PRINT March 1996


Return of the Sweatshop

PEOPLE WHO SNEER at fashion have learned, over the years, to avoid judgments that are overtly denigratory to women and gay men. The field of calumny has diminished considerably as a result. The most durable argument against expensive fashions maintains that they’re not what real people wear, and therefore can be excluded from the class of socially relevant phenomena. But even if we ignore the patronizing quality of this assumption about what real people do, there are fewer and fewer moral grounds these days for identifying with their clothing as a matter of social conscience. I’m referring to the scandalous labor conditions in which most garments, outside the high-fashion circuit of craft production, are made.

Most folks, however blasé, probably balk at the idea of owning the products of slave labor. Yet knowledge of the cruelty of Central American and Asian sweatshop regimes in the service

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