When a T-Shirt’s Not a T-Shirt

One of the too-many classes I’m taking this summer is a course in business ethics. When I added my second major in political science, I had everything planned out perfectly–and then I was told I needed to pick up additional, non-political science classes for the college (i.e., non-major) requirements. The first was a literature class (I’ll be taking fantasy in the fall–which does excite me) and the second was a philosophy class.

Which didn’t excite me at all.

Looking for an easy course that would at least have some tangential relevance to politics, I finally decided on business ethics because I didn’t know much about businesses, but they’re an important part of our economy–and thus an important consideration in politics.

It hasn’t all been fun, but what I’ve learned has been worth it.

One of the most exciting things happened a week or two ago when, in a heated conversation, I was able to unravel another’s argument with informed facts about how businesses are run today, how the economy crash in 2008 was caused by deregulation, and then cap it off with an appeal to “American values” that–in order to uphold the property rights we so cherish–don’t merely call for, but demand government oversight.

That’s precisely the kind of business awareness I wanted to gain from this class, and despite its dry lectures, sometimes dense readings, and especially bothersome professor, it’s been everything I could ask for.

This past week we were focusing on globalization and the ethical implications of doing business abroad and in seemingly incompatible cultures. One assignments was to track the creation of a t-shirt–from where the cotton was grown in the U.S., all the way across world (I’m not kidding), until it finally arrived in the hands of those who bought it.

There was something special about this, though: It wasn’t a laborious task, and combining a look at technology (as well as its origins) and the people (often impoverished) that create these shirts, this multimedia exploration was not only informative, but wildly compelling.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about privilege or poverty (although there’s a few posts I’ve been working on in this time, and they’re always topics on my mind), so I thought I’d share with you all this wonderful documentary of sorts: Witness raw technology. See the faces of poverty. And learn how t-shirts are made.

Maybe sharing this won’t change the world, but hopefully it’ll raise some awareness. I know the next time I go clothes shopping, I won’t just see a higher-than-desired price tag and scowl at it, grumbling as I fork over my hard-earned money for something that isn’t worth this much. Instead I’ll look at the price and realize how many people had a hand in making this shirt–and how many lives that hefty price has changed for the better.

Maybe you’ll feel the same, too.

LINK: NPR’s “Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt”

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