Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy
The Preface of the book begins with organized student protest at Georgetown University, where the author Pietra Rivoli, is a professor of finance and international business - Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy introduction. University students take turns speaking at the microphone explaining how the Big Corporations, Globalization, The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the international Monetary Fund (IMF) are exploiting workers all around the world. One female speaker especially caught the attention of Rivoli by exclaiming, “Who made your T-Shirt”. This instance sparked Rivoli’s intrigue, she began traveling thousands of miles and across three continents to find out who did make these T-Shirts that we all wear without giving a second thought about the journey each T-Shirt had to go through to make it here to the United States. This sets the foundation for the rest of the book and explains its purpose.
Her first stop isn’t on foreign soil, but rather right here in the United States at the Reinsch Cotton Farm in Smyer, Texas. The Reinsch Cotton Farm competes with farmers form over 70 different countries. Its 6000 acres can produce 500,000 pounds of cotton which can yield around 1.3 Million T-Shirts. Most Cotton farms receive Government subsidies allowing them to pump out even more cotton without fear of losing profit. These subsidies pose a threat to smaller developing countries who complain that it’s impossible to compete with U.S. cotton because farmers are receiving government assistance which their own governments could never match. These unhappy countries reported to the World Trade Organization claiming that the U.S. has an unfair advantage over the cotton industry. The U.S. defended itself by claiming that its cotton industry was dominant before government subsidies came into play. Also, according to Rivoli ”U.S. farmers have better production methods, marketing, technology and can respond to supply and demand”, showing that the argument posed to the World Trade Organization was invalid. Next, Rivoli explains how the industrial revolution made cotton production cheaper and more efficient leading to the poor being able to dress more fashionably in Europe. This then caused a higher demand for cotton in Europe, which the U.S. filled by means of slave labor.
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Once the civil war abolished slave labor, the U.S. had to turn to sharecropping which was much less profitable then free labor. New farming technologies like the tractor began to emerge, which made cotton picking a lot less labor intensive. It also cut the need for human workers and made the process go much faster. Insecticides kept insect and other small creatures from harming the precious cotton plant making it more durable. The United States receive a large amount of their T-Shirts from China, despite increasing demand China has been able to lower prices even further. This points to China having low profile sweatshops were workers have no rights and work long hours for little pay. The rural women of China grew tired of working on their family farms in the blistering heat, while new textile factories were emerging women and factories went hand and hand. Factories wanted cheap workers with nimble hands and the women wanted a real job instead of having to cook, clean, or farm. Most people would argue the exploitation of these women because of the long hours and minimal pay, but I believe both sides win. The women are given an opportunity to escape their farm lives and Factories are getting cheap labor which enables them to sell their product for lower prices.
In chapter 1 Rivoli explains the situation between the United States cotton subsidies and developing countries who are taking a hit because they cannot compete. She never really gives a solution to the problem posing a weakness to the book, it’s up to the reader to find possible solutions. These developing nations argument to the World Trade Organization “suggested compensation for commercial losses caused by lower prices resulting from the offending subsidies” (Daniel A. Sumner, Chap 10). Rivoli also seems to be more biased towards globalization because she is a supporter of it herself.
A big strength of the book was how in depth Rivoli took the reader into the lives of women workers in China. I had no idea the harsh conditions female factory workers had to endure. Most workers had to work in excess throughout the whole day, while receiving very little compensation for the amount of effort and force put into the work they were doing. The factories they worked in had no safety regulations putting a priority on profits. Workers could be exposed to harmful chemicals all day without proper safety equipment or training.
This book really opened my eyes to the world around me and helped me understand the struggles that others worldwide go through every day. Its mind blowing to think about just how far the T-Shirts we wear everyday had to travel, from the cotton that was picked in Texas, to sailing across the ocean to China to be made into shirt and back to the U.S. for the consumers to enjoy low priced goods. I would recommend this book for everybody, but more than likely most people wouldn’t find this book the least bit interesting and might find it hard to read. All college students should read this book because it shows a side of the world that otherwise we would never know about. Anderson, Kym, and Will Martin. Agricultural Trade Reform and the Doha Development Agenda. Washington, DC: Palgrave Macmillan/World Bank, 2006. Print. Honig, Emily. Sisters and strangers: women in the Shanghai cotton mills, 1919-1949 = [Shang-hai sha chʻang nü kung]. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1986. Print. Rivoli, Pietra. The travels of a t-shirt in the global economy: an economist examines the markets, power and politics of world trade. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Print.