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Muscles behind the fashion

Grab your sweater on the bottom left, fold up and check the washcloth. Where it is manufactured:


[rights] Made in? Do the workers there have the right to organize themselves? Are only sweaters with printed slogans that involve some form of political support?

Something is about to happen. Brands such as Bono, Levi's and Nike are shifting ethical consumption from niche batik to hipstermainstream. What is changing? "It is clear that it gives a little better conscience to have spent money when you have acted ethically," ex-fashion editor Pia Haraldsen told Ny Tid last week.

Fair trademarked clothing is the novelty of the year. The problem for a poor conscience shopper is simply that not the whole garment is certified, only the cotton production. Ragnhild Hammer in Fairtrade Max Havelaar Norway cannot guarantee that fair trade cotton will not end up in a sweatshop later in the production chain. Is it a good strategy to certify only parts of production, Hammer? We consumers relate to entire products. Isn't there a danger that this could lead to an ethics logo jungle?

In any case, addressing the individual consumer is insufficient. Fair trade bananas and coffee have a market share of one to two percent. However, the indirect effect should not be underestimated. Increased focus on the problems can help build an opinion, not only in Norway, which brings the demand for a development-friendly trade regime onto the politicians' agenda with greater weight.

Today, there is no authority that can put the power and muscle behind the ILO international regulations. A sanction mechanism within the framework of the World Trade Organization, the WTO, is most obvious. Unlike consumer power, bilateral agreements and party speeches in the UN, the WTO's multilateral trade regime offers the opportunity to impose infringement of rights. The WTO can be used as a forum to solve collective problems related to power and welfare, not just as a forum for clearing today's skewed power relations.

Previous attempts to include labor rights in the WTO have been rejected by many poor countries as protectionism on the part of rich countries. A new proposal must neither look like nor be protectionist. WTO labor rights will increase costs in low-cost countries, but not so much that the competitive advantage, reasonable labor, will disappear, PhD candidate Simon Pahle told Ny Tid last week. Such a proposal would not save jobs in rich countries; it will probably pressure multinational companies, brands and consumers to pay more for the goods they buy. But in return, it will slow down the race to the bottom between actors in the Global South, and strengthen the unions in developing countries. It will not be easy to put in place such a solution, but those who do not see the potential of the multilateral WTO are hereby invited to come up with a more realistic strategy for enforcing workers' rights through the global production chains. ■

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