You may recall that I had the pleasure of interviewing/chatting with local author, Corban Addison, about his book on the fashion supply chain a few months ago. He gave me a copy of that book, A Harvest of Thorns, to read and I finally finished it!
I had a bit of a rough first quarter of the year – a late 20s crisis, you might say – and it was difficult for me to allow myself the mental quiet to just sit and read. Pair that with the fact that this wasn’t exactly light reading – and it’s 348 pages long – and I dragged my feet.
What is it about?
A Harvest of Thorns is based around the narratives of two lawyers who, at first, appear to be polar opposites. Washington DC based Cameron Alexander is a by-the-book corporate lawyer who works for Presto, one of the largest retail corporations in the world. Joshua Griswold is an out-of-work law-trained journalist who rose to fame by profiling human rights issues around the world.
Their paths cross when a photographer covering a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh uncovers a dark secret: despite Presto’s Corporate Social Responsibility Standards, they were subcontracting with them. A young teenage girl is photographed, dead in the rubble, with a pair of Presto pants tied around her face to protect her from the smoke.
Note that Dhaka is the same city that, in real life, came to international attention first in 2012 when a fire broke out, killing over 110 and again in 2013 when Rana Plaza collapsed, killing over 1,100. Addison loosely based A Harvest of Thorns on the former event. He could not have anticipated that, just a year later, the worst garment factory disaster in history would strike Dhaka.
So what did I think?
I found A Harvest of Thorns to be incredibly well researched and informative. Addison cut no corners. He exhaustively tracked down garment workers, NGO employees, factory managers, and corporate representatives to ensure that his story was accurate. The fictionalized, narrative form makes it much easier to swallow the data.
However, this is the same quality that burdens the book overall: it’s so detailed that sometimes character development is compromised for the sake of getting the facts right. I struggled to connect to the main characters, though I sympathized with their moral dilemmas. They felt like people I was reading about, not people I knew. And that is a regrettable weakness.
That being said, I don’t regret reading the book at all. This was hands down the most comprehensive resource on the complexity of the garment industry I’ve ever had access to, and that makes it a must read. You may not become fully engrossed in the individual human stories, but you’ll come out of it with solid, memorable information about the garment industry and a greater appreciation for the collective human story we tell when we participate in consumer culture. And that is invaluable.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt that I found particularly compelling:
Workers like you are invisible to people in the United States, and Presto and its competitors are happy to keep it that way. They don’t want their customers to see you because their customers aren’t all that different from you. They’re just people, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. They would never allow their kids to work in places like [you work]. The reason they buy the clothes made in those factories is because they don’t see the truth. Your pain and toil and tears have been erased from the picture. All that’s left is the transaction, which makes Presto money, and keep the engine of the economy humming, and gives politicians their power, and allows Presto’s CEO to take home twelve million dollars a year…Imagine if Presto actually had to account to the world for its sourcing practices.