“Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts”- TV Program Review

Does the Capitalist system have a consience?

By Majed Iqbal- The Four part episode titled “Blood, Sweat and T-shirts” drew to an end this week. The TV show Followed Six young fashion addicts who swap shopping on the high street with working in India’s cotton fields and clothes factories. Amrita (21), Georgina (20), Mark (24), Richard (24), Stacey (20) and Tara (21) decide to visit India and witness first hand the role of this country in supplying the UK with high street fashion.

Nothing had prepared them for the ordeal they would be going through. From Child labour, in-humane working conditions, extremely long working hours, and pay worth pennies compared to European Standards, the six, well-privileged and affluent visitors were in for a shock on how such conditions were legal in India, whilst raising questions on the ethics of UK high street shops using these very sweatshops for their own brands.

Richard, Who runs his own consultancy agency and made it from rags to riches remained adamant that people in India could make it on their own feet if they displayed the commitment he exemplified ion his life for his successes. But as the show furthered, his philosophy began eroding, realising that it is a dead end for many people.

Amrita, A fashion photography student, who couldn’t care less about who makes her clothes, even if it was a “3 year old child” was left dumbfounded at the end of the show, clearly reflecting upon her un-humane comments and refreshingly changing her position on the topic to one now of wanting to help these very children stuck in the rut of this life.

On watching the program, questions are naturally raised by viewers in their minds, and they are the obvious questions which any person would conclude with. What standard should be incorporated by India to quell this in-equality and why does the UK government not step up the pressure on those UK based companies using such conditions as shown in the program by questioning their activities.

On closer scrutiny, it is obvious that financial prosperity for the elite few over-rides any moral, ethical or legal boundaries. Upon this philosophy, we are now able to point fingers at not just the UK but also India.

In fact, the Indian government, which currently models itself on Western governannce standards, had 10 million tons of surplus food grains: rice, wheat, and so on, which increased to almost 60 million tons in year 2000″ (1). This food mountain was left in the granaries to rot without any consideration of distributing the surplus food to the hungry. Instead the Indian government was more interested in hoping to export the grain to make money as opposeed to feeding its own citizens.

Whilst the Indian government opens its arms to designer labels and Western multi-national giants under the banner of Free market policies to feed the habits of the elite Indian few, the gap between the classes, between the rich and poor is continuously widening.

“Of the 830 million hungry people worldwide, a third of them live in India” (2) under seriously poor conditions. In the blind pursuit of following the Western Economic model, the Indian government has forgotten its key responsibility of looking after its citizens.

In fact, even Western commentators have applauded these countries for doing so. In 1997, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs said, “My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops, but that there are too few.” (3)

Sachs and other proponents of sweatshops cite the economic theory of comparative advantage, which states that international trade will, in the long run, make some parties better off. “Developing countries get factories and jobs that they would not otherwise” is the key argument cited.

Based upon this theory, prominent companies like Walmart and Nike, who remain two of the largest corporate sponsors of sweatshop labor, claim that they have safeguards in place to avoid using the worst sweatshops. This psyche is subscribed to by plenty of other prominent companies who share in similar gross misconduct.

The most important issue which did not dawn in the program “Blood, Sweat and T-shirts” was the intrinsic link between governments and business. Capitalism, in its true form, where businesses and large corporations steer government policies can not be better illustrated than the case of sweatshops.

Todays economy is described as global, because advancements in technology have made it possible for large corporations that were once confined to a specific geographic location to become large “multi-nationals. The popularity of the “free” market following coupled with government programs (like NAFTA and GATT) designed to encourage free trade have allowed large corporations free reign to seek out low-wage havens: impoverished countries where corporations benefit from oppressive dictatorial regimes that actively suppress workers’ rights without any shame and operate without immunity, even free from there own governments who see revenue before humanity.

Hnece, there should be no real surprise on the availability of clothing found in UK High Street shops which have been made in countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand, Turkey, and a whole list of countries exploited in the pursuit for consumerism.

The failures and miseries of Capitalism bought to the world are there for all to see despite it meritorious claims of championing itself as the liberator of the free world. It would, once again only require a boy to shout out “the emperor has no clothes” for us all to wake up.

References

(1)Anuradha Mittal, True Cause of World Hunger, Institute for Food and Development Policy, February 2002

(2)Anuradha Mittal, True Cause of World Hunger, Institute for Food and Development Policy, February 2002

(3) Meyerson, Allen. “In Principle, A Case for More ‘Sweatshop'”, The New York Times, 1997-06-22. Retrieved on 2008-04-04

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Comments

  1. Assalam wa alaikum Majid

    I only just came across your blog

    Jazakallah khair for your articles, we would like to include some of them on our blog.

    May Allah (swt) reward you greatly for your efforts.

    Wassalam

  2. I have never in my life seen something more contemptuous and judgmental than this program! What a bunch of self-indulgent children! Rather than looking down their noses at the conditions they have encountered they should be learning that people live differently and quite contentedly in different countries and to respect honest hard labor. How arrogant is it to expect everyone to live like us!

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