March 12, 2004

Leila discusses human rights protests

H&M is similar to a Hum teacher in that it presents us with a fascinating moral dilemma: are sweatshops OK if they result in really cute clothes?

Clearly, the correct answer is no, but this is hard to remember when you go downtown and you're trying to walk past H&M and then you see this shirt in the window and it has brightly-colored stripes on it and you know it will only cost $15, so you just have to buy it. And it's not until you leave the store clutching this cheap piece of fabric that you even remember there are starving children in Indonesia.

H&M rubs it in, too, which is what makes it so unfair. At least Gap has the decency to act kind of ashamed about paying two cents a day to their underage pregnant workers. The tags on H&M clothing proudly proclaim, in size 14 font, "MADE IN CAMBODIA," because, like, what are you going to do? Not buy it? Just try.

So slave labor, like affirmative action and whether John Ashcroft is hotter than George W. Bush, is one of those political issues on which I'm torn. When I was in high school, I think I thought I knew the answer. My friend Nadja organized a protest of Nike, and I was totally going to go with her and color in signs with slogans like, "Don't Like Nike."

Actually, that sounds really stupid, so I don't think that's what our motto was going to be. Maybe we didn't get that far in the planning process, even, because on the day of the protest Nadja realized she had an orthodontist appointment. She ordered me to take over the cause, but since I had worn Nike sneakers to school that day, I decided I would not make a terribly inspiring member of our vanguard.

This all has a point: Activism. It's important.

Even if I wanted to, though, I can't see launching a campaign against H&M. Now there's a protest that really doesn't have a motto. "Humane (not really) & Mutilating"? "Horrible & Mildly cute clothing in spite of that"? "Harold & Maude probably would not buy clothing from here, but that is only because they are not very fashion-conscious individuals"? The list goes on. And, yet, it never gets any better.

Of course, you can't protest H&M when they don't even let you in to the store without an extensive screening process. I swear the line to get in to that place is as long as the receiving line will be when Prince William gets married (unless he elopes, and then we'll have other problems on our hands). And, like Prince William's wedding, H&M is something in which most American girls have a huge and completely irrational stake. But who am I to judge, really? "Dude! I get to wait in a half-hour line for the opportunity to spend money on more skirts that are, in all likelihood, too short! Rock!"

Rather than this long line, I propose that H&M institute some sort of test to determine which individuals are privileged enough to enter the store. It would be like the SATs, except not biased against minorities. Some sample test questions, with their correct answers:

Q. How long do you expect your clothing to go without falling apart?

A. Two days, tops.

Q. Which era had the best fashion?

A. The '80s were the absolute pinnacle of all things beautiful and trendy. Would that I could spend every year of my life in 1987, listening to Depeche Mode and voting Republican.

Q. What are your thoughts on sweatshops?

A. I want to kiss globalization on the mouth.

See how this process effectively weeds out the undesirables, such as Nadja and me before I abandoned my morals? H&M should start employing such techniques. Or, like, they could actually pay money to their workers. But don't go crazy or anything.