Sweatshops and You, Personally
|November 1, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
As we mature, we take a broader and broader view of what matters in this world, and we realize the importance of our individual roles and actions.
Some people mature faster and further than others, and it’s always refreshing to find young voices that have wisdom from which we can all benefit. Here is a viewpoint from a college student.
by Annie Spiro
Turn around really quickly and look at the label of your shirt. If there’s no one around, you can take it off and look.
Was it made in Indonesia, Bangladesh, El Salvador, India, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Pakistan or any other third world country?
If so, chances are you’re part of the problem.
And, in my Old Navy fleece made in Vietnam, so am I.
The problem is sweatshops, or more exactly, the poverty that exists allowing multinational corporations to operate them. In my Social Problems class yesterday we watched a movie titled ‘The New Rulers of the World’ about the poverty and sweatshops in Indonesia.
Here is a little background on the situation: Located in the Pacific Ocean and not quite three times the size of Texas, Indonesia is home to roughly 235 million people. The island nation is rich in petroleum, tin, natural gas, timber, copper, coal, gold and silver.
Obviously there is no reason for them to be poor, except for their oppressive, corrupt government and spineless, money-grubbing upper class. But since originally colonized by the Dutch, it has been treated as merely a source of wealth for the west.
In Indonesia, seven million people live in extreme poverty. Without other, more humane options, many of these people find themselves at the mercy of international employers for work.
They are paid about a dollar a day, and can work for up to 36-hour shifts, with only a few breaks. One word of complaint or a day out sick can lead to being fired and/or harassed.
In response to growing disapproval, companies famous for their sweatshops, like Nike, Disney and The Gap, have created codes of ethics. These include details such as maximum shift hours and proper conduct expected of foremen and factory owners. They are required of all American companies as well, and are often posted in break rooms.
But unlike in America, there is no law requiring them to be displayed for all employees in Indonesia.
So they’re not, which defeats the entire purpose of having them. When asked in the movie whether her fellow employees knew about the code of ethics, one girl laughed outright. And Indonesia is not alone in this situation. The same practices appear all over the world, at the cost of millions upon millions of third world lives. In the interest of fair reporting, I should say that not all countries are opposed to sweatshops. In fact, because of incredibly poor economies, some countries seek out international businesses.
Simply put, sweatshops can seem like an economical godsend.
So what we need to do is put our energy, and money, into stabilizing other countries financially. While it may seem like we are draining our own resources, in the long run we will be better off.
Although I shudder at the thought of homogenization, it makes solid business sense. McDonald’s, one of the biggest multinational corporations, makes a fortune selling their McNuggets overseas.
We as Americans may be making a big profit currently by paying low wages, but wouldn’t we make a much bigger profit by selling merchandise to millions more people?
The more countries that are financially secure, the more people who will be clambering for American chain stores in their own countries.
But on a more realistic level, the next time you’re tempted to buy a shirt from, say, Old Navy, ask the store manager where the shirt came from. A simple question like that, raised by a regular consumer, can actually have resounding effect. The more people there are applying pressure for change, the more likely that change will take place.
There are some organizations with local chapters seeking to resolve this issue. Check out United Students Against Sweatshops, a registered student organization, or www.sweatshops.org for more pro-action information.
Annie Spiro is a columnist and reporter at the Daily Vidette. This article appears with her permission.
What is your reaction to this article? Share your opinion with The Progress Report.