Debate on Used-clothing Trade, Sustainable Development Strategy and Wage Level in the Garment Industry: Discussion Questions from FASH455

ethiopian-textiles

Debate on used-clothing trade and strategy for building a sustainable garment industry

#1 Should countries in East Africa ban on imported used-clothing for the survival of its own apparel manufacturing industry, which is at the nascent stage of development?

#2 From an environmental sustainability standpoint, wouldn’t it make sense for East Africa to continue importing used clothes for their Mitumba wholesale center rather than ceasing this trade and manufacturing new clothes? What is your view?

#3 If clothing manufacturing has significantly helped Haiti grow its economy, should East African countries follow the same development path?

#4 The reading article says that trade agreements have extended Haiti’s duty free access to the United States until 2020. What might happen to Haiti’s garment exports after 2020? Can it survive? In your view, is Haiti’s garment industry a model for sustainable development?

#5 Why is the United States willing to offer duty free access for apparel made in Haiti but not made in other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh? Is it fair?

Debate on Wage level of garment workers

#6 Garment manufacturing and exporting are picking up Haiti’s economy, although most Haitian garment workers only make roughly $180-$200 per month. Meanwhile, Haiti is looking to attract retailers’ further investment. Given the fact that there are so many places in the world that retailers can source clothing from, will an increase of wage level drive away foreign investment in Haiti and negatively affect Hait’s garment exports?

#7 If consumers are willing to pay higher, will it help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries? Or as consumers, we can do little about it?

#8 Should globalization be responsible for the low wage of garment workers in the developing countries? Without globalization, would garment workers in the developing countries live a better life?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

15 thoughts on “Debate on Used-clothing Trade, Sustainable Development Strategy and Wage Level in the Garment Industry: Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. In response to #2, I believe from an environmental sustainability standpoint it would be better if East Africa continued to import used clothing. Since they import used clothing that allows left clothing to go into our landfills and in the end eliminates waste and pollution. However allowing the import of used clothing would take away from the manufacturing industry and would cause manufacturers to loose their jobs.

    1. Good thinking. But some people also argue that if we really care about environment, we should change the culture of fast fashion and create less wastes at the beginning: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/08/473513620/what-happens-when-fashion-becomes-fast-disposable-and-cheap Instead, if sending used-clothing to less developed countries is deemed as a cheap “solution” for handling the wastes (and can even help some businesses make profit), will it further encourage the environmentally-vicious cycle? What’s your view?

  2. In response to #7, the debate on Wage level of garment workers. I believe that consumers’ obsession with fast fashion is one of the main reasons why Western brands feel the need to find such low priced manufacturing in developing countries, if consumers were willing to pay more for their clothing then brands would be able to pay more to make them. However, there is no guarantee that if consumers paid more that brands would pay more to the factories that they are working with, and even if they did there is also no guarantee that the factory owners would pay more to their workers. Therefore in order for consumers to be able to have an effect on the wages of factory workers, developing countries governments would have to implement some kind of law that ensured workers were being paid higher wages. If this was the case I feel that consumers would be more willing to pay higher prices if they knew that it was in fact going to the workers and not just into Western brand’s pockets.

    1. agree with your points. Nevertheless, it is hopeful that consumers’ growing awareness of the issue of social responsibility will have a positive impact on companies’ sourcing practices.

  3. In response to question #1, East Africa should not ban import-used clothing for the survival of its own apparel manufacturing. Currently East Africa, is not in a position where it can sustain itself without the help of used apparel imports. East Africa does not have the resources and training to produce enough apparel to support its economy. Through the selling of used imported clothing, East Africa is able to grow their GDP and employ hundreds of workers. East Africa would not be able to produce as much clothing domestically to match the amount of income they are receiving through their second hand apparel market. Therefore I think importing used clothing is beneficial to East Africa who does not have the resources to advance to the next stage of development. I wonder if they will ever be able to advance to the early export of apparel stage on their own. Do countries, such as East Africa, need developed countries to provide them with the resources in order to grow their domestic apparel industry? Will lower income countries ever be able to advance to further stages of development without the help from other countries?

  4. In regards to #1, no i do not think that the import of used clothing should be banned. Not only this a thriving sector for E African communities, but it also provides a sustainable alternative for developed countries. By that, I am referring to the growing interest in environmentally conscious apparel disposal, often categorized by “reduce, ruse, recycle.” This E.African sector offers a destination for used clothing in developed countries while simultaneously generating sustainable growth in local communities. Although the stages of development we studies in class suggest that a country must first begin as an apparel producer in order to work its way up to full maturity, this used clothing sector should not be cast aside. If the E. African government is worried about this sector stifling the growth of the local apparel production industry, one option is they could consider legalizing maximum quota amounts of used apparel that can be imported into the country in order to stimulate domestic production.

    1. excellent comment! you are quite right–maybe E. African countries could find a new model of economic development based on sustainability–rather than having to go through the regular “six development stages”. During our FASH advisory council meeting yesterday, several council members also mentioned the promising future of the recycling business and how it could contribute to sustainability.

  5. #8 Should globalization be responsible for the low wage of garment workers in the developing countries? Without globalization, would garment workers in the developing countries live a better life?

    I do not think that globalization necessarily is to blame for countries’ low wages for garment workers. In theory, a country’s wages depend on what economic state they are in, therefore lesser developed countries are obviously going to have lower wages than more developed countries. Without globalization, countries would not be able to develop their economy as quickly. Participating in world trade creates many jobs for a country and without this economic growth, wages would be stagnant.

  6. I think that Africa can get he best of both worlds in this scenario. Second-hand clothing has done a great job of boosting the African economy. Yes, investing in capital to open factories and use the abundance of labor can boost economy even more, but it does not mean they need to give up the second-hand clothing sector. I think it would be smart of the government to provide an incentive to get people to join the factories, but not everyone can get hired. They should let those who are not interested or are not able to work in factories continue with their business and provide economic support. Their support might lessen significantly, but they will still get something on top of what the new factories will be bringing in

  7. #7 If consumers are willing to pay higher, will it help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries? Or as consumers, we can do little about it?

    There is no guarantee that if consumers are willing to pay higher, it would help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries because the fashion brand companies would use those money to other ways, such as increasing efficiency of operation management, or investing other new lines of products. I do not think consumers have strong powers to improve the circumstance of factory workers; however, consumer is one of reasons to lead that situation happens. Thus, the efficient way to improve the environment of factory workers is to find methods to motive fashion brand companies to care about it.

  8. In response to question #6, perhaps the United States is willing to offer duty free access for apparel made in Haiti vs. other Asian countries because of geography, close personal ties concerning hurricane relief (natural disasters), and because it is their main export (or a large contributor to their GDP). To expand, U.S. policy makers may feel that it was important for Haiti to have duty-free access SPECIFICALLY for apparel to improve quality of life and reduce poverty. Perhaps the U.S. isn’t quite on board with applying this to multiple Asian countries so that the western hemisphere supply chain be somewhat preserved (like TPP conflict).

  9. #7 If consumers are willing to pay higher, will it help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries? Or as consumers, we can do little about it?

    I think that if the majority of the population of consumers were willing to pay higher there is a chance that the wages of the factory workers in developing countries would increase. Most of the power, however lies in the factory owners and the companies selling the products to the consumers. A big reason why factory workers might not get paid enough is because of what the factory owners decide to pay them, or what the living minimum wage in their country is. US company’s that are sourcing the good from developing countries also demand a low price in order to make a profit. As consumers, we have some power but not enough to make a change. There are other factors that have more power to make the change.

  10. In response to number 8, I don’t think that globalization is the reason for low wages in developing countries. I think without globalization, many developing countries wouldn’t have the jobs that they have and would be more in debt. The fashion industry is very large and has provided jobs all around the world, without this industry millions of people would be out of jobs.

  11. In response to question #1, I do not think that East Africa should ban the import of used clothing for the survival of their own apparel manufacturing business. The second-hand apparel market in East Africa is extremely important for the employment of their citizens and the overall GDP of their nation. Used clothing is a much greater part of their economy then it is for us here in the United States. Second-hand apparel also allows developing nations take part in sustainability practices that allow greater-end use for clothing so that it is not discarded into landfills and wasting resources. East Africa also does not have the technology and resources necessary to produce the amount of clothing that they would need for their citizens domestically so used clothing is crucial to making sure that their citizens stay clothed. Even with their apparel manufacturing sector at the nascent stage of development, they cannot just cut off the import of used clothing without making other changes to improve their apparel manufacturing business. If they want to gradually import less apparel that would take time and other resources for manufacturing apparel to come in place before this change was made.

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