Friday, January 8, 2010

For Shame


Behold the power of Twitter. H&M says it will stop this practice, while WalMart said "oops." But this is what gets me:
It's hard to know why the employees of H&M and Walmart felt it their duty to destroy clothing in the first place, but my guess is it is a growing resentment against so-called freegans and other dumpster divers in the city. The New York Times itself has covered this phenomenon a few times, and it's well-known that many employees of restaurants and grocery stores occasionally render food inedible so the freegans won't come rummaging. There's the sentiment among some that no one deserves a free ride (or a free pair of pants) -- even if it's in someone else's trash.

Excuse me??!! You resent the freegans? Well fuck you. I resent that there are people without food and clothing in the world's most prosperous nation. I resent that we're the most wasteful nation on earth.

So take your resentment (and your boxcutter) and stuff it. Here's a little tip: if you don't want freegans rummaging through your trash, then don't throw it away. Use it. Recycle it. Don't buy it to begin with.

Things have got to change, America. We can't be the world's Hoovers, sucking up everything within our reach, and not expect to pay some kind of price for this profligacy.

I’ve known that big companies like Wal-Mart do this, but kudos to grad student Cynthia Magnus for spreading the word about this shameful practice:

This week the New York Times reported a disheartening story about two of the largest retail chains. You see, instead of taking unsold items to sample sales or donating them to people in need, H&M and Wal-Mart have been throwing them out in giant trash bags. And in the case that someone may stumble on these bags and try to keep or re-sell the items, these companies have gone ahead and slashed up garments, cut off the sleeves of coats, and sliced holes in shoes so they are unwearable.

This unsettling discovery was made by graduate student Cynthia Magnus outside the back entrance of H&M on 35th street in New York City. Just a few doors down, she also found hundreds of Wal-Mart tagged items with holes made in them that were dumped by a contractor. On December 7, she spotted 20 bags of clothing outside of H&M including, "gloves with the fingers cut off, warm socks, cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor, men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.”

You know, there’s so much human pain associated with modern American retail, from the overseas sweatshops which manufacture these items to the child labor used to pick the cotton to the feudal systems in third world countries which force farmers to grow cotton instead of food. All so we can have a $20 T-shirt that, when it’s not sold, will be torn to shreds to ensure no one can ever use it. It is then thrown in a New York landfill to be buried with the other garbage.

These are the sins of American life for which we will be judged. Not gays and abortion and failure to post the 10 Commandments in the courthouse. It’s this. When the wealth of the powerful and enfranchised is used to oppress the powerless and disenfranchised, that’s sin. The Bible is very clear on that. And someday, whether you’re religious or not, we’re all going to have to answer for that--indeed, we already are. It's not just a Biblical law, it's not just a religious law, it's a universal law. It's karma.

A couple years ago I wrote about how Wal-Mart padlocks its trash dumpsters to deter dumpster diving. I wrote:

One of the worst things I ever heard about Wal-Mart was that stores padlock their trash dumpsters. Former Wal-Mart employees have told me of the perfectly good food and merchandise that is thrown away on a daily basis, yet Wal-Mart locks people out of its trash. When your trash is so valuable that it requires padlocks, something is seriously wrong. Hey, Wal-Mart, if it’s that valuable, try donating this stuff to a shelter, OK?

This post sparked outrage among the free-market greed brigade (sadly, those comments got lost when I switched commenting formats.) No one could believe that I would be so anti-free market as to advocate “dumpster diving.” Now, I’m not a dumpster diver, but if something is trash, then why shouldn’t it be someone else’s treasure? It seems that the fear is that people won’t buy things if they can get it for free, but quite a lot of people can’t or won’t buy it anyway. And if the problem is that the “trash” still has value, then it’s not trash, is it? Donate it to an American charity, recycle it, mark it down, send it to an orphanage in India or Africa where the cycle of abuse started, quit overbuying to begin with.

Stop the sin cycle. Corporate America and American consumers alike need to come clean.