Fugitive Denim Essay
In a society dominated by capitalistic theory, the direct relationship between consumerism and globalization is often distorted. The United States is one of the largest beneficiaries of global trade because of its ability to outsource production to other impoverished countries and because it’s immense consumer base allows most companies to obtain huge profits. However, while all is well in the western world, the people who live in third world countries are the ones who experience the negative externality put forth by American and European consumerism. These adverse effects range from global inequality and gender discrimination to environmental degradation. A perfect way to recognize the global nature of our society is to examine one of the most ordinary products ‘” denim jeans. Rachel Louise Snyder’s novel, Fugitive Denim, portrays the fashion industry and illustrates the global economic, environmental and labor implications.
Globalization is a term that refers to the growing interdependence between individuals and nations on a global scale. It is commonly known that globalization is severely reshaping social structure and altering the lives of people on every continent. Every person, nowadays, is connected to an increasingly dense system of global interrelations because of the rapid integration of foreign cultures, economies, and nations. The main cause for this change can be directly attributed to greedy consumerism. The belief that happiness can be found through fiscal security causes every American citizen to grow up with the desire of earning the largest pay check. They feel that this increased supply of money will translate into pleasure because they will have the ability to purchase more material goods. This notion then leads to an increase in consumer purchases and as a result, firms make profit. However, since companies are controlled by rational people, they also desire more. The need to increase profits creates a vertical pressure on every aspect of the production process. Companies now have to meet the continuous stream of demands by not only producing more; but more importantly, by producing at a lower cost. This results in countries like the United States, and many in Europe, outsourcing production to third world countries. Since labor and raw materials are cheaper, the profit margin becomes larger. However, the problems with this include international trade law restrictions and difficulty in labeling. This idea is evident in Fugitive Denim when Scott is describing how things were made for Loomstate.
It all depended on what a made in label would reflect, though the real truth is that most garments carry labels with a single country but handprints from a multitude of nations. ‘˜Made in Peru’ might have cotton from Texas, weaving from North Carolina, cutting and sewing from Lima, washing and finishing from Mexico City, and distribution from Los Angeles. (Snyder p.21)
In modern day production, things could not go from point A to point B. The above quote illustrates how outsourcing is more complicated than just sending thread to be made into pants in one country. Increasing globalization has made large countries like the United States wealthier, but it has also made them more dependent. It is now up to the dozens of small disadvantaged countries to fulfill the insatiable wants and needs of the larger countries consumers.
The growing demand for cheap labor and resources has caused a major concern for policy makers. A single order of jeans can create an entire mess in the world trade system. Both the World Trade Organization and the Multi-Fibre Agreement are responsible for maintaining equity and awareness with respect to global trade. This happens to be one of the positive outcomes of global trade because these organizations afford poor countries the opportunity to participate in the production process. Without these organizations these countries would struggle to break into the highly competitive market for textiles. Snyder acknowledges this idea when speaking of the congested web that is world trade, “What this meant, in real terms, was that countries like Cambodia, recuperating from decades of war and genocide, had a clear entr©e into a market that otherwise might have been prohibitively competitive” (Snyder p.24). The diversification of production due to large consumer demands can be viewed as a huge assembly line, but instead of single people doing specific parts of the process; there are many countries each doing their own designated assignment. Although there are some smaller countries, such as Cambodia, Nepal, and Honduras that are made a little better off, most countries face extreme hardships and adversity when trying to keep up with the ravenous consumer demands.
Globalization is occurring in disproportionate ways. The result of globalization is felt differentially, and most of its aftermaths are far from benign. Along with escalating environmental problems, the development of discriminations between societies is one of the most severe challenges. The two prominent ideas of global inequality are: inequality among different countries, and the inequalities within the same country. There are 3 classifications of countries, first world, second world, and third world. The first world countries are those that are, for the most part, democratic and capitalistic. These types of countries typically have the highest gross domestic product and the highest standard of living. However, these are also the main culprits with respect to outsourcing and the causes of global inequality. First world countries, which include the United States and the European Union, thrive off cheap labor and minimum cost resources. The main goal of almost every industry in these countries is to earn a profit and in order to do this, companies must reduce costs. This desire for cheap labor is thrust upon the smaller defenseless third world countries. These third world countries are described as impoverished, politically unstable countries that have extremely low gross domestic product levels. It is in these countries that most of the intense labor takes place, but this labor is less than compensated for. Rachel Snyder’s novel, Fugitive Denim, explains the dire circumstances in which these people work.
They worked six days a week and in the beginning, in 2004, overtime was daily. They worked from 7 am to 7 or 8 or 9 pm back then, Monday through Friday, and 7 am to 5 or 6 pm on Saturdays. Sundays were the only days we could meet. (Snyder p. 181)
Snyder describes how the people of Phnom Penh work all day and night as if they are machines. The people in this area didn’t even want to learn English when they were offered to be given free lessons. The effects of globalization are dehumanizing people and playing directly into Karl Marx’s Theory of work and alienation. Instead of doing every part of the production process and deriving pleasure from a finished product, these workers in third world countries are required to complete a miniscule laborious task over and over. There is no finished product when they are done because whatever they were working on must be shipped to another country for another aspect of the production process to take place. The people become robotic in a sense, and only live to work. They eat enough to merely stay alive, which is similar to the idea of a machine receiving maintenance in order to do what it is required to do. Second world countries, such as China and the Soviet Union, are not negatively affected in the same light as third world countries; but they are still unequal when compared to first world countries. These countries are still heavy participants in world trade but do not receive the same benefit as first world countries would.
The other main facet of global inequality is that which occurs within a country. The gender differences and discrimination due to globalization is depicted on many instances throughout the novel. In third world countries such as Cambodia, family and loyalty are the main cultural values. Girls in these countries were also treated different than the men and had different expectations to attain to. The story of Ry, the girl from Kampong Cham, shows the discrimination towards women. She learned to sew and wanted to go for a job in one of the garment factories in the nearby city, but everyone in the village doubted her and told her she would never receive a job. In the novel it states, “Villagers told her she was crazy to go, she’d never keep up. If she left, they said, she would be a ruined girl; the scandal of her divorce had already brought shame on the family and now she was going to go to the city” (Snyder p.182). This shows that the people of the village were doubting her because she was a woman. It also sheds light on the fact that employers in the city were most likely less willingly to hire female workers than male workers. The book also mentioned that the village lost respect for women when they went to work in the city. This is highly ironic because the people who brought in most of the money for the family were the women.
The other startling concept is that a divorced woman in this village was shamed upon. It explains how her divorce brought shame on the family but never mentions anything about the male counterpart and the effect it had on his family or how anyone viewed him. That void can only mean that men have no repercussions when they divorce while women are forced to suffer all of the negative resentment. Globalization is supposed to intertwine different culture, but many villages remain segregated from the masses. They instead keep their inequality among the classes as well as inequality among gender while other countries become more modernized. Another instance, in which women exploitation is portrayed, occurs when the story shifts to Azerbaijan. Here, women are the only people who pick the cotton because the land is also believed to be a woman. They say that by allowing women to pick the cotton, they stay in touch with the land. Although this might be a foreign cultural norm, it is also a form of gender inequality. Snyder makes this obvious by saying, “picking cotton is women’s work in Azerbaijan, as it is in many parts of the world — Everyone in Azerbaijan found the idea of a man out in the fields harvesting the crop, a sack tied around his waist, wildly amusing” (Snyder p.71). In the United States, men and women are allowed to work where they please and most people see the plausibility in that. In this country, just the idea of a man working in the field picking cotton is humorous. That definitely proves the extent to which globalization contributing to global inequality. Without having to fulfill the obvious demands of consumers, picking that much cotton might not be separated as a women-only task.
One of the most devastating outcomes of globalization is the intense labor required and the harsh conditions in which these people work. It was previously mentioned that many people work 12-20 hour days in order to keep up with their required work. This amount of arduous labor is unhealthy and leads to adverse health effects. The United States alone reports ten to 20 thousand chemical poisonings a year among agricultural workers (Snyder p.63). The factory and field conditions are much worse in second and third world countries because they lack the financial assets to purchase protective clothing or satisfactory clothing for that matter. The people in the ginning room described the experience in horrific details. Death to them is a common thing and people getting terribly ill are not a rare occurrence at all. They described the ginning room as “torturously loud” and explain that brown lung disease is common in textile work (Snyder p.63). These conditions are common in most third world countries because OSHA is non-existent; therefore, company managers are not required to have safe or healthy conditions. They are merely concerned with making a larger profit, even if that means at the expense of their workers.
Globalization also has severe complications on the environment. Ecological sustainability is absolutely necessary for both economic efficiency and for surviving. The spread of industrial production has already caused irreparable damages to the environment and without controlling these effects; the environment will continue to worsen. Pollution and poor waste management are leading the charge with regard to environmental degradation. Companies usually have poor waste management because good waste management is expensive and hard to achieve. It was said that “although cotton makes up only about 3 percent of our global agriculture land, it consumes nearly a quarter of the world’s insecticides” and “the average pair of jeans carries three quarters of a pound of chemicals” (Snyder p.73). This obscene amount of chemicals for such a mundane product is not healthy for the environment. Since globalization is creating interdependence between nations, one polluted area will most certainly have a negative outcome on the rest of the world. Everyone is menaced by the same environmental corrosion and without precautions, future generations will be left with a less than stellar living environment.
Globalization is a phenomenon that has repercussions for all of the members involved, which obviously, is everyone on earth. The negative aspects of globalization which include; global inequality, laborious and unsafe labor conditions, and environmental degradation greatly outweigh the positive externality that is equitable competition. A world with fair competition but inhabitable living conditions will cease to exist. In order for the goal of continuous economic growth to be abandoned, new social institutions will have to be pioneered. However, consumer infatuation with material goods will always be prevalent and thus, globalization will continue to proceed onward.