Blog: Leonie BarrieThe unacceptable face of fashion

Leonie Barrie | 25 September 2003

With the best of intentions, Gildan Activewear is taking around 40 institutional investors, bankers and stock analysts to Honduras next month on a series of factory visits. The trip is partly motivated by a desire to respond to recent criticism of the company’s labour practices in the country, and is intended to give participants a chance to see working conditions for themselves.

Just how objective a trip like this really is remains to be seen. In my experience, it’s impossible to walk through a sewing factory and get a true insight into what's going on behind the scenes. After all, you’re accompanied by company representatives who toe the corporate line, and are often working to a tight schedule which makes it impossible to deviate from the pre-planned route.

The factories that are only too pleased to open their doors to visitors are those which generally have nothing to hide. What you will never see – unless undercover – are the true conditions in which workers are employed. And the most unscrupulous plants are the ones that would never entertain visitors in the first place.

It’s a dilemma I face next month when I’m due to visit Sri Lanka. No doubt my itinerary will embrace state-of-the-art factories above all else, but I also have to be aware that discrimination and gross exploitation are rife – as they are even in the UK and Europe. But whether anyone will be willing to talk about it is another matter altogether.

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