Long before we had even heard of Forever 21, a 3-year-long legal battle had been waged between the trendy clothing retailer and several of the garment workers who sew their clothes. The workers were allegedly paid sub-minimum wages while enduring deplorable working conditions. The media followed this story until a settlement was reached between 33 factory workers and Forever 21 representatives in 2004.
We're ashamed (ok, embarrassed) to admit this, but we didn't know anything about Forever 21's use of sweatshop labor until just recently when a friend told us about Made in L.A.
, a new documentary film by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, which is bringing this long-forgotten story back into the public eye. The film, which premiered September 4th on PBS, follows the story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from Forever 21.
As a consumer—budget or otherwise—the ever-present specter of global sweatshop labor looms large. And yes, we are well-aware of unfair labor practices outside of the rag-trade in the United States (The meatpacking industry comes to mind). Yet we honestly thought that because most of Forever 21's production was based right here in the U.S.—right outside of Los Angeles, to be exact—that somehow, their workers were being treated fairly. We naively assumed they were at least being paid minimum wage. And so it was with some actual amount of pride that we supported them as a business.
Now, we're not sure what to think.
While Forever 21 settled with the workers, we have no way of knowing what their labor practices are really like today. Even "Made in L.A." can't provide definitive answers. We encourage everyone to watch it, because we've all become a little jaded—and could all use a little more education—on the fair labor front. We're not suggesting you should boycott any one store in particular (we're not, because we don't feel like we have enough information to do so).
But we do think U.S. shoppers care how their clothes are produced. We have to care. And we budget babes would gladly pay a few dollars more for a shirt IF that meant better working conditions for the people busting their behinds so that we can look good.
Learn more about "Made in L.A." here. >>
Check local PBS television listings here. >>
Photo credit: Madeinla.com