Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Who Made My Barbie Doll Clothes?

I am wondering if you smart readers have answers for my question.

Am I buying the services of slaves?

About a week ago, more or less, I caught an episode of Katie Couric's talk show. Her guests were discussing the problem of trafficking of girls and women (and sometimes boys). Often they are forced into a sex slave nightmare. Sometimes it is a work slave situation. For example, girls are removed from home, passports and IDs are taken, they are locked up with no access to and no contact with the outside world, and they are forced to do whatever the prisoner dictates.

I know this goes on. Sadly, the trafficking happens even in my own state. One thing the show talked about was the consumption we do and whether it encourages the existence of work slaves. Children are often forced to do labor in fields or mines, for example, and not allowed to go to school. If we buy the products of that field or mine, we are economically supporting slavery. Sadly, they said that the cosmetic industry is a big culprit.. some of the chemicals used in cosmetics are typically produced by child slaves. (There's another topic -- how to make purchases wisely so that we don't support slave labor. Where is the transparency?)

Now here is my question. Recently I started buying home-made Barbie doll clothes on e-Bay. One of the vendors I have purchased from sends me the doll clothes from China. At first I thought, "oh, how nice. I'm helping a fledgling entrepreneur in China make a cottage industry for herself." Then I began to wonder -- do these products come from a child labor/slave situation where the kids are made to work for pennies so that I can buy Barbie doll clothes on the cheap?

Some of these nice dresses go for as cheap as 99 cents. The exchange has gone very smoothly. I have purchased several of these fancy doll dresses (for various kids I know or as gifts for other kids). They come in the mail promptly and are well made and look cute on the Barbie dolls.

Is there a way I can find out -- reliably -- who is making these dresses? I don't want to support slave labor, but I do want to support someone trying to make an honest living and finding an easy way to work from home.

What do you think? What would you guess, when buying a dress for 99 cents from China? Remember it's on e-Bay where sometimes it has to go cheap so it'll sell, because of the glut of sellers... how can I research this to put my mind at ease?


Browndirtcottage said...

This is kind of like the issue with 'blood diamonds' we became aware of a few years back.

It's all really deplorable!!

BrendaLou said...

unfortunately there is no easy answer. What is "slave labor" and relatively very, very "low paid" labor. In China and in many countries the difference may be murky. Is there a difference in paying someone 10 cents/hour (I picked this number out of the air) to work at a job (but that 10 cents/hour allows them to feed & house their family...albeit substandard) and in requiring someone to work and providing them with substandard housing & food? But what happens to these people in both cases if there is no market for Barbie doll clothes? I'm not sure boycotting the clothes from China is the answer also.

It is a dilemma that often keeps me from sleep. I cannot do anything to relieve suffering for EVERYone in the world. But I CAN do something for SOME of them. And so I do what I can. I make loans. I donate to organizations that provide food, jobs, clean water, healthcare, educational opportunities, etc. I support children through World Vision. I volunteer at soup kitchens. I do what I can do and pray that I'll be shown even more ways I can help.

Sextant said...

I don't have an answer but I suspect that yes your doll clothes are probably made under circumstances that you would not like. I think if you look at the lions share of products on the market, either the product itself or the components, you would find many that are produced with labor practices that we would find reprehensible. Do we need to go any further than the produce counter in any typical supermarket? Would we want our children working as migrant farm workers in the US?

It is a very sad thing, but I do believe that a large portion of our income ends up supporting companies that have very questionable labor policies or suppliers that do. I am not sure what we can do about it.

It is good of you to post this information. We all need to do some soul searching.

Carol E. said...

I also heard that there is some connection between cotton fabrics and child slave workers. And I buy a lot of cotton fabric! Why can't people just live their lives ethically and not caue these conundrums for the rest of us?!

Sextant said...

Because until we as a species and a society can learn to love our fellow humans instead of fear them we will breed contempt for those unlike us. Contempt for the other drives greed, hatred, racism, religious intolerance, and sexism. Yeah, we can't even treat the opposite gender with love and respect. If we think our women are beneath us, what chance does someone from a different race nationality and economic strata have? The are sub-human.

Human beings have a long way to go.