It’s been a year and seven months since J. Clifford first wrote on the decision by partisan website Democratic Underground to sell shirts made in overseas low-wage factories. Democratic Underground didn’t respond, so last month I wrote one e-mail, and then another, to multiple members of the Democratic Underground administration, asking them to explain their decision to sell t-shirts made in ethically dubious circumstances. When that didn’t work, I posted my inquiry to a Democratic Underground discussion board three weeks ago today, taking care to choose a thread which DU administrators had followed and posted to previously. There has been no response whatsoever, even though we’ve contacted Democratic Underground multiple times, through multiple means. You can’t say we haven’t tried.
So it’s time to become a bit more explicit. Let me lay it out for you.
1. Democratic Underground Sells Shirts With Progressive Political Messages On Them.
Here’s one such shirt. It reads Vote Republican: Because Personal Responsibility is for Other People. The primary explicit message is that Republicans don’t take responsibility for their actions, and the secondary implicit message is that taking responsibility for one’s actions is important.
2. The Progressive Messages Are Printed on Shirts of Dubious Origin. The shirt shown above is made by Hanes. I don’t know from which factory these Hanes brand shirts came — CafePress does not publicize such information. But I do know that Hanes shirt factories are overseas factories, and I know that Hanes factories have a history of sweatshop abuses in them, and I know that this history is ongoing, reaching right up to last year and this year, too. Even ignoring illegal abuses of workers, the issue of low pay for workers at Hanes factories is a serious problem — it’s the only feature that makes the high cost of importing clothing to the United States make any economic sense for Hanes and its parent company Sara Lee.
3. Democratic Underground Makes A Buttload of Money Off Every Shirt It Sells. The shirt you see above sells on the Democratic Underground t-shirt shop for $19.59. The “base price” CafePress collects on each sale of the Hanes White T-Shirt is $13.99. The rest of that $19.59 sales price, $5.60, is pocketed as pure profit by Democratic Underground every time it sells a Hanes White T-Shirt. If Democratic Underground limited its sales to the available American Apparel Fitted T-Shirt, it would still pocket a hefty $3.60 profit per shirt. But the extra $2 Democratic Underground makes on a shirt is apparently worth the ethical difference between Hanes and American Apparel.
4. Personal Responsibility is for Other Websites. While Democratic Underground thinks it deserves $5.60 of profit on each and every shirt it sells, it seems happy to continue in an arrangement in which the people who physically produce the shirts get just pennies for each shirt they produce. Democratic Underground has indicated no sense of personal responsibility for this arrangement.
On the other hand, Democratic Underground expresses nothing but disdain for other companies who engage in the exploitation of overseas labor, doing the exact same thing as Democratic Underground:
For its cancerous growth, Wal-Mart has exploited cheap foreign and domestic labor and is now a metaphor for the export of American jobs and prosperity to other nations. Some say Americans have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. Maybe – but the more you know, the more you hate. Some bargains are not what they seem to be.
Democratic Underground heaps on loads and loads of sarcastic indignation when it turns out that Republicans have been selling shirts made in overseas sweatshops. But when Democratic Underground benefits from the same arrangement, DU goes silent.
I guess it’s just like the shirt says — personal responsibility is for other people.