In 2010 I was fortunate to travel to Cambodia. Four years later, I continue to have a vivid memory of when I happened upon the garment district in Phnom Penh. My now husband and I were passengers on a rickety bus, nearing the completion of a day’s trek from Battambong city to Cambodia’s capital. As our bus hobbled its way into the edge of Cambodia’s largest city during rush hour, I quickly became aware of the waves of women (young women, old women, teenage-looking girls, healthy and not-so-healthy looking women) spilling out of these large, run-down buildings and into the street. Literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, of women were pouring out of the buildings to cross the street, hop onto scooters, catch a bus or start walking home. At first I couldn’t figure out where all these women were coming from… and then it hit me: they were finishing their shifts at the clothing factories.
I then began to wonder what their days look like. How their time is spent. What is behind the large steel doors of the factories. How hot it must be in there. How much (or, perhaps more accurately how little) the women make in earnings. Could I be wearing something that was made in this very factory? By one of these women? Do they have second or third jobs? What about their housing? Is there any possibility that they could be happy? Is my assumption of their misery empathetic or patronizing? Why does our current model of capitalism depend on profiting off the backs of those less fortunate?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but what I do have is a whole new level of appreciation/skepticism/uncertainty/confusion when I see that tag on the back of my t-shirt from the Gap that says “made in Cambodia.”
Years ago, an ex-boyfriend of mine emailed me a link to the video “The Story of Stuff.” Made in 2007, this video is still as relevant today (or, one could argue even more relevant); it’s an oldie and a goodie. Have you ever wondered where your stuff comes from? What the journey is like for stuff to come from third world countries over to North America? Who decides how this materials economics system works? In this video, the creator Annie Leonard, asserts “if the whole world consumed at US rates, we would need 5 planets.” Her argument is that the current model of materials economics is a linear method taking place on a finite planet – you can’t continue linearly forever. At some point the resources are simply gonna run out.
If you’ve got a few minutes and you want to become more informed about capitalism and the production of material goods, you can check out the video here:
I know it is only 3 days in, but I am eager for this challenge. I have a feeling I will be as passionate about it as I was during April’s ‘Green Please.’