Unethical labor has always been the elephant in the room within the fashion industry — incidents like the Rana Plaza factory collapse a year ago have brought to light the inhumane working conditions many garment employees face. It often takes this kind of mass tragedy to draw consumers' attention to the lives of those who make their clothes. But, sometimes, workers make bold attempts to force that connection.
When reaching into her paper bag to look for a receipt, Saks shopper Stephanie Wilson found a handwritten note. The dispatch, penned by prison laborer Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, and reported by DNAinfo, was a cry for help, and listed the psychological abuse, long work hours, and lack of outside communication endured at government-ordained sweatshops. Known as laogai in China, which translates to "labor reform school," the camps often imprison outspoken anti-establishment political figures. Njong himself was charged with fraud (though he claims innocence).
A spokesperson for Saks said the company has begun investigations to determine the specific origins of these shopping bags. When it comes to merchandise, the department store is a supporter of fair labor, and it carries certain products as part of an ethical fashion program. However, this case shows that the industry's unethical production standards go beyond just clothing; it's shopping bags, garment racks, paper tags, plastic wrappers, and so much more.