Although he never describes himself as such, Kelsey Timmerman is the all-American kid (despite being aged 29 by the end of the book). He is no political theorist. He is a Midwesterner out to enjoy life, taking his time finishing university and working leisure-oriented jobs in between so he can enjoy the great outdoors.
He follows the news, though, and is aware of the existence of sweatshops. Somewhere along the way, it began tickling at his mind that the sporting apparel he is passing over the counter to people might have been made under inhumane conditions but he has no way of knowing it.
So he goes to find out and the result is this book, Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People That Make Our Clothes
The book is a tale of his six-month journey through garment manufacturing centers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and China, looking for the makers of his favourite flip-flops, jeans, t-shirt and boxers.
It contrasts with another book I’ve reviewed, Belching Out the Devil, in that Kelsey does not have a predetermined action plan. He’s not out to ‘nail’ anyone in particular. It is simply a chronicle of his own journey from naiveté to understanding.
One thing that he is very clear about: boycotting is not the solution. Bad as the factories might be in Western eyes, many who can’t get a job there end up garbage-picking in the rubbish dump. That is inhumane.
He also realises that companies who want to take the high road will either go out of business(!) or end up taking the low road eventually, e.g. Levi Strauss who asserted during the nineties that they would never send jobs offshore.
In the end he endorses consumer engagement as the best way forward. Consumers have the power to support companies who make a genuine effort to, firstly, be transparent about the conditions in their supply chain and, secondly, improve them where possible.
Lastly I have to mention one fact that left me gobsmacked: There are over one thousand development NGOs operating in Cambodia!