In case you missed it, Target announced Tuesday that it will continue to allow “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
In response, the American Family Association started a petition urging people to boycott Target, a petition that has garnered the support of 944,000+ people as of today. The petition is based on the premise that Target’s policy “poses a danger to wives and daughters” and asks people to “pledge to boycott Target stores until it makes protecting women and children a priority.”
As of today, almost one million angry people have signed the petition, vowing to boycott Target.
I, too, am angry. I, too, am boycotting Target. But my anger and my protest have nothing to do with Target’s restroom policy or the transgender community. In fact, I was angry and protesting long before any of them were.
My protest started exactly three years ago today, sitting at my desk in my freshmen college dorm room. Tears tore down my face as my heart simultaneously swelled with anger and broke with anguish. Despondency settled over me like a cloud as I read article after article; Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, had collapsed three days prior, killing over 1,000 garment workers and leaving many more injured. The workers had noticed cracks in the building that very morning, but despite expressing concern to management, had been forced to work in the building. They made clothing for major Western retailers. They made my clothing.
The more I read and researched, the more I learned how truly horrific the garment industry is. The sickening reality is that nearly all of our clothing is made by mistreated, abused, and severely underpaid women and children in developing countries.
That day, for the very first time in my life, my eyes were opened to a devastating truth: major retailers (like Target, Walmart and nearly every other one you can think of) have decided that a t-shirt or a pair of jeans is worth more than a human life. Knowingly or unknowingly, in supporting these companies and purchasing their clothes, we, the customers, have decided that a t-shirt or a pair of jeans is worth more than a human life.
Let me say that again lest you miss it…
We have decided that a $5 t-shirt or a $30 pair of jeans is worth more than a human life.
I want you to really ingest that. Let it wreck you. May it bring you to tears. May you feel the same brokenheartedness, shame, despondency and despair that overwhelmed me at 2:32pm on April 27th, 2013.
When it comes to the ethicality of their clothes, Target receives a D. That means their clothing is made in sweatshops where living, breathing, valuable human beings are verbally, physically and sexually abused, where they are forced to work long days (up to 20 hours), in hazardous conditions and for incredibly small amounts of money.
Target has a beautiful code of conduct on their website stating that they support labor and human rights and that their products are responsibly sourced.
Yet when the bill The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act was submitted to Congress to make it illegal to import, export and sell goods made with sweatshop labor, the major retailers with their beautifully crafted codes of conduct vehemently opposed it. Because so long as it remains legal to sell items made in sweatshops, they are able to take advantage of countries like Bangladesh who have little to no labor laws in order to increase their profit margins.
The result? Garment workers are left with voluntary “codes of conduct” that are ultimately no more than empty words on page. They are left to put their lives at risk day in and day out in order to make our clothing.
This, friends, is why I have been protesting. Target, along with Limited, Express, Lands End, JC Penny, and Victoria’s Secret receive a D for ethicality. Wal-mart, Macy’s, Disney, Dilliards, and TJ Maxx receive an F. And that’s just to name a few. The appalling reality is that 98% of all clothing is made in sweatshops (Source).
That is truly something to be angry about.
Because guess what? Using a restroom in a public place is not your right. Target could decide not to offer any restrooms in their stores and that would be okay, because, let me say it again, the ability to use a restroom in a public place is not your right. It is a privilege.
But according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
- “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights (Article 1)”
- “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5)”
- “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work (Article 23 – 2) “
- “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his/her interests (Article 23 – 4) ”
- “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay (Article 24) ”
Those are human rights, and right now, Target along with nearly every other major retailer is violating those rights of the 3 million people who work in the garment industry.
In turning a blind eye and continuing to purchase clothing being made in sweatshops, we are saying that a $5 shirt or a $30 pair of jeans are worth more than 3 million people’s rights, that it’s worth more than 3 million people’s lives.
Target boycotters, you signed the petition vowing to protest until Target “makes protecting women and children a priority.” I challenge you to really care about protecting women and children, not just American women and children, but the women and children who are making your clothes.
I challenge you to join me in protesting not only Target, but every clothing retailer who has decided that clothing and profit margins are more valuable than people. Join me and refuse to purchase unethically made clothing.