Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sweatshops, slave labour and Chardonnay Socialists

One of the things that bothers me about what we're doing is that by not buying certain products we may be having a negative impact on the livelihood of someone who really needs it. It's very easy to sit in my middle-class house in the suburbs of Australia and be a "Chardonnay Socialist",  deciding that I know best for people in pretty dire economic straits half a world away. That is not my - or our - intention by any means.

Every business needs to make a profit in order to survive. There are some businesses, however, that have lost their morality in the process. Profit has become more important than the way they treat their workers. Some have even been implicated in beatings - and worse - of people who try to fight for better working conditions. Of course, there is always the chance that once a workforce wins the battle for better pay and conditions that the companies will move on to other countries where the governments either are complicit in or turn a blind eye to work practises. It is probably no coincidence that our fair labour laws have led to many companies moving off-shore.

We don't boycott any one country in general. We try to find out more about the companies from which we want to buy and what their factories are like. I would have no qualms about buying something made in China if I knew that the workers were fairly treated and paid. I have an idealistic idea that if people boycott companies that treat their labour force badly, profits will fall and the companies may change their work practises. It pains me to think that, in the mean time, my actions could be causing harm.

I do believe that the Fair Trade movement is gaining momentum and that if people knew what some companies were doing they might boycott their products. Back in the late 1980's David Suzuki began to predict environmental disaster and, for awhile anyway, people were spurred into action. Companies began to stop using dioxins as a bleaching agent and started manufacturing recycled products. I'm not convinced the companies cared for the environment; they saw it as a way to increase profits. Wouldn't it be cool if companies could increase their profits by fair pay and conditions?


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