July 2007

Sweatshopping. At the risk of sounding naive and idealistic, it sickens me a little that we consider it okay that people have to do horrible jobs in horrible conditions just to support our consumerism.

Actually, what makes it worse is that the factories shown above seem to be pretty damn pleasant as far as those kind of environments go. What is wrong with us that we consider it okay for people to live like that, just to feed the machine and give us nice shoes? And where to start fixing it? I'm going to try looking for and buying goods (a) second-hand and (b) made on a small-scale.

Greg commented:

At the risk of sounding like supply-side Jesus, what do you think these people would do for a living if the factory job wasn't an option?

Matt commented:

At the risk of sounding facetious, start their own businesses crafting higher-quality, higher-priced goods in a humane environment, that they then sell to people like me. I'm willing to pay a little bit extra if it helps.

Also, that's a pretty short-term-minded argument for tolerating something I consider to be immensely evil. Yes, these issues will eventually need to be dealt with, but I don't think that's any excuse for not tackling the evil of the system.

Nato commented:

This really calls from a quote from the flight of the conchords: "They're turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers But what's the real cost, ‘cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper Why are we still paying so much for sneakers when you got little kid slaves making them What are your overheads?"

Greg commented:

At the risk of sounding condescending, good answer :) I'd agree that's the ideal. What bugs me though is people who get all high and mighty about 'Buy NZ Made' etc and think that isolationism is going to somehow help the people in the sweatshops- we need to remember they are (mostly) there by choice- its their livelihood, however inhumane. What we should be trying to do is make that livelihood better.

Matt commented:

Hmm... I'd say they are there because they don't realise there is a choice in the first place. Plus, most of them wouldn't even know what to do with the choice. That's why I think it's the system that needs changing – people are going to remain sheep no matter what you do.

Greg commented:

I'd dispute that. I think there is choice, but the other options (subsistence farming etc) are deemed less attractive. I don't think people are that stupid. I don't dispute at all though that there is exploitation, and that's something that needs to change.

Kelly commented:

Hmmm. I have been running in circles of confusion over this issue for the last few years...

Buying second hand may appease your conscience, but it doesn't change the system because someone had to buy those sweat-shop clothes new in the first place, and when rich kids buy second hand clothes they pick out the reasonably nice ones, leaving people without any other options with the crappy clothes that make people look at them funny in the street and contribute to social isolation (in the extreme, if everyone started following that strategy)...

Kelly commented:

Shorter comments are easier to read :)

"Starting businesses crafting higher-quality, higher-priced goods in a humane environment" - hmmm. You also say that "they are there because they don't realise there is a choice in the first place. Plus, most of them wouldn't even know what to do with the choice." I think that's true, and also very telling. If people are so clueless about their options that they end up in a sweatshop (to be honest, in many cases it's probably naive of us to think there are many other options) the chances of them starting up their own exporting business are fairly slim. It's quite common in a lot of places to send one or two members of the family overseas, or into a sweatshop to work in some terrible job to either make money for the family or at least get them off the family's hands. I would suspect that the kind of poverty that lands people in sweatshops precludes the possibility of having enough of the right knowledge, capital or security to start even a small business.

Having said this, I also agree that it's all nasty as and would like to see the end of it. So what - buy good quality designer clothes that will probably last longer + be good for the environment with less waste + more second-hand potential, and that are also likely to have been produced in slightly better conditions?

Head to sweatshop-land and help people start up microenterprises, or even larger enterprises for export? (maybe if you have more $$$ + business sense than me! This could also contribute to increased urbanisation and more bad).

Move to the rural areas of sweatshop-land and encourage better agriculture, alternative income sources and local educational and medical services so people won't feel pushed to migrate to the cities?