The manufacturing processes behind common consumer products are not often discussed in the media. Clothing is one exception, as there are sporadic debates and exposés about the likely sweatshop roots of popular brands. This story from the Saturday Age looks at the world of jeans manufacturing. It claims to expose a variety of production processes which may be harmful to the folks making the jeans (and the components thereof) and to the environment where the manufacturing occurs (often developing countries).
Multinationals have to be very careful about the perceptions of the impact of their products, in terms of both workers’ rights/experiences, and also the environment. This article suggests that the jeans being sold in Australian vary considerably in terms of the damage they have done before we buy them.
It is far from a simple cheap labour/low cost strategy story either, as the firms offering these products are often engaged in these practices so as to achieve differentiation in the highly competitive fashion market. You might even argue that they are highly innovative and adventurous firms. Also, the firms whose brands appear on the jeans are typically not directly involved in the production process themselves. They might, therefore, claim little/no awareness of, or responsibilty for, any damage done.
This not an issue that will go away. It remains to be seen whether consumer behaviour is significantly altered by such revelations, and whether firms can create any genuine advantage from taking a more socially responsible position by altering manufacturing practices.