Made in the USA Series: Clothing. What to do when there is no “Made in the USA” Choice?

Meg and I are pretty careful with our shopping choices. So we took the challenge and rummaged through our closets.  Almost none of our clothing is made in the U.S.A.  More than 50 % of my clothes are made in China with a smattering from SE Asia, Mexico and countries I have never heard of before.  Only a few things from St. John Knit, Eileen Fisher and Talbot’s, plus some really old clothes were made in the U.S. Meg’s clothes are primarily from China and SE Asia, with a few things made in Italy. The occasional “off” brand will be made in the U.S., but otherwise, the majority of our closets are filled with shirts, sweaters, shoes, bags, belts, etc. that have “Made in China” stamped somewhere.

So the issue for today is what to do when you shop for clothing or other items not made in the U.S.A.  It is really important to understand that all clothing made outside of the U.S.A is not the same.  One of the most important terms we had never heard about before this week was SA8000, a tool to implement UN conventions already in place. It has been described as the “first universal standard for ethical sourcing”.   Designed to advance human rights among workers on a global basis, it is a voluntary program based on setting standard for businesses. It was developed, and is overseen, by Social Accountability International, a non-profit organization.  It accredits and monitors organizations for the purpose of setting standards for ethical working conditions. SA8000 standards include:

1)    minimum age 15; 14 in developing countries;

2)    prohibits forced labor;

3)    provides safe and healthy work environment, access to bathrooms and potable water;

4)    respects the right of workers to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively;

5)    prohibits discrimination based on race, caste, origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union or political affiliation, or age; prohibits sexual harassment;

6)    prohibits corporal punishment,  mental or physical coercion or verbal abuse;

7)    limits work to 48 hours per week with overtime at premium wages up to 12 hours per week;

8)    requires living wage, no disciplinary deductions from wages.;

9)    requires companies that want to gain and maintain certification to integrate the standards of SA8000 into their management systems and practices.

Worldwide, as of 2010, companies in 62 countries were participating in the SA8000 certification process.  These companies employ more than 1.3 million people in SA8000 certified facilities, in countries such as China, India, Turkey, Viet Nam and Brazil.  Many U.S. companies are committed to contracting only with suppliers who are SA8000 certified, including such companies as Levi Strauss, Nike and Eileen Fisher.  We are struggling to find a list of U.S. companies that support SA8000, so if you can’t identify immediately whether a company is in compliance, we encourage you to ask.  We sure will!

UPDATE on 2/10/12: If you would like to see a list of Member Companies and Brands, please visit the following link:

Member Companies and Brands for Social Accountability Certifications

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3 responses to “Made in the USA Series: Clothing. What to do when there is no “Made in the USA” Choice?

  1. hmm, if you find this link, you should share it! I’d definitely be interested. I’d imagine that would actually be a really popular link. If it doesn’t exist already, you should start it!

  2. Pingback: Made In–Bangladesh | Shifting the Balance

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