Last week’s disastrous factory collapse in Savar, a commercial suburb of Bangladesh, has prompted a national conversation about worker safety in less regulated countries and – more broadly – the implications of outsourcing clothing production. In order to better understand the current state of the international clothing trade, we obtained 2012 data from Industry Canada that illustrates exactly how much in clothing we are importing from countries around the world, and here is what we found:
It should surprise no one that post-NAFTA North America sees a steady stream of clothing flowing northwards from USA and Mexico into Canada. Mexico has approximately 320 million dollars in Canada-bound clothing exports compared to America’s 450 and the falloff to the next major exporter in the Americas, Honduras (at 84 million dollars) is sizeable. Jumping to Europe reveals very modest clothing exports bound for Canada. Leading the pack are Italy, Turkey and Romania – with approximately 175, 108 and 35 million respectively. Given the cost of labour in Europe and the distance from the target market, it makes perfect sense that we see so little clothing crossing the Atlantic.
The story changes dramatically in south/east Asia where the startling numbers reveal the true scale of labour outsourced through globalization. China leads the world with almost 4 billion in clothing exports to Canada and, Bangladesh, the site of the recent factory collapse tragedy, trails behind with a billion. Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Indonesia round a list of regional clothing production superpowers with approximately 530, 390, 270 and 240 million. The fact that a country like Bangladesh could double the combined clothing exports coming from our adjacent NAFTA neighbours and trading parters speaks to the incredible variance in global labour, cost of living, minimum wage and worker’s rights. Cheaper goods can come at incredible human expense and it is unfortunate that it takes a disaster to get us talking about that fact.