Monday, 26 April 2010

Buying at the Source - Factory outlets in Madagascar

You can buy this princess constume in Europe for about 30 euro.  It was made here in Madagascar.  We visited the factory recently and bought it for the equivalent of about five euro. 
There are other factories here as well.  There is a factory that makes clothes for Jacadi.  Take a look at this dress.  Jacadi is selling them at 69 euro a piece in Europe.  It's made here in Madagascar.  We bought one at the factory for a friends of ours back in Paris, for 15000 ariary - the equivalent of about 7 euro.  Actually, we bought another one too because at that price, why not? 

Here's another gorgeous one, also for 69 euro.  It cost us 7 euro, once again. 

While at the factory, I took a peek at the actual factory floor.  I wanted to know what the working conditions of these people were like.  The workers were mostly women - about 200 of them sitting down in chairs at sewing machines.  The factory floor was well-lit and the chairs looked decent.  Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take a photo.  They work about 45 hours per week.  And they probably make about 150 euro per month.
Should we feel guilty that we are exploiting people in a third world country when we buy these clothes?  My university friends would say that we should abstain from buying things from any of these places.  My thinking, having witnessed the conditions here as well, is that people would be far worse off if these factories didn't exist.  No, the working conditions are not perfect, but they are not what I would call Dickensian either - they get overtime, weekends, statutory holidays, and a ways that allows them to feed their children and buy school supplies.  They are unionized.  Do conditions need to improve for the workers?  Yes.  They need better wages and a shorter workday for starters.  As the economy of the country evolves, so will working conditions and wages.

Of course, as wages and working conditions in Madagascar improve, their products will become more expensive and the people in the developed world will, in turn, have to pay even more for them than now.