Saturday, February 18, 2012

World Gone Wrong: Coping with Capitalism

            Recent reports have revealed the working conditions in factories that manufacture Apple products. These reports in particular irk people because they reveal an uncomfortable truth about the way the world works. It reminds us all that living in a prosperous nation means relying on other nations to achieve wealth. No, I don’t hate America or Western culture (although I’d like to see certain aspects of it change). And yes, I still buy things (the computer I’m typing this on was most likely made in a Chinese factory). However, our consumer culture has gone too far. Lets face it, we didn’t get to a 14 trillion dollar GDP without getting blood on our hands. Knowing that I benefit from slave labor weighs on my conscious. I’m sure this is the case for many people, but because its “shared guilt” it doesn’t make people lose sleep at night. I think the feeling of powerlessness eases peoples minds. The fact that you aren’t the CEO of some company calling the shots, you aren’t the one actually saying “lets use Chinese slave labor” makes people feel like they shouldn’t be the ones to blame.
            But what am I going to do? Its almost impossible to live in this country and not have anything that was made in a sweatshop. After all, even if I choose to not use Apple products, other tech companies aren’t much better. It isn’t just tech companies either, major clothing companies and makers of other products also rely on sweatshop factories to provide for as many consumers as possible. In addition to the human cost of our culture, I also feel guilt about the environmental and agricultural problems that our system of consumption causes. Again though, its not really possible for anyone who wants to be a member of our society to completely distance themselves from these things. I’m not going to live “off the grid”. I don’t have the time to boycott every single thing that is made in a sweatshop. Its as if the act of simply continuing to exist is counter to my own morals.
            What I’ve come to terms with is that there are still things I can do. If I have to use computers made by workers who are exploited, let me use that same computer to bring awareness to their plight. If I have to buy shoes made in sweatshops, let me use those shoes to walk and spread the word about the injustice the makers of the shoes face. We can use the products to emancipate the people that make them, that way the oppression they face won’t be in vain.

2/20 EDIT: Foxconn, a Chinese manufacturing company who makes products for several tech companies, Apple, Hewllet-Packard and Dell has announced that it will pay its workers better wages and treat them better. If you needed any more evidence that spreading the word on injustices can change them, this is it.

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