 people, they feel relatively ‘safer’ than back in their villages; they can afford to pay off family debts; they gain more ‘freedom’ than having to be married off to local men who oftentimes become abusive; and, last but not least, they can provide enough money to pay for their children’s, or relatives’, education and healthcare. With all the hardships going on, they are creating dreams not only for themselves, but also for their families, and indirectly, for the whole nation currently experiencing economic boom, at the expense of their perspiration and hard work.
This is not only taking place in Bangladesh; elsewhere in this planet, either in Indonesia, Colombia, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, or even the United States, everybody is building up better dreams, one t-shirt at a time.
Watch the videos at NPR’s Planet Money to increase your understanding about your t-shirt.
NB: the picture above is Planet Money’s t-shirt, the manufacturing processes by which have been recorded, from how the cotton is planted, processed, and made into t-shirt, to how it is shipped back to the States.