As the easter holiday’s approached, I started to think about school uniforms. My little girl goes to a school where the uniform has a summer dress. Cash not exactly plentiful these days, and I found myself on the ASDA and Tesco websites. They sell school dresses for £3.
That’s good right? For less than the cost of a decent steak, I can send my little girl to school in a crisp gingham dress. I ordered them, and when they arrived I sat looking at them. £3. I hadn’t wanted to buy it. I had gone through the tedious liberal handwringing; should I make the ethical choice. Did I have a choice? I investigated charity shops, the nearly new box at school- and local suppliers. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t afford the £3, never mind the £15 that wasn’t enough to get me a dress that was ethically sourced. Do I go to the special bit of capitalism that allows me to spend more than I can afford? Carbon neutral organic fair trade I promise no women were enslaved too badly to make this dress.
I sat there, fingering the non iron polyester. I googled. I know the manufacturing practices of these companies. I know they rely on slave labour, and sweatshops feature heavily in my twee little post-no logo psyche. I googled the reports about the way these countries manufactured. And I couldn’t get away from two facts.
Fact 1: I would keep this dress. Children can’t wear principles. How would I justify sending my little girl to school without the same uniform her friends have?
Fact 2: The reason so many women are available to manufacture this dress, for next to no money- while being exploited- is precisely the reason I had little choice but to buy the dress.
The motherhood that is a more or less direct route to poverty in this country without a man behind you, is the same motherhood that ensures a plentiful supply of exploitable labour to the world’s richest companies, whichever country they are operating in. Capitalism and motherhood intersect in this way the world over. Motherhood is a fairly global phenomenon. As is capitalism. The woman trapped making the dress, is the same women trapped buying it. All to generate profits for men we will never meet. While Tesco and Wal Mart swallow small businesses and all other choices whole.