You know H&M’s cute little Pride collection of rainbow-colored shirts and unisex shorts? Yeah, it’s partly manufactured in Bangladesh, a country where being LGBTQ can get your thrown in prison for life. The Levi’s Pride collection featuring rainbow-trimmed apparel is partly manufactured in India where it’s illegal to be gay, and the U.K. brand Primark manufactures part of its Pride gear in Myanmar, a country with anti-gay laws like Bangladesh, so says the BBC. Does it matter if Pride clothes manufacturing occurs in countries with anti-LGBTQ laws?
Items from H&M’s Pride collection are also made in Turkey and China, countries where being gay is legal, but the government has harassed and committed violence against LGBTQ activists. Disney‘s Pride collection is also made in China. Meanwhile, Adidas and Nike refused to tell the BBC where their Pride shoes were manufactured.
“They shouldn’t be making these products in countries where LGBT equality isn’t a reality,” says Steve Taylor, director of EuroPride, a group for European Pride organizers. “It’s a bit of a smack in the face for somebody who goes to work every day, printing Pride on a t-shirt, but if they were to wear that to walk down the street they would probably be killed.”
In the case of H&M’s, Levi’s and Primark’s Pride clothes manufacturing, a portion of their Pride collection sales go towards pro-LGBTQ organizations, and some of these groups do work to help change anti-LGBTQ laws around the world.
Furthermore, a January 2016 study from The Center for Talent and Innovation — a project of 80 global corporations and organizations representing nearly 6 million employees in 192 countries — actually showed that pro-LGBTQ corporations can help shift LGBTQ rights in the countries where they do business, but only if they push for it.
It’s unclear how much Disney, H&M, Levi’s and other countries with Pride collections push for their clothing manufacturers to extend LGBTQ rights like domestic partner benefits and healthcare to their employees. In countries with anti-LGBTQ laws, this is highly unlikely and even dangerous, as it would out any LGBTQ employee who dared apply for such benefits, leaving them subject to legal persecution.
In most cases, these companies say the manufacturer must listen to employee unions, but union laws differ between countries and in some countries, unionizing is illegal and puts employees at risk of termination, harassment and violence.
It also remains true that most Americans have no idea where their clothing is made at all — few ethical clothing manufacturers exist and even clothes made in America are sometimes made under sweatshop conditions. So while this issue seems particularly treacherous when discussing Pride clothes manufacturing, but it’s actually a serious and ongoing global problem year-round.