Monday, 21 October 2013

Your kids' jeans made here in the third world

Workers at the factory.  They get paid about 40 dollars a month,
according to the head of the factory.  That's a low wage,
even by Malagasy standards.  Our nanny gets paid about 125
dollars per month.

A couple of years back when we were living in Antananarivo, Madagascar, I had the opportunity to visit a local factory where name brand children's jeans were manufactured for export to Europe.  

Let me just say that I have always been a big supporter of free trade and free movement of capital.  While some people might complain about the loss of manufacturing jobs in developed countries to China, India, Bangladesh, or Madagascar, my reply has always been, "More power to the Chinese, the Indians, the Bangladeshis, and the Malagasy!".  I'm happy for them to have jobs and opportunities.

It is therefore with a bit of sadness that I am revealing these photos.

Outside the factory, tons of eucalyptus wood cut from Madagascar forests
and burned to make hot water to wash and treat the jeans.
The factory head maintained that they contributed to tree replanting too.  I suppose there may be good arguments to use eucalyptus trees instead of say, gas, but I tend to think that the resulting carbon footprint must be huge.
Blue toxic waste is the byproduct of washing, bleaching,
dying and chemically treating the jeans to create the
"stone-washed" and "acid-washed" look (Note to self: don't buy these jeans).  The waste gets
dumped in uncontrolled landfills and leaches into rivers,
lakes, and the soil.
Children's jeans ready for export

As I toured the factory and saw the hundreds or workers labouring over fabrics and machines, I thought to myself, well, at least this factory gives them a job. Many people in Madagascar live in abject poverty and have no employment at all.

"And can I assume the employees get to make a living wage here, unlike so many in this country?" I said out loud to the factory manager showing me around.
"Mais NON ! They earn 80 US dollars a month."
80 US dollars a month would allow you to live in Tananarive, but not very well. You would definitely need other income earners in the family. 

So there you have it. The next time you buy jeans for your kids, let your mind travel to the factory where those jeans were made. I would never suggest boycotting jean purchases, but I definitely don't buy stone-wash or acid wash jeans now.