International women's day enjoys a lower profile in the US than in many other areas of the world. It was off my radar until knitaly mentioned it last week. Her thoughts about having to fight over and over again for rights that we thought we had obtained started a train of thoughts in my head. I had planned a much more ambitious post. But I am still mulling over some issues and don't want to bore you with my half-baked arguments yet.
Instead, I want to provide a few quick links.
International Women's Day grew out of protests to improve the working conditions of women and girls in the garment industry after the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. See this on-line historical exhibit about the fire. Listen to the NPR story, On Women's Day, Documentary Traces Progress.
How much progress have we made? Two steps forward, one step backward. Or maybe one step forward and twos steps backward? Let's just stick to garment manufacturing.
Laws protecting workers were passed in the US. Unions organized for better wages and working conditions. The factories moved out of the US. I should note that not all factories in developing nations are sweatshops and not all factories in the US are good places to work. But, as s a consumer, I had thought that buying the "Made in USA" label guaranteed better working conditions and pay overall.
When I learned about the factories in the Northern Mariana islands, I realized I was wrong.
As a US protectorate, factories there can use the "Made in USA" label without having to comply with US laws. In fact, the barbed wire surrounding the factories face inwards, to keep the workers from fleeing. Even if they can get out, they can't get very far because they were flown to remote islands and, sometimes, the only hope of earning enough to buy airfare out is the sex trade there. (Many Asian workers said recruiters told them that they were being taken to the US and implied that LA was just a short bus ride away.)
Listen to the NPR story The Abramoff-DeLay-Mariana Islands Connection. Nearly two years ago, Democrats introduced legislation to apply US labor laws (including the minimum wage) to the Northern Mariana Islands. Read the Washington Post story.
I searched OpenCongress.org and it appears that all the legislation has stalled. The minimum wage bill, which would have covered NMI for the first time, has passed both houses of Congress but the president has refused to sign it. H.R.3079 Northern Mariana Islands Immigration, Security, and Labor Act, which brings NMI into compliance with US immigration and labor laws, has passed the House but not the Senate.
What to do? I doubt that I can change the mind of our president, but I can try to make such factories unprofitable. I try to buy from companies with better human rights records, but even conscientious manufacturers appear unable to prevent all abuses.
I signed up again and took the 6 month Wardobe Refashion Pledge. Previously, I had taken the pledge for 2 or 4 months at at time. Once I got out of the habit of shopping for entertainment, it became easier. The pledge allows you one "Get out of jail card" every two months and foundation garments and required work clothes are exempt. If someone with the size of my wardrobe indulges in more than one recreational store-bought outfit every two months, she has a shopping problem. ;-) Read the Wardrobe Refashion Rules.
Seriously, the pledge has helped me to consume more thoughtfully. When I do buy things ready-made, I buy things that are better quality and fulfill a need.