The BBC recently reported on what amounts to a T-shirt manufacturing scandal. It seems that while U.N.-backed sanctions prohibit anyone trading with North Korea in commodities like gold, coal, and weapons, T-shirts were overlooked.
According to the BBC report, T-shirt manufacturers in China have been shipping materials over to North Korean factories who produce Tees and then ship them back to China. The North Korean Tees are then exported by the Chinese manufacturers after being labelled ‘made in China.’
Apparently this has helped North Korea maintain a $725-million textile industry.
It seems that this cross-border trade is motivated by the usual suspect — greed. Western consumers are greedy for cheap Tees. Retailers oblige by screwing local manufacturers and source cheap tees in low-wage jurisdictions like China. But the Chinese manufacturers, not to be outdone in the greediness stakes, screw their own garment workers by sending the work to North Korea where it can be manufactured cheaper still.
Now, before you proffer the free-market argument, consider the real losers here — all the garment workers including those who end up with the work in North Korea. One wonders how much of their work translates into basic necessities and how much translates into rockets. But we lose too. In a bizarre way, our greed for cheap tees, could be undermining our security.
The frustrating thing is that there is very little Canadian screen printers can do about it, short of refusing to print on garments manufactured in China. And can you see this happening?