How Your Joe-Fresh Shirt Cost A Life

by marmalade.skies on February 10, 2015 - 12:51am

What do the clothes on your body, the shoes on your feet and the technological device you are currently using all have in common? They were most likely manufactured in developing countries around the world. This phenomenon, of overseas manufacturing also known as outsourcing, has been around for decades, and is an integral part of our where our everyday utilities come from. In addition, as a Commerce student I want to point out that outsourcing is ideal for businesses since it allows them to make the most profit (even when you include the costs of shipping/delivery).

However, what often occurs, is that large international companies start to manipulate the countries they are using for their manufacturing. Due to their cheap labour costs and lack of penalties for human rights violations, developing countries don’t stand a chance against these industrial titans. Although these practices are not illegal, their allegations or concrete proof can be bad for a company’s public image. An obvious example is the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 that killed 1100 people. One of the main companies linked to this factory was Joe Fresh; hence the title of this article. Public opinion about Joe Fresh was greatly impacted by its implications in this disaster. 

This is where ethics comes in to play: even though these practices are not illegal, are they ethical? Some may argue that outsourcing is better for businesses and also provides work to people in these developing countries. Additionally, others may argue that the laws put in place (in terms of human rights violations) are up to the country in question, and therefore if they do not consider this treatment unethical, who are we to tell them otherwise. Yet, most people in the Western World would probably argue that these practices are not ethical, since individuals are not obtaining proper human rights. This is where the Cultural Relativism approach can be applied. Cultural Relativists, like Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, believe that, “we need to be sensitive to cultural differences but not allow them to override widely recognized human rights” (Fluehr-Lobban, 230). In agreeance with these theorists, one can argue that although the general concept of outsourcing isn’t unethical, the practical cases have been unethical since they have violated the human rights of the workers in question. Intervention for the fundamental rights of the individual workers is therefore key.

Solutions to this problem are not so black and white. Although Cultural Relativists argue that intervening is necessary, it would be difficult. Due to how dependent our society is on outsource manufacturing, the eradication of this phenomenon is next to impossible. In addition the changing of policies or laws surrounding this issue, are under the jurisdiction of the country in question, and not of an international super-power like the United States. Therefore, I propose that we create laws for the merchandise sold here at home. If a company has violated the human rights of their workers, they should not be allowed to sell their product here. This would hopefully evoke companies to be kinder to their overseas employees, in an effort to keep their sales high. Conversely, we should also encourage people to purchase from companies that manufacture their products at home. Although usually more expensive, these products are of a higher quality and their fabrication didn’t cost lives.


Carolyn Fluher-Lobban, “Cultural Relativism and Universale Rights,” in Christina and Fred Sommers (eds.), Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life (219 – 231). Cengage: 2013. 

About the author