I feel ashamed. It wasn’t until L.L.Bean withdrew their legendary Satisfaction Guarantee that I took off my blinders. I knew they were making the majority of their products overseas; I knew the quality had declined; I knew prices hadn’t gone down to reflect that. I even knew that labor and environmental practices in China are notoriously terrible. Somehow I conned myself into assuming that L.L.Bean vendors were paid almost as well as their US employees; the “golden rule” they promised to follow wouldn’t allow it otherwise. Maybe it was more convenient for me to focus on pretty plaids vs shoddy treatment via wages to the people making them. I never did look into it until now. Here’s what I discovered:
“No matter where an L.L.Bean product is made, you can be assured that it was manufactured under legal, safe and fair working conditions. Because we believe every worker – and every person – deserves respect.”
Here are the legal minimum wages* for the countries listed on their labels. All of these labels are from clothing in our closets purchased within the past couple of years:
Sri Lanka’s Minimum Monthly Wage: $70.75 US Dollars
China’s Minimum Monthly Wage: $158 – $346 US dollars
Malaysia’s Monthly Minimum Wage: $236 – $256 US Dollars
Vietnam’s Minimum Monthly Wage: $146 – $165 US Dollars
Mexico’s Minimum Monthly Wage: $145 US Dollars
I need to make more informed and responsible choices as a consumer moving forward and not rely on reputations and wishful thinking! Of course the vast majority of products in the global economy are made in many of the above countries so I’m not suggesting that there’s a magical but neglected “Made in the USA” (or Canada, Ireland, England, France, etc.) catalog. Vintage is a great option for ethical and sustainable shopping for home goods and furnishings, but not for clothing (for us).
For Lent and beyond I’m giving up my blinders. They do not serve me or the world well. For the times when the only option is to purchase something made in a country that does not pay something even close to a livable wage (and I know some will argue that includes the US), rather than deny it or wallow in guilt, I want to respond in a meaningful way. I will spend time this Lent coming up with what that means; perhaps sending an email to the company or donating a small percentage of the purchase to a related good cause.
Disclaimer: I am unable to vouch for the accuracy of said sources. They and the wages listed above are provided as informational only and not verified fact so you will need to draw your own conclusions.