Week 3 Homework

Our Responsibility in the Power Dynamic

“It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.”
— Cesar Chavez

Image from Fashion Revolution
Image from Fashion Revolution, a movement that fights for greater transparency, sustainability, and ethics in the fashion industry.

As we learned in our readings from last week, institutionalized racism can make communities feel disenfranchised and powerless. However, it is important to always remember that we, as individuals and community members, have a lot of power. Not using our power in ways that represent our values is not only wasteful, but also irresponsible.

Our choices have direct impacts on other people. While choice may be more limited for people that have fewer options due to various factors, including socioeconomic status, that does not mean that their power and privilege do not have larger implications. When we buy food and clothing, we are supporting labor and agricultural practices and policies that affect the environment, people’s livelihoods, animal welfare, and children and immigrants rights. We are a part of the system that oppresses and disenfranchises certain sectors of society for the gain of the few. We are a part of institutionalized racism, and how we use our money is a way in which we vote on certain issues. Watch this video on the definition of racism (3:20). Are you doing your part to mitigate the effects of systemic oppression?

Image from ThriveGlobal
Image from ThriveGlobal. Companies often outsource production to other countries because labor is cheaper there. So what are we paying for?

It is easy to see how blatant acts of cruelty are bad. We know that kicking puppies is evil, throwing trash on the ground is polluting, and slavery is unjust. We would never do any of those things, right? So why do we provide financial support to companies that do?

Let’s look at the fashion industry. The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world, after big oil. Producing cheap clothes is done by exploiting the poverty of people in developing nations, where workers will endure inhumane conditions for far below a livable wage because they need that job to survive. Conditions often resemble slavery. Since clothes are being produced as cheaply as possible and in a country where the owner and consumers don’t live, the methods used to make the clothes are usually not eco-friendly. Dyes and chemicals end up in rivers where locals get their drinking water and food. Garments then travel thousands of miles to end up in a store near you, using countless gallons of fuel. This process only benefits giant apparel conglomerates, at the expense of workers, under-resourced communities, and the environment. Want to know your impact? Take this quiz to see how many slaves work for you.

Clothing Industry Stats ABCNews
At the local level, we are exposed to ways in which our government and the upper-class ignore the plights of our communities. We see how discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, able-bodiedness, education, socioeconomic status, immigration status, etc., can affect how we are heard and the resources we have at our disposal. But as Americans, we are also on average far more privileged than people living in the
Global South — countries that, due to a history of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and economic and social change, are enduring vast inequalities in living standards (including Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia). A child born in the United States will produce about 70 times the CO2 emissions as a child born in Bangladesh, according to the United Nations Statistical Division. The child in Bangladesh, however, will feel the effects of that CO2 more acutely than we do in this country. Check out the following graphic.

PerSquareMile Infographic
This infographic shows how many planets we would need if all of the people living on Earth today used the same amount of resources as the people living in each of the above countries. As you can see, if all humans consumed resources like we do in the United States, we would need 4.1 planets! What can we do to solve this problem? Would you decrease your use of resources in order to be more equitable?

The United States is one of the countries with the highest use of resources worldwide. In order for our use of resources to be sustainable, people living in developing countries, like Bangladesh, have to use far less. This is a balancing act. As such, we have the responsibility to be conscious of how our actions impact people worldwide. How can we work towards being more sustainable? What can we do to improve our communities, while still keeping in mind the needs of people around the world? Check out how your life would compare in a different country by using this interacting tool based on the CIA World Factbook.

Time Magazine Garment Factories
Image from Time Magazine. In 2013, Savar Building, which housed garment factories for several Western clothing brands, displayed cracks in the walls. The building, which was not zoned to house the heavy machinery of factories, was evacuated and declared unsafe by engineers. The next day, employers threatened to dock workers’ one month of pay if they did not come to work. The building collapsed, killing 1,134 people.

For Further Information:

To learn more about the human rights and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, check out The True Cost on Netflix. Consider also doing research about your food by checking out books by Michael Pollan.