Monday, November 12, 2007

Not About Shoes

I've been putting off posting all day because I've been trying to resolve something for myself- a feeling of unease that has been coming and going for the better part of the day. First I thought I'd post about it, and then I resolved not to post about it. I'd get back to the shoes. But ultimately, I decided I'd rather blog about the cause of this unease. And maybe by writing about it, I'll gain some resolution.

The unease began when I read this post by one of my favorite bloggers. In it, she talks about trying to find products that were not made in China.

Now, before I launch into anything, I want to make it very clear. This post is not about her. I have nothing but respect for Chris, and love for her great blog. The unease is with myself and my feelings on the matter.

And I'm utterly conflicted.

On the one hand, I completely see where people are coming from by not buying products made in China. People do it for many reasons. The obvious is the lead scares, but many people also refuse to buy products from China because of the poor factory conditions and the obvious health hazards to the workers.

And I see those reasons. I agree with those reasons. And yet ... I can't help but think about the numerous people who, thanks to these factories, are able to eke out a living for their family.

As an Indian-American, I have a vastly different point of view from most Americans about outsourcing. To most Americans, outsourcing results in fewer jobs for Americans, and is therefore bad. To me, outsourcing is a great boon that is providing thousands of jobs for Indians, that is growing the middle class, that is pulling India into the 21st century.

I keep wondering how I would feel about people boycotting Indian products. Defensive, I'm sure. Frustrated. I think I'd want to tell people that they should be boycotting, not a country, nor a people, but the mega-corporations. Don't choose Legos from Europe instead of Legos from China. Boycott all Legos everywhere until the company wakes up and starts realizing that it will lose its customers if it doesn't institute stringent product safety checks and fair labor practices EVERYWHERE.

But that's easy for childless me to say. I don't have to answer to a five year-old come Christmas morning when she opens her presents and finds out that Santa brought her an acorn and a very bad drawing of a stick figure. I don't have to worry that my two year old will be sucking on some plastic toy, and I'll go online and find out that that plastic toy is being recalled. And I loved Legos as a child. Who am I to take away Legos?

Mostly, I dream of a day when all the governments of the world mount the courage to band together and to tell these multi-national corporations, "Enough is enough. From now on, you will abide by world-wide standards of safety. You will provide your workers with fair conditions from every corner of the Earth. You will not build a factory in a city, and create jobs and mass migration, only to move out of the city for somewhere cheaper a year later. We will require you to pay your workers a minimum wage based on the country's per capita GDP, and oh yeah, you will pay overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week. And if you don't do this, we will not allow your product to be sold in our country."

But that's never going to happen. Will it?

1 comment:

Curtis Miller said...

Don't beat yourself up. What most people fail to notice is that the United States was in the same situation as China 50 years ago. The only difference is, we now know better. They are rapidly moving from the middle ages to technology and there are some bumps along the way.

Also, let's not forget all of the jobs that we do have in the US because of China. Everything from transportation (the products have to get across the country somehow), retail (they don't ring themselves up at the register nor magiacally appear on the shelves) and even accounting and management jobs for the companies that do the importing.

Sure, manufacturing jobs have been lost in the US, but worldwide Manufacturing jobs have decreased in the last decade. Numerous studies show that as international trade goes up in the US, so do the number of jobs!