When we started selling shirts to help cover the costs of running the Irregular Times website, we decided to print only on shirts that are made in the USA because, despite all the attempts to erode worker rights, American textile workers still have better wages, more rights and more workplace protections than workers in overseas sweatshops. A report by the U.S. Department of Labor concludes that child labor and forced labor are endemic in a large number of countries stretching from South America through Africa to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. We’re just not going to participate in that system.
On the other hand, we know that the very nations that are plagued by exploitation in labor are the same countries whose people are in need of the resources to help them avoid being exploited. So for every shirt we sell, we commit to donate a dollar to an organization empowering poor people in poor countries to make their lives better. Our latest donation goes to Village Enterprise. Village Enterprise gives out microgrants (not usurious microloans) to help people in East Africa start their own businesses, and also fosters savings groups consisting of and managed by these new small business owners so they can accumulate resources and better themselves in the long term.
While we’re spreading liberal political messages on t-shirts, we ought to be willing to send money to support liberal political action. That’s why we also commit to donate another dollar for every shirt we sell to a worthy political cause here in the United States. This time around, we’ve donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. Search through recent news headlines for “Occupy” and “ACLU” and you’ll find hundreds of articles detailing the ways in which ACLU legal teams have been fighting in court for the legal rights of protesters in occupations from Boston to Wall Street to Oakland to Wilmington and on and on. While occupiers are holding the nation’s squares in free speech assemblies, the ACLU is doing the quiet but crucial work of keeping government officials on the right side of the Constitution and holding the government accountable when it violates American protesters’ rights. You may think participants in the #Occupy movement are being treated shabbily — and you’re right — but without the intervention of the ACLU, matters would be much worse.