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How International Trade Impacts People's Lives Across the Globe

Alice Griffiths

22nd December 2022

While many students focus on the mobile phone for their study of the world trade in a manufactured product, they might equally well focus in on the rag trade; specifically jeans.

This week the Guardian published a hard-hitting investigation into working conditions inside one of the factories that supplies Tesco with its F&F jeans. Located on the Burmese border, the Thai factory is filled with Burmese workers enduring 'sweatshop conditions' including a 99-hour week.

The publication of eight first person accounts of the impact of such a regime, day-to-day, is of particular interest. Working from 8am to 11pm with just one day off a month, workers were paid as little as £3 a day; less than half the Thai minimum wage. Stories of industrial accidents as a result of tiredness, management brutality and appalling living conditions within the factory compound make these accounts a difficult but important update on the consequences of the outsourcing of production. As Naomi Klein noted in her book No Logo, published in 2000, when executives at Levi Jeans were interviewed about the impact of the loss of their manufacturing jobs from the US, they said 'This is not a job flight story'. Why? Because the relatively well-paid and unionised jobs that once existed in Europe and North America were not exported to Asia. Today our clothing is produced by people grafting, in many cases, in much less secure conditions. Labour experts quoted in the Guardian's report say that large clothing brands such as F+F outsource not only the production of clothes but also the auditing of factories, to avoid liability and reputational damage while keeping prices low and protecting profits.

Tesco say the garment were only sold on the Thai market, however, Guardian reporters were shown images of garments with English labels on clothing understood to be made there. Either way, profits from sales in Thailand (via the company's Thai co. Ek-Chai) were sent back to the UK.

Tesco faces a landmark lawsuit in the UK from 130 former V K Garment factory (VKG) workers, who are suing the supermarket chain for alleged negligence and unjust enrichment. Tesco's social auditor Intertek has also been brought into the lawsuit.

Students interested in following up on this story, might check out Fashion Revolution - an organisation which describe itself as 'the world's largest fashion activism movement'.

Read extracts from No Logo (2000), by Naomi Klein - it's a brilliant account of the way big clothing companies switched from investing in manufacturing products to promoting big brands in the late twentieth century.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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