Ethics of Buying Cheap Clothes

Here’s an interesting little piece by Alex Singleton, blogging for the Telegraph: Is it ethical to buy cheap clothes?

Is our shopping encouraging child labour? That is a question many consumers are concerned about following a Panorama documentary earlier this week, and rightly so.
Counter-intuitively, though, buying clothes made cheaply overseas actually cuts child labour, rather than increasing it.

The argument is that buying cheap clothes manufactured in developing countries gives (mostly) adults factory jobs that get them away from the subsistence-level agriculture that is the biggest user of child-labour. Get Mom & Dad away from the farm, and Jr will be freed from the fields, too.

But there is of course more than one ethical issue in buying cheap clothes. Cheap clothes typically wear out quicker, and so must be replaced more often, which (unless I’m missing something) makes them less environmentally friendly. So, buy MORE cheap clothes if you want to save kids from child labour; buy LESS cheap clothes if you want to help the environment. Many people would like to believe that the socially responsible thing to do is also always the environmentally responsible thing to do. Of course, that’s wishful thinking. In reality, sometimes acting ethically is win-win. Sometimes it ain’t.

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