Mistreated Workers and Quality

This afternoon I read Vintage Lizzie’s Miscellany post, and the article that pops out for me is the New York Times piece which relates more on the topic of mistreated garment factory workers.

I’d like to share some thoughts that have come up during my conversations with my husband, who is a certified quality engineer in the electronics field. His view is simple: mistreated workers do not produce good products. To draw a picture, let’s take the example of some workers in Cambodia quoted in the NY Times (above link):

“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.”

So apparently not only does the factory owner not care about the comfort of his employees, but also isn’t particularly worried about feces and urine on the factory floor and, ahem, the finished product. Now, what quality standards do you think such a charming fellow is going to uphold? If you said “none if he can get away with it,” go to the head of the class. And wash your new pants before you wear them, of course.

(the irony here is that my husband has done military contracting, and for many things they buy, the level of oversight is incredible)

So as we start our Spring sewing projects, we have a great opportunity to do our part to encourage the better treatment of people around the world, and we don’t need to know exactly how workers at a particular factory are treated. Rather, ask questions related to their quality systems like:

Where is the fabric/cloth being made? Is it listed on the bolt?

What standards, if any, does this fabric/notion meet?

If folks aren’t willing to tell, it means that their quality system isn’t designed to collect and share this data, and they’re probably also letting other factors slide. If you want to help poor workers from developing countries, this is a great place to start.


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