I often think of the low-paid workers – wherever they are, whether it’s China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji or hidden away in Western countries – when I buy low-cost clothing or hear about the working conditions of those who produce Nike shoes or iPads and iPhones. It was also brought to mind by a recent court decision in Indonesia where factories producing Nike products were forced by the courts to pay nearly US$1 million in back pay to workers for unpaid overtime. Nike management came out with a few weasel words about the judgement but that’s what they always do when there’s publicity about those who actually do the shit work to produce the company’s expensive footwear.
As I’m on a disability pension and low income, I don’t have a choice about buying cheap clothing I know has been produced by workers in exploitative conditions. While I’d love to buy eco-clothing, the prices are usually prohibitive for someone on my income. I do, however, ensure I try to be judicious about what I buy, as far as possible aim for long-term use, and if I do let clothing go, I pass it on to op/charity/thrift shops for recycling.
I don’t possess any designer clothing, not because I can’t afford them but because, even if I did have the means, I think they’re a waste of money and a con trick. I don’t buy designer shoes for the same reason. Because I know that so many hugely expensive clothes are produced in sweatshops while the manufacturers, often big label, make mega-profits from this rotten exploitation. And I also don’t own any Apple product because of the way workers in factories in China are so badly exploited they commit suicide or try to commit suicide. I read that one factory has actually erected nets to catch workers who throw themselves off the roof.
In a TV interview, I saw an activist on wages and working conditions for workers in developing nations tell the interviewer that he had mentioned to people buying iPads and iPhones in Apple stores the suicide attempts by workers manufacturing these products. The great majority simply shrugged their shoulders and said they didn’t care, they wanted the latest gizmo, so in essence, bugger the poor workers doing the shit work to produce these fashion toys. And I think this attitude and selfishness stinks, to be very honest.
I’m quite aware that I’m off the beaten track in the worldwide adoration of Apple products but I don’t like the way they exercise their monopoly, I don’t like the sales claptrap of all the gadgets you need to go with these electronic toys, and – while I admire the creativity which inspires these gizmos – I can’t hack the hysteria and advertising over-sell which Apple peddles for all it’s worth. And I don’t like their indifference to the workers who are paid lousy wages, work long hours unpaid over-time, and have crap working conditions.
Added to this, I saw a programme recently of the huge toxic dumps in Nigeria and other African countries where the Western obsession with new electronic toys – updated phones, the latest iPad, and so on, leads to great mountains of toxic waste products which are exported to developing nations to be destroyed.
It’s okay for these unknown workers in developing nations to die an early death of exposure to the poisons in these electronic toys but not okay for us in Western nations to even think about the disposal of these products or that our wasteful ways contribute to deaths by poison of unknown Third World, desperately poor people.
It’s a Catch-22 situation. Globalisation hasn’t been about the liberalisation of trade to benefit people. The aim of lifting trade barriers has been to enable huge multinational conglomerates to shift their production to the country which has the cheapest labour and lousiest working conditions. At the same time, it has used that low cost of goods produced in these overseas operations to hold down wages and working conditions in their own backyard by claiming that the low cost of goods means pay rises aren’t necessary.
However, globalisation has also had unexpected consequences for the huge conglomerates seeking mega-profits. So many of the world’s peoples are inter-twined now because of globalisation so that we in Western nations are becoming aware of the way in which these wage slaves (and I use that word literally, as these people are desperate for work and have no choice in the slavery-like conditions they work), and we can make moral choices about our consumption and our support for people in developing nations to get decent wages and working conditions.
So this post is about expressing my public gratitude to the unknown, anonymous workers around the globe who slave away to produce clothes, electronic gadgets and other products. The world is becoming a much smaller place and our interconnectedness is something which, I believe, is a blessing in the way in which new ways are coming into being of producing goods ethically, of building local, national and global co-operation and support, and encouraging compassion and tolerance for all peoples, not just the ones in the backyard of our own country.
I suppose I might sound like a moralising crusader, but to be very honest, I couldn’t care less if I am. There’s more to this life than material goods – there is love for our fellow human being. So I have stopped describing myself as an Australian or British citizen. I now consider myself a citizen of Earth and the Galaxy. I hope it’s a small step to realising that our whole world is precious, beautiful and awe-inspiring, not just the little spot right before our eyes.