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No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies

by Naomi Klein

Toronto journalist Naomi Klein’s No Logo is certain to become a well-thumbed handbook for consumer activists, but it will hardly thrill fashion doyennes, advertising moguls, or mega-corporation CEOs.

Klein writes with passion and panache, skewering ever-burgeoning greed-meisters such as Nike, Starbucks, and Liz Claiborne. No Logo offers a thoroughly researched, well-argued analysis of what economic globalism and its attendant branding have done to workers’ lives and consumers’ purchasing options.

From Klein’s early days as writer and editor with This Magazine, columnist with The Toronto Star, and writer for Saturday Night, she has consistently pursued stories about the changes wrought by economic globalism.

In her introduction, she tells us that she wrote the book “while living in Toronto’s ghost of a garment district in a 10-storey warehouse.” Her building is owned by a landlord who “made his fortune manufacturing and selling London Fog overcoats.” Toronto’s garment district is now largely a place where clothing is shifted around rather than produced. The actual sites of production are abroad, in ghastly factories in Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Guatemala, where exploited women and children toil for a pittance.

It seems fitting that on a 1997 research trip Klein discovered that workers in a Jakarta coat factory were making London Fog anoraks and ski jackets. As Klein observes, the young women “in the export processing zone are our roommates of sorts, connected … by a web of fabrics, shoelaces, franchises, teddy bears, and brand names wrapped around the planet.”

No Logo is a dense and demanding book, partly because it has so much information to offer, and partly because its message is discouraging. Its 18 chapters are divided into four segments (“No Space,” “No Choice,” “No Jobs” and “No Logo”) followed by an appendix and reading list. The final section saves readers from total despair: in it Klein traces exciting new developments such as anti-corporate activism and anti-advertising acts. There is life without logos and beyond the brands, she tells us, but it won’t happen unless more of us leave the ranks of oblivious consumers.