Unraveling the International Garment Trade
My guest today is human rights activist and international best selling author, Corban Addison.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Corban. We last spoke about a year ago, regarding The Tears of Dark Water. And just a few days ago, on January 24th, your latest book A Harvest of Thorns was launched. That's pretty exciting. Tell us why you wrote this one, please.
Corban Addison: A couple of years ago, my wife suggested I write a story about forced labor in the consumer economy--the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the things we love to buy and wear. I'd tackled human trafficking in my first novel, A Walk Across the Sun, but that novel primarily addressed forced prostitution, not forced labor. I thought it was a good idea (my wife's ideas usually are), but forced labor is a massive subject. It affects many different industries in many countries around the world. To make a story work, I had to narrow it down, and I had to find a way to connect it to the average reader.
That's why I picked the fashion industry. All of us are literally touched by its products 99% of our lives. That's also why I decided to write a corporate story, not just a victim story. In A Harvest of Thorns, I tell the stories of workers subjected to all manner of abuse while making clothes for the American market. But at the heart of the book is a great American corporation with an explosive secret--the truth of what's really going on in its global apparel supply chain. In A Harvest of Thorns, that corporation, Presto, is exposed in a profoundly public way, and by that exposure the company and its customers are presented with a question that all of us are left to wrestle with: Now that you know the truth, what are you going to do about it?
JB: While this book is a novel, it's based on or inspired by something that happened. Can you share that backstory?
CA: The story is inspired in part by the Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2012. Early in the research, I came across a fascinating documentary comparing the Tazreen fire to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911. The two incidents were identical in remarkable ways--an eerie and deeply troubling example of history repeating itself. Yet where the Triangle Shirtwaist fire energized the labor rights movement in the United States and led to legal and societal changes that made conditions much better for factory workers here, the Tazreen fire changed nothing about the way clothes are made for the US market. It took the subsequent factory collapse at Rana Plaza to get the world's attention, but even after Rana Plaza, the business model of fast fashion hasn't changed.
I set out to write a book that answers a fundamental question: How much pain would it take to convince a $65-billion-dollar multinational retailer to revamp its business model and place the dignity of factory workers making its products on par with its bottom line? After traveling around the world, interviewing a range of experts, and exploring every dimension of the global apparel supply chain, I concluded that it would take a great deal of pain for something like that to happen. The giant would have to be brought, quite literally, to its knees. That's, in essence, the story of A Harvest of Thorns.