November 8, 2005

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects: The Travels of a T-Shirt

By: Jack @ 4:45 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of World Trade by Pietra Rivoli, John Wiley and Sons, 272 Pages, $29.95 Hardcover, February 2005, ISBN 0471648493 How is a book picked to be considered to be a Jack Covert Selects? I have been asked that question many times. The answer "it varies." I read this book because it is a finalist for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book Award. When the list was posted, I agreed with every title being an important work. I had heard of this book but didn't know anything about it. So better late than never, I got a copy and loved it. I think this book gives Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat a run for its money as the best book written about the current globalization. (The Friedman book is also a finalist.) The preface of the book explains where the book came from. In the 1999 the WTO demonstrations got the author thinking:
Back at Georgetown in 1999, I watched a young woman seize the microphone. 'Who made your T-shirt?' she asked the crowd. 'Was it a child in Vietnam, chained to a sewing machine without food or water? Or a young girl in India earning 18 cents per hour and allowed to visit the bathroom only twice per day? Did you know that she lives 12 to a room? That she shares her bed and has only gruel to eat? That she is forced to work 90 hours per week, without overtime pay? Did you know that she has no right to speak out, no right to unionize? That she lives not only in poverty, but also is filth and sickness, all in the name of Nike's profits?' I did not know all this. And I wondered about the young women at the microphone: How did she know? During the next several years, I traveled the world to investigate. I not only found out who made my T-shirt, but I also followed its life over thousands of miles and across three continents. This book is the story of the people, politics, and markets that created my cotton T-shirt. It is a story of globalization.
Let me tell you folks, this professor is a great storyteller and this book taught me a ton about the power of the cotton farmers in West Texas, the "hukou" system in China, and the power of the apparel and textile industries in the US. She puts everything in perspective by giving the reader a very readable history lesson. The sign for me of a really well written book is when I carry the book home and read it while I could be reading stuff I usually read at home. I am giving this book to some people who enjoyed books like this: Blink, Freakonomics and Friedman's. I hope the book wins the FT prize. If you would like to receive the monthly Jack Covert Selects Newsletter, please visit the Newsletters area of our website. Then, sign in and check the boxes of the newsletters that interest you.