Wearables from where? Senate passes Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
In a unanimous vote last Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed the Uygur Forced Labor Prevention Act which bans the import of goods produced in China’s Xinjiang region, unless it can be proved they were made without the use of forced labor. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region produces a variety of materials crucial to the technology and the garment industries.
China has long defended what they call “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang, which have been operating since 2017 as internment camps The Chinese government has a history of persecuting the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, including forced sterilization and the destruction of mosques.
In January of this year, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims.” That same month, the U.S. banned import of Xinjiang cotton. Cotton from the Xinjiang region accounts for more than 20% of global cotton supply.
The new law requires American brands to account for the origins of their apparel and footwear, starting with the hands that picked the cotton boll. Tracing a garment produced overseas proves difficult; the contracts to spin, weave, cut-and-trim, embellish, fold, package, and ship a garment are picked up by numerous separate factories incentivized by making a profit, not facilitating American laws.
American lip service
In response to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the American Apparel and Footwear Association released a joint statement with other retail and fashion groups stating “Today’s Congressional passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R. 6256, is a key component of a broad global strategy, and our shared goal, to end forced labor.”
Yet Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple lobbied against the Act. Luxury brands such as Prada and Tapestry (which owns Coach and Kate Spade) scored an average of 31/100 on human rights considerations according to KnowTheChain’s 2020/2021 Apparel and Footwear benchmark report. Patagonia, Nike and C&A were named in a Dutch criminal filing on Chinese forced labor earlier this month.
The price of cotton as of Dec.17 fluctuated between $1.15 and $1.20. This time last year, the price was as low as $0.50. Throughout 2021, the demand for apparel is up. These factors make the cheapest labor and the veiled supply chains appealing for brands that feed the unsustainable desires to be “in season.”
A shriveling giant
The first major retail company to be offered on the stock market was Chicago-based Sears Roebuck & Co. in 1906. Founded in 1892, the mail-order catalog turned department store enjoyed its heyday in the mid-century, earning Chicago the nickname of “mail order capital of the world.” Since the 1980s Sears has declined. The company left its iconic Sears Tower in 1992, which was sold and renamed Willis Tower two years later.
For the past thirty years, the headquarters of Sears has been in the Chicago suburbs, on a sprawling 273 acres in Hoffman Estates. Earlier this week, the company announced it would be selling the campus, which includes 100 acres of undeveloped land.
The company sought chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2018. The last Sears stores in New York City and Illinois closed this past November.
Secondhand in Chicago
According to the Economist, “clothing manufacture and distribution account for between 2% and 8% of global carbon emissions. The fashion industry probably emits more carbon than aviation (3% of emissions) or shipping (2%).” Given the environmental and social concerns of the fashion industry, many shoppers have turned to secondhand clothing.
Though vintage and thrift stores appear on the same listicles of secondhand shops, these kinds of stores are quite distinct. Thrift stores are based on donation and not curation, and the prices at a thrift store are often much less than prices at a vintage shop. In 2016, a poll conducted by GlobalData found that 45% of adults “had bought second-hand clothing, or said they would consider doing so.” Today, 86% of adults hold this view.
An informal survey of the websites of Pilsen’s secondhand establishments reflect the different needs of their clientele. The Clothes Closet doesn’t charge for children’s apparel and it is part of a social health initiative. Meanwhile, Pilsen Vintage promises that “you’ve just stumbled on your new wardrobe,” and Knee Deep Vintage caters to “seasoned” collectors. Pilsen Vintage and Thrift maintains some community functions, including art shows, “hoolah hoop lessons and yoga classes!”
For more on the spectrum of vintage to thrift, check out J. Levy Li’s “To Thrift or not To Thrift” from the March issue of F Newsmagazine, where the author explores the range and consequences of second-hand furniture shopping in Chicago.
Happy Winter Break everybody! We’re taking this week off of brief-writing. We’ll be back in January!
Michaela Chan (MFAW 2023) is the News Editor at F Newsmagazine. Hopefully she is drawing a tree.