Does “Made in Canada” mean overall more ethical?

Posted by Lila Rousselet on

This theory was developedby environmentalist Roland Geyer in his book The Business of Less: The Role ofCompanies and Businesses on a Planet in Peril. His idea would be to drasticallyenhance chain production garment worker salaries (from the cotton field to thefinal seam) to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. He alsoexplains how this action alone could solve the pressing issue of massproduction on our environment, or at least, have a much greater impact thansimply changing the materials used to make our clothes. You’re probablywondering what it would change? I certainly wondered, but after taking a closerlook, this theory is one for the books.Canadian andQuebecois brands are quick to promote locally made products. It’s as if locally made goods are meant to go hand in hand with ethicality and operate as an extra brick to sustain a healthy local economy. But what are the facts?

Photo : Keagan Henman

It’s important to note that clothing made within Canadian borders are not necessarily produced in a decent or ethical environment. Sweatshops are not third world exclusive:Canada, Europe and the United States also operate sweatshops to this day. To my dismay, I learned about this reality in Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas. The author mainly targets massive manufactural cities such as New York and LosAngeles, but it has been noted that they also exist in Montreal.

By definition, a sweatshop is a factory in which garment workers (mainly women) labour in indecent, often dangerous conditions where worker rights are not respected, and wages are very low. Asian countries often get targeted most for operating sweatshops, and with good reason as most of them are in this region. Therefore, this often allows us to forget what is happening on our own grounds. 

Garment workers in Canada are mostly immigrants, and many companies use the low wage expectancy to exploit their workers.

That being brought to light, we must differentiate local and ethical consumerism.

Photo : Rio Lecatompessy

The textile industry is deeply rooted in slavery and colonialism. To name but one example in recent history, the American cotton empire was built at the hands of(enslaved) black people. 

 “Without slavery, there would be no cotton. Without cotton, there would be no modern industry.” – Karl Marx 

Nowadays, if Canada, along with most of western civilization, has lost knowledge and job openings in the textile industry, it’s because we’ve made the social and political choice to relocate production to countries where labor is much cheaper. A conscious decision was made to exploit people at the other end of the world to save cost and sell more.

In 1991, 56.2%of the clothes purchased in the United-States were produced within the country.In 2012, this number fell to 2.5%. [1] 

While this is unfortunate, some companies such as Productions RN guarantee a safe work environment where workers are valued and paid fairly. Their work sparks hope!

Photo : Reuben Kim

How could offering a decent salary to garment workers help fight climate change?

In 2020, as we shifted into this new global era, I wrote:

“I firmly believe that no eco-friendly material or solution [organic cotton, biodegradable spandex, recycled textiles…] will be able to save the future of fashion without us fundamentally questioning our production practices and overconsumption habits.”

Two years and one pandemic later, I still believe this to be true. The fashion industry needs radical and fundamental change to be saved.

.

According to a theoryI recently came across, perhaps climate change could be solved by enhancing salaries in the industry. I wish to tell you more about this theory that revolves around investing in humans, because it’s a beautiful and powerful one.

Photo : Adriana Castillo

I wish to tell you more about this theory that revolves around investing in humans, because it’s a beautiful and powerful one.

This theory was developed by environmentalist Roland Geyer in his book The Business of Less: The Role ofCompanies and Businesses on a Planet in Peril. 


His idea would be to drastically enhance chain production garment worker salaries (from the cotton field to the final seam) to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. He also explains how this action alone could solve the pressing issue of mass production on our environment, or at least, have a much greater impact than simply changing the materials used to make our clothes.

 You’re probably wondering what it would change? I certainly wondered, but after taking a closer look, this theory is one for the books.

Before going into detail, we need to bear in mind the somewhat inevitable rebound effect.The rebound effect is a theory in which reducing one thing will inevitably increase another. In the example at hand, improving energy efficiency (by using less petroleum or by producing organically) would not necessarily decrease our carbon footprint. On the contrary, it could encourage consumers to buy more, by clearing their conscience. Through its’ clothing recycling program, H&M is strategically gaining profit by reclaiming used clothes in exchange of a gift card. Most will assume their shirt is being recycled when it will most likely end up somewhere washed up on a third world country’s shoreline…Another fine example of contemporary colonialism.

That being said, let’s get back to Geyer’s theory. 

Labor committed by a human has no impact on the environment. 

This is called the Green Theory of Labor.

 By increasing worker wages, each dollar invested in labor will have a neutral ecological impact, rather than being invested in any other carbon positive action. The author calls this the reversed rebound effect. 

It would then be possible to obtain economical growth centered on humans, not merchandise.

The amazing part is that this theory reunites both social and environmental realities. In my opinion, one cannot exist without the other, but clearly not all view things this way. 

 Of course, many counter-arguments exist regarding this concept, but Geyer mentions that implementing new taxes and policies may be necessary for this theory to work.

Two projects that spark hope for the future

En Mode Climat in France is a group seeking to upgrade current policies and procedures.

En Mode Climat is a coalition operated by 300 actors of the textile industry (brands, but also factories, organizations, media…). They unite to operate beneficial lobbying to fight climate change. The group targets environmental labeling or bonus-malus systems that penalize fast fashion brands, to encourage more righteous ones.

Furthermore, an excellent law proposal can be witnessed by our fellow Americans.

The FABRIC act implies legal protection for all workers of the fashion and textile field, as well as beckoning brands to produce within US borders. The 5 main pillars of this bill are:

1/Enforcing minimum wage standards and eliminating wage theft in US garment factories.
2/ Increasing accountability on brands and retailers to combat workplace violations.
3/ Increasing transparency.
4/ Incentivizing reshoring with tax credits.
5/ Creating a $40 million domestic garment manufacturing grant program aimed at revitalizing the industry.


Talk about inspiring ideas! 

To play your part on the Quebecois/Canadian fashion scene: 

FashionRevolution Canada - https://www.fashionrevolution.org/north-america/canada/

Communauté de pratique– Relance verte / Secteur du textile et de l’habillement 

https://concertationmtl.ca/communaute-de-pratique-relance-verte-secteur-textile-et-habillement/ 

Fibershed Québec - https://fibershed.uqam.ca/

 

[1] Fashinopolis, p.5

[2] Could Living Wages Help Solve Fashion’s Climate Crisis? New Research Says Yes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethlcline/2022/01/17/could-living-wages-help-solve-fashions-climate-crisis-new-research-says-yes/?sh=79b44b1e6b27

[3] https://www.enmodeclimat.fr/

[4] https://thefabricact.org/

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