Monday, January 6, 2014

Made in China

LUCY BURDETTE: Last month John and I were joining our little Key West church marching in the Key West hometown parade. Of course we needed Santa hats. Key West has many strong points, but shopping opportunities is not one of them. But it did manage to score these hats for $1.99 a piece. I checked the label as I almost always do--Made in China. 

Two thoughts.

First, I'd so much rather buy things that are made in the USA. Then I would feel comfortable that the fabric won't be toxic, and the people sewing the items won't be hunkered down in horrendous, dangerous sweatshops, and that I'll be supporting OUR economy. But honestly, it can be very difficult to find things made in the USA. And the prices can be staggering.

Second thing, what must the Chinese seamstresses be thinking as they sew the Mile Zero baubles onto the Santa hats?

How about you Reds, how do you feel about made in the USA ?

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm not sure what I feel about this… but I know that more and more it's true of food as well as clothing. Fish from Thailand. Potatoes from Peru. As a nation we consume more than we produce, and it's trade that keeps the world afloat. 
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Companies do their manufacturing in China and other countries with frantic unemployment and no wage laws because it's so much cheaper. Until the US finds a way to keep those companies hiring and working in the US, that's what is going to happen. Outsourcing of everything--know who you're talking to on those customer service calls?--is the clash of commerce and capitalism versus compassion.  And Lucy, I wonder about that too--or are they thinking "we're lucky to have a job"? Hard to imagine.

RHYS BOWEN: This is a tough moral decision and one I've often wrestled with. When I lived in Europe clothes were horribly expensive. Women had one or two good outfits. Now the aim of consumerism is to make shoppers rush out and buy more and more. We don't need one pair of jeans, we need ten. And it's hard not to be tempted by a hand knitted wool sweater for $25 when the yarn alone in the US would cost $100.

I do look at labels. I do try to buy US made, but in the case of electronics and clothing it's hard to resist. I draw the line at any kind of foodstuff or make-up. Not risking toxic substances on my face!

 I'm sure many Chinese are happy to have a job, but I'm also sure there are terrible sweatshop conditions in some places. There are also poor conditions in Honduras, Guatamala, Bangladesh and many more. And my moral compass has changed as I've had more money to spend. If I were a young mom trying to clothe five kids, I'd go for the cheapest, no matter where it came from.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Wasn't there a woman who devoted an entire year trying to live without buying anything made in China? I think she wrote a book about it. It was--and would be-incredibly hard. The economy is going to become more and more global, it's just inevitable. But if we are going to buy goods made in countries like China and India, we could try to buy from manufacturers who make an effort to improve pay and conditions for their workers. I don't think any of the clothing manufacturers whose merchandise was made in the Bangladish factory have offered compensation to the families of those killed. And the treatment of the workers in Apple's factories in China continues to be horrible. Something to think about before you buy the latest iPhone... Are the people employed glad to have jobs? I'm sure they are. But so were the workers in the garment factory in New York, and the children in sweatshops in Victorian England... It took public awareness and moral backbone to change those conditions, and I'm not so sure we have the latter these days.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We're lucky that even though we live in New York City, there are farmers' markets within walking distance three days a week. It's a great way to buy fresh, seasonal produce and support local farmers. (The doughnut and apple cider stand — hot in winter, cold in summer — doesn't hurt either.)

I really do try not to buy anything that's not made in the U.S.A. One website that I love is When I buy couch pillows on etsy, I love knowing they're made by Linda in Ohio. Or that my dishtowels and potholders are from Laura in L.A. It's a great way to support U.S. artists and entrepreneurs (many of whom are women). And generally the price is competitive with what you'd find elsewhere. I've been ordering from some of the same vendors for years, and we've really gotten to know and like one another!

so how about you Reds, opinions please?


  1. Outsourcing is endemic these days, and it often feels as if everything is made in China. I try to buy things that are made in the United States, but have found that it isn’t always possible.
    What to do about it is a frustrating dilemma . . . I’d feel a whole lot better about those made in China labels if there weren’t so many warnings about toxic things associated with them and if I thought that worker in China was being fairly treated and properly compensated. It horrifies me to think that those made in China things are the result of some child laboring away for seventeen cents a day [or some other equally paltry amount of money] instead of being outside playing tag with some friends . . . .

  2. One of the places I especially like to try and buy local is on vacations, and it's so easy to get duped into buying souvenirs made in China. I look for local artists and gravitate towards pottery, wood carvings, paintings, and jewelry items. Lucy, I was surprised that you said Key West didn't have shopping opportunities. I love the shops on Duvall featuring local artists, and I have quite a few items from them that I treasure.

    On a daily basis, it's much harder to buy items only made in the USA. Susan, I'm a fan of the etsy site, too, with all the great merchandise categories from which to choose. I do avoid China-made skin products, too, Deb. No taking chances there.

  3. World trade is the path to world peace and jobs for everyone. Believing Americans should know -- and then regulate -- how Chinese workers are treated is the ultimate arrogance. Would we like them making our laws?

    Besides, this decision has been made. Most U.S. consumers want the best prices they can find. If the consumer wants to pay more for American goods, they would. That's capitalism -- consumers deciding what they want, not central planners telling them what's best.

    I read a lot of stories telling me what's good, what's the best, what's fair. Let the consumer choose what she wants.

  4. Where are your books printed? It seems like a significant portion of the printing industry has moved to China. The super cargo ships, made possible by the deeper, wider Panama Canal, make it possible to print things and get them here quickly. It's no accident that Amazon recently built two huge distribution centers near I 95 in central Virginia, close to the port of Norfolk.
    America is still a world leader in aircraft manufacturing, especially luxury rides like the Gulfstream. Before you start denigrating the wealthy folk who buy those planes, remember that Gulfstream provides good jobs for lots of ordinary people, who in turn buy groceries, cars, houses and so forth.
    No easy answer to this one.

  5. S, and Jack, you are absolutely right--there is no easy answer to this one! And Rhys made a good point, while folks with good incomes can choose whether to pay lower prices, some people don't have that luxury.

    Still, I think it's worthwhile to think this through...

    and ps Kathy Reel, there are wonderful art shops in Key West, but a lot of junky tourist stuff too. And lord help you if you're looking for fresh vegetables:)

  6. One of the best places to buy *locally* produced crafts is in Peru... but even there the 'bargains' are the lookalikes (if you don't look to closely) made in China.

    I don't mind buying from China if that's how it's representing itself. Because if we stop buying from elsewheres they'll stop buying from us.

    Those crafts on ETSY are great, but a lot of our craftsmen's raw materials are coming from... not the US of A.

  7. In the 90's I started seeing so many of our garment industry companies moving their factories offshore. Then the furniture industry followed suit, and it's just gone downhill from there. But it started in the mid-70's. I was a buyer for a small chain of petite-sized clothing here in Cincinnati and my boss took me to NYC for a big meeting at our buying office (where small stores join and use collective buying power).

    The owners of the buying office gave a talk about a revolutionary trend in retailing made possible by recent trade openings with Hong Kong. The first item they bought was a knock-off nylon knit print shirt--you might remember them, they were made by Huckapoo, and they sold for about $16 apiece. SK had the knockoffs made in Hong Kong for $5, which meant they could put them in the store for a dollar less than the real brand, then mark them on "sale" for $12.98, which was still higher than the normal keystone retail price (which was double the wholesale price).

    Up until then stores only had sales a few times a year, at most. Some stores only had them twice a year. As soon as retailers got a taste of this kind of free money there was no stopping it.

    Walmart under Sam Walton made a point of "Made in the USA". As soon as he left the scene you suddenly saw "Made in America", since their first forays into outsourcing were in Mexico. Now you'd be hard-pressed to find pretty much anything in a Walmart store made in the US. As the largest retailer in the US (possibly in the world) they actually forced many manufacturers to have good made offshore because Walmart insisted on the lowest possible prices, just so they themselves could advertise "lowest prices".

    My sister-in-law's best friend is married to the former CEO of Levi's, Bob Hass. Bob told me they held off sending their manufacturing overseas as long as they could, and it killed him to have to do it, but they could not have stayed in business, otherwise.

    Probably the best thing we can do is just not buy stuff. And read labels in the grocery store! I was stunned to see "Product of China" on garlic and apple cider at our Krogers store. We have the garlic capital of the world here in the US, in Gilroy, CA. And apples from China? Geez.

  8. Hallie,stuff in Peru was made in China? Yeesh.

    So intersting to hear the inside scoop, Karen in Ohio!

  9. Onions and garlic from China? Eeek!

    Jack, of course we can't make laws for other countries. But why not support companies who make an effort to insure their workers are treated better? I did some research on the electronics front, as I'm a big Samsung fan (phone, tablet, tv). Unlike Apple, which uses contract manufacturers for most of its products, Samsung owns 90% of their factories and they do make an effort to see that their workers are fairly paid and treated.

    There are other companies that do this, too. Supporting them may be a drop in the bucket, but that's how change happens.

  10. Think globally. This issue started long before many of the Jungle Reds and friends were born. There were shoe factories in Massachusetts! The term "rust belt" refers to the abandoned factories of the north (which, by the way, poisoned water and soil as they "made in America").
    Anyway, strong unions made demands for safer work conditions and better pay.
    And then the factories moved south.
    And then they moved outside the US.
    We the consumers have two option, if we care about these issues:
    1. Shop consciously.
    2. Get involved in human rights.
    Wearing my political hat about a subject I am pretty invested in.
    The scale of the world economy is out of our hands, but we can make our own decisions.
    Has anyone read "Moby Duck"?

  11. Lucy, I feel as if I owe you an apology for being so presumptuous in questioning your statement on shopping in Key West. I was looking at it from a tourist's view, and, of course, you look at it from the viewpoint of someone who lives and shops there daily. I do remember when I was visiting my daughter for Christmas in Key West that her mother-in-law and I had a lot of trouble finding fresh items for our Christmas Day meal when we were in the grocery. In fact, the grocery was a challenge in many ways. Thank goodness for the cobia (best tasting fish ever) our fishing party caught. So, looking at it from a daily living perspective, I imagine that shopping there is far from easy. And, as you said, there is a lot of junky souvenirs alongside the amazing artistry.

    One of the best parts about living in an area rich in agriculture is the wonderful farmers' markets in the area. I'm looking forward to those again this year.

  12. Hallie, the products I buy from are made with fabrics made in the good ol' US of A. Specifically, Spirit Fabrics, made by Westminster Fibers, down in South Carolina.

  13. I know I don't pay as much attention as I should when buying everyday items. I live in a small community surrounded by many small, local businesses, so some of what I buy is made locally. Almost all the gifts I buy for others are "made in Montana". One thing I check every time before purchase. . .dog food and dog treats, they have to be made in the USA. Not sure what that says about my priorities.

  14. Kathy, absolutely no apology needed! Yes I'm thinking groceries...and how I'd kill for a good old fashioned farmer's market.

    Denise, love your points!

    And karen, as Hank said, the inside scoop is fascinating!

  15. Yesterday the L.A. Times ran an article about several huge meth manufacturing busts conducted by Chinese police in Chinese villages. The meth isn't geared toward "recreation" as much as it is to keep workers producing. Sadly (I live on the outskirts of Oxnard, CA where agriculture is our biggest business) meth use is now common among fieldworkers. In other words, I'm not sure if it matters all that much WHERE our goods are produced, or where our food is picked. It seems to matter how people are treated, and how much they are driven. Honoring humanity has to be in the mix.

  16. It is important where our food comes from. China poisoned our pets (otherwise known as our family); China has also poisoned us (drywall; and food to name 2); and california uses methyl something on their fruits and veggies -- I would never buy from that state. Mexico also uses it. Pure poison for us and the workers. Blessings, Janet