Review of Sluiter book on Clean Clothes Campaign

Thanks to Wiley-Blackwell and to KANCHANA N RUWANPURA from the University of Southhampton, I am allowed to reprint Kanchana Ruwanpura’s interesting review of the book “Clean Clothes: A Global Movement to End Sweatshops” by Liesbeth Sluiter. The review was very recently published in The Geographical Journal Vol. 177 No. 1, pp. 97–100, 2011. Kanchana N Rwanpura also has a current project in which she examines the apparel industry in Sri Lanka, about which I will soon write.

Clean Clothes: A Global Movement to End Sweatshops. By LIESBETH SLUITER

Pluto Press, New York, 2009, 310 pp. notes and index £12.99 (paperback) ISBN 978 0 74532 768 6

A giant in holding the global garment industry accountable to labour rights and conditions against a backdrop of globalisation is the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), which has been in existence since 1988. In Clean Clothes, journalist Liesbeth Sluiter meticulously traces the story of CCC’s birth and transition throughout the past two decades: she demonstrates how the CCC capacity for networking has had both moments of triumph and of disappointment. Clean Clothes combines analysis of interviews with activists working across Europe with scrupulous research of archival material. The author argues that civil society campaigns that aim to improve worker conditions through consumer awareness assume varied, culturally specific, forms, similar to the uneven impact of globalisation on communities and people. Consequently, transnational solidarity campaigns are fraught with difficulty and work out in unexpected ways – where the upshot is not always a positive one.
Sluiter’s book starts with an outline of Dutch efforts to instigate a network of concerned citizens to pressurise and get brand-name apparel corporations to uphold labour rights in their business dealings in the Global South. She then traces how footloose industries conduct business in Asian, African and Eastern European countries through a series of high-profile incidents and the nature of CCC interventions – whether through networking with other consumer pressure groups, multi-stakeholder initiatives or relevant NGOs and trade unions in the Global South. It is apparent through these brief case studies and narratives that these campaigns do not always yield the desired results and indeed can be fraught with tension. However, she shows how these experiences have led to strategic networking relationships that have the capacity to advance the interests of labour rights by pressing upon numerous important registers of influence, such as the OECD, the UN and the companies themselves.

Despite these efforts and the important work that the CCC and other civil society organisations have done to raise the profile of labour practices in the Global South, Clean Clothes is a welcome reminder of the challenges that remain in making ethical trading a cornerstone of corporate social responsibility. The collusion between big business and national governments undermines the efforts of NGOs and trade unions to protect and promote labour rights and highlights the serious issues that need to be tackled. Even as the book records and brings the work of a leading consumer pressure group alive, it ruefully points out that as long as labourers themselves do not have a voice or means of organising, their quest for fair and decent labour conditions will remain elusive.

Please note that the permission does not include the right to grant others permission to photocopy or otherwise reproduce this material except for versions made by non-profit organisations for use by the blind or handicapped persons.

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