A dilemma over labels from Bangladesh

A few weeks ago the TV program De slag om de Klerewereld (the battle for the clothing/monstrous world) aired. We saw the Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken traveling to Dhaka, Bangladesh. He went undercover as a textile buyer to try and show us who pays the price for our cheap clothing. It was still shocking to see how things work in the textile industry, even though we know and have seen ourselves that that’s the way Bangladesh works.

There was a fragment in the program about the production the brand labels we find inside our clothes that caught my attention. These labels we being made by children under terrible working circumstances. We even saw they had produced a label fro a brand affiliated with the Fair Wear Foundation.

Part of our products also have a label attached. And even though our producers are fair trade certified by the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation), I wondered, as I had done before, if the production of our labels would also be outsourced? I decided to try and find out, also because I had just placed a new order for new products with labels. So I got in touch with my contact person with one of our partner oganisations.

As you could also see in the progam, in the Bangladeshi culture people don’t like to say ‘no’ to something. People preferably avoid answering or say something meaningless, by which they usually mean ‘no’.

I asked if the production of the labels they make for Tulsi Crafts is generally outsourced, the answer to that was yes. My next question was if they could guarantee good working conditions for the people that produce the labels. The answer to that was very vague.

So I tried asking some more specific questions, like do you visit the place that produces the labels, do you go and check on labour circumstances and child labour and if do you know fair wages are paid. After three weeks and some insistence, I received a response. ‘We can guarantee good working conditions in Bangladesh perspective and no child labour. We can’t ensure fair wages’.

So for now, I’ve placed an order without labels. But where can I order ethically produced labels? Dutch label suppliers also have them produced elsewhere, without insight in the production chain. Furthermore the purpose of Tulsi Crafts is supporting the Bengali economy by providing fairly paid jobs.

What I would like to do is fly out to Dhaka and visit some places where labels are made. This will have to wait until my next visit, but in the meantime I’m not happy about selling products without labels.

I hope to have given you some idea of the dilemmas we encounter by doing business with Bangladesh. What would you do in the case?

tulsi label fair trade