An ethical dilemma presents itself to those of us who sell shirts. It might be hypothetically thought of as good to do business with shirt suppliers from overseas, since doing so would send capital from the relatively wealthy United States to the rather more poor developing world. But in actuality, shirts shipped halfway around the world waste transportation energy, are typically produced in environmentally unregulated factories, and concentrate wealth in the hands of just a few factory owners overseas while the people doing the actual work are quite often subject to abuse, illegally low pay and even forced labor. American workers are more protected and better paid than Third World workers, and shirts produced nearby are less environmentally harmful.
As a way of trying to take the best of both approaches, we sell shirts made sweatshop-free in the USA by American Apparel and printed sweatshop-free in the USA by Skreened. At the same time, every time we sell a shirt through Skreened we take a dollar and send it overseas to someone starting up a small business in the developing world through the Kiva microloan program. These loans are low in interest or charge no interest at all. The loans we choose are to people working independently for themselves rather than in an extractive factory environment, and we further pledge to take any money we’re paid back and recycle it back into the microloan program. We won’t make money off of this venture; it’s strictly intended to help those in the Third World get on their feet.
Our latest microloan goes to Najil Bantilan on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Bantilan runs a own general store and will use the proceeds of this microloan to purchase more goods to sell at her shop and help provide her family’s livelihood.