Choosing to support slavery

Newspaper quote:

This quote from Saturday’s Daily Telegraph (not online) really hit me:

They [toys being sold at Christmas in a superstore] are probably made under awful conditions, but what do you do? Accept it… or leave the kids with nothing?

Huh? Read the full article and think again, people. Is giving cheap trinkets to your children so important that you’ll choose to treat other human beings so appallingly?

I can forgive someone for doing this out of ignorance — after all, ignorance can be cured with knowledge. But to know that this is happening and still choose the trinkets! That’s disgusting. I think I’d prefer to walk away from your Omelas.

On the other hand, the very next day it was raining and I bought a $3.50 Chinese umbrella to stay dry. Am I any better?

4 Replies to “Choosing to support slavery”

  1. This is one of the things that really pushes my buttons. No, it is simply not ok to buy things that you know have been produced in dreadful conditions. The argument that *may* have some more weight, however, is that by buying things made in China or other countries where labour is not regulated is that at least you are providing people with some opportunity to make a living – but that raises the question of whether it’s better to have a job under sweatshop conditions or none at all. Fortunately, however, it’s not an either/or situation. It is entirely possible to buy toys and gifts which have been produced under equitable conditions – you need look no further than your local Oxfam shop or website.

    As for the argument about leaving the kids with nothing, I doubt very much that that’s really likely to happen to many children in Australia. Refusing to buy toys produced under dubious conditions is only likely to mean that there is less mass-produced crap in their lives, and most kids I know have far too much stuff anyway. Personally I make children’s presents or buy the expensive but well produced toys that are made in places like Sweden or through the Oxfam schemes. No doubt this makes me the most boring ‘auntie’ on the planet, but so be it. I won’t buy anything with batteries, either.

    And as for the umbrella, if a cheap nasty one hadn’t been available, you might have bought a nice one, or you might have been more careful about taking your umbrella with when it rained, or just dealt with getting wet.

  2. Think I’d be sick in the stomach if I saw how and where 90% of the stuff in my life is produced. Who profited, who toiled, what was chopped down or mined, what was pumped into the air or into a river, etc, etc.

    Would love to see all the raw materials that went into making the iPhone, for example. I read somewhere about the amount raw materials that went into making a typical mobile phone and car – can’t remember the figure but it staggered me.

    It’s a massive guilt trip, but I think most people would appreciate moving towards some kind of reasonable balance. Maybe this could happen if there were legitimate industry incentive similar to what is (starting) to happen with global warming.

    On the other hand, movies like Fast Food Nation come and go and to no real effect.

    PS: With the umbrella – maybe cost does not necessarily equate to better working conditions for anyone? I’m sure the trendy clothing brands come from the same factories of Target and Kmart, etc.

  3. @Quatrefoil and @jason: Thank you both for such thoughtful comments.

    I couldn’t quickly find figures for making a phone or a car, but I did find what goes into making a computer memory chip. Just as scary.

    As for that goddam umbrella… I lost my “good” umbrella, and have been buying cheapies that get destroyed in every major storm. I’d have gladly bought something more substantial if it were on offer. But does that mean “made under better working conditions”? I doubt it. As jason says, brands add to the price, but not to much else.

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