Using the Great Western Garment Company as a case study, this program will guide your students as they learn about the history of GWG and gain an appreciation for the issues surrounding globalization in the clothing and textiles industries.
Students will learn about how GWG was established in Edmonton, Alberta in 1911 and became one of the largest garment manufacturing companies in the British Commonwealth before World War II. They will learn how the workforce at the plant changed over the years as a result of immigration.
Students will learn about the purchase of GWG by the American Levi Strauss and Co., and the eventual closure of the Canadian plants in 2004 due to outsourcing. Students will have the opportunity to think about globalization from different perspectives and debate the closure of Levi Strauss' North American plants with their classmates.
- explore the impact of globalization on women and Canadian communities, using GWG as an example;
- analyze historical and contemporary perspectives on economic globalization; and
- develop, express and defend an informed position on issues such as protective tariffs or free trade, and manufacturing within a unionized environment versus offshore production.
- understand the impact of globalization on their lives;
- understand the legacy of historical globalization; and
- exhibit a global consciousness with respect to the human condition.
- This program is designed to take three classroom periods, with out-of-class homework.
- If you have more time to work on this topic, check out the other resources in the For Teachers section of this virtual exhibition.
A variety of primary (catalogues, artifacts, archival photographs) and secondary resources (articles) are available on this virtual exhibition recommended are listed, and students are encouraged to look for other websites in addition to these:
- map of the world
Social Studies Curriculum Links
Alberta: 10-1: Perspectives on Globalization; 10-2 Living in a Globalizing World
British Columbia: Civic Studies 11
Manitoba: Grade 11 History of Canada
New Brunswick: Canadian History 122; World Issues 120
Newfoundland and Labrador: Canadian Issues 1209; Canadian History 1201; Canadian Economy 2203
Nova Scotia: Canadian History 11; Global History 12; Canadian Economy 2203 Ontario: Canadian History and Politics Since 1945 Grade 11; Canadian History, Identity and Culture Grade 12
Prince Edward Island: HIS621A Canadian History; GEO621A Global Issues
Quebec: History of Quebec and Canada Secondary IV
Saskatchewan: History 20 World Issues; History 30 Canadian Studies
Globalization of the Garment Manufacturing Industry
Clothing and textiles are the most globalized industries in the world. The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (1988) and NAFTA (1994) eliminated remaining tariff protection. The clothing industry employs more than 30 million people world-wide. Levi Strauss and Co. is one of many large corporations to restructure in recent years and move production from developed to developing countries.
Period 1: Research and Inquiry
Divide the class into groups of four to six students. Within each group, assign each student the role of the: Manufacturer; Factory Worker in Canada; Factory Worker in the Developing World; Garment Worker for another Company in Canada; Union; or Consumer.
Hand out the written assignment and the debate guidelines.
Have students focus on research by narrowing the topic, e.g., consider the impact of protective trade legislation on garment manufacturing or the impact of outsourcing on the world's poor
Ask students to review relevant information in this virtual exhibition:
Ask students to browse the virtual exhibition between classes and begin to complete the written assignment. Ask students to notice where the clothing they wear to the next class was made.
Period 2: Analysis
Ask students where their clothing was made: Canada, the United States or another country.
On the map of the world, use push pins to mark where students' clothing was made.
Ask students to gather and interpret data
Ask students to conduct a web search for information. a) about the closure of Levi Strauss: find newspaper articles and other information about reasons for and reaction to the closure of Levi Strauss plants throughout the world; and b) about the impact of recent Canadian trade agreements on the garment manufacturing industry: The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (1988) North American Free Trade Agreement (1994).
Students will learn about issues such as free trade policies, political and human rights struggles, and the division of labour based on gender and race.
In preparation for the debate, ask students to recognize perspectives and investigate sources with different perspectives:
Review the text about The Levi's Era
Search the web for newspaper articles and other information giving the company's perspective on the closure.
Visit Levi Strauss and Co. http://www.levistrauss.com for information about its code for product sourcing.
2. GWG/Levi Strauss Factory Workers in Canada:
Watch the interviews in the section entitled Labour Force. Labour Force Identify why these women came to Canada and what working for GWG/Levi Strauss has meant to them.
View the slide show that depicts the making of a pair of jeans at the Edmonton plant in 2004.
3. Factory Workers in the Developing World
Search the web for information about garment manufacturing in the developing world, for example: No Sweat www.nosweat.org.uk/, Coop America www.coopamerica.org and Global Exchange www.globalexchange.org provide information about Levi Strauss's outsourcing practices compared to those of other garment manufacturing companies.
Stitch www.stitchonline.org is an organization of Central American and North American women workers that exchange strategies on how to fight for economic justice in the workplace.
4. Garment Workers for another Company in Canada:
Interview someone who worked for a different garment manufacturing company.
Review the text entitled Union Activities at GWG.
Search the web for newspaper articles about the union's response to the closure.
Visit UFCW http://www.ufcw.ca and UNITE HERE http://www.unitehere.org for the union's perspective; at the time of the plant's closure, the Edmonton workers were part of UFCW and the Brantford workers were part of UNITE.
Look at GWG catalogues from 1959, 1965, 1970 and 1981, and compare the images of GWG workers to those of the models in GWG catalogues. Was GWG marketing to its workforce? Why or why not?
Interview three different consumers (possibly your sibling, parent and grandparent) about what factors they consider when buying clothing. Do they think about where the clothing is made?
Visit The Consumerist, one of many websites that provide information to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions.
Globalization & Clothes, UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba http://www.unpac.ca/economy/g_clothes.html
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) http://www.studentsagainstsweatshops.org, a network of students in North America who have been organizing for workers' rights since 1998.
Following the second class, give the students a week to complete their research, interpret and analyze data and prepare for the debate. Ask students to record information and think about different perspectives on the issue. Ask students to evaluate information; consider the credibility of sources and distinguish between facts and opinions.
Period 3: Debate
Written assignment — Ask students to complete the assignment as they do the research for the debate.
Debate — Have students debate the closure of the last North American Levi Strauss plants from the perspective of a:
- factory worker in Canada;
- factory worker in the developing world;
- garment worker for another company in Canada;
- union; or