Anyone surprised by the revelation that workers manufacturing those expensive Fawcett Society/Whistles T-shirts are paid just 62p per hour will probably get a nasty shock if they research the origins of the clothes in their own wardrobes. That’s why it’s a little hard to pass judgement on Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman for not knowing where those £45 T-shirts came from.
Alex wrote a splendidly provocative blog a while ago about sweatshops which reminded us of the alternatives that are realistically available to most of the workers who crouch over sewing machines to produce tops that only survive a few washes anyway. But even with that acknowledgement, you might hope that a T-shirt claiming to be a kitemark for all those who care about equality could do a little better than this. Advocates of a voluntary living wage in this country often argue that it could get its own kitemark for those who really care about where their food and clothes come from. The same could surely apply to a feminist T-shirt. Most consumers, particularly those striding into Whistles, wouldn’t notice an extra 50p on an item of clothing that would give its maker a pay rise beyond her dreams. But then again, given these tops cost £9 to make, perhaps the Fawcett Society might be minded to take a little less of the profit and demand the women making them receive a better wage.
Still, that’s a question for Fawcett and Whistles rather than the politicians. Where it’s a little easier to pass judgement on the T-shirt brigade in parliament is that this is just the sort of pointless gesture politics that voters abhor and that makes the mainstream parties so difficult to love.