Everything we buy has someone else’s fingerprints on it. There is nothing that you own that is untouched by human hands before you. It might seem brand new, as you take it out of the packet/box/wrapper, or peel off that protective cover, but it has already been held, checked, tested, formed, marked, finger-printed by other hands.
There was a cotton grower, maybe in Uzbekistan, who planted the cotton seeds. That’s 1 person.
Then there was someone who harvested it. That’s 2 people.
The cotton then gets separated from the seeds (ginning). That’s 3.
Then that is wrapped into bales for more processing. That’s 4.
The cotton is then yarned. That’s 5.
Then that is sold as cloth. That’s 6 and 7 (seller and buyer).
Then it’s cut into various shapes. That’s 8. Let’s guess at 9, 10 and 11 too.
Then it’s sewn together. 12.
Then it’s dyed and printed. 13.14.15 (We won’t count all the people who make the inks)
Then it’s folded up and packaged. 16.17 (Nor count the people who make the packaging)
Then it’s loaded into a lorry. 18.
Then it’s driven/flown/shipped. 19.20. (At least)
Then it’s offloaded. 21.
And reloaded. And driven to the store. 22.23.24
Then it’s put out in the shops. 25.
And it’s only then that you pick it up for the first time. You hold it up against yourself, check it out in the mirror. Decide that it is the right large-piano t-shirt for you and buy it.
As a hugely conservative estimate you are the 26th person to have ever touched your t-shirt (or its constituent parts).
Potentially, twenty six people from all around the world have had a hand in making your t-shirt, each of them working so that you can wear it. It kinda hurts my head a bit. The real mind blower comes when you multiply this out across the billions (some estimate maybe 4 billion) of t-shirts that are made and sold every year in the world and suddenly this process includes a lot of people.
And the thing is, not all of these people are treated very well. Some of them won’t be paid a fair wage or, sometimes, anything at all. Some will work long hours. Many are children, who should be at school.
There are lots of people that are trapped in slave and bonded labour so that we can have cheap clothing.
And these are the people that God tells us are our neighbours. And that we are to love them as we love ourselves, overflowing from loving Him.
So, for the cotton picker in Uzbekistan, what does it mean to love them?
Well it probably looks something like campaigning to ensure that they work in fair conditions, getting fair pay and breaks; helping to make sure that the companies who employ them don’t force them to work there under the threat of persecution or violence.
We love them by making sure that they aren’t being exploited, enslaved and degraded in order for us to have cheap clothes.
We love them by asking our favourite brands to go #slavefree and be held responsible for their supply chains.
The world doesn’t have to work this way…we just need to change it.
There are a few people who sell some great ethical clothing and we’d love to hear about your favourites.
Also, check these guys out – they print the photo of the person who made your item on the label. Wouldn’t it be amazing if one day this should be true for everything we buy, so that when someone asks “Hey, I like your t-shirt, where did it come from?” you can show them the label and say,
“It came from this guy right here”.