Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pre-Tea Pontification: Foreign Trade

So, while I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my Earl Grey White to steep, I've been reading stories through the CBC, La Monde, and BBC websites detailing a deadly fire in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers over the weekend - believe it or not, this is the first mention of it on the CBC since the weekend. The coverage, by and large, is more concerned with the protests surrounding the deaths than the deaths themselves - probably because 112 faceless Southeast-Asian workers don't pull much weight in a predominantly white readership.

Still, the protests highlight important points - Bangladesh clothing factories such as the one that burned down have claimed 300 lives this year, largely due to poor safety regulation, and, in this one particular case, managerial snafus. The Bangladeshi clothing industry is second only to that of China, with major retailers like Disney, Sears, and WalMart sourcing from this one particular factory. La Monde reports that these workers are paid between 40 and 80 euros a month, which is my take home pay in a week at minimum wage, and they work far longer hours than I do.

Sears and Disney did not comment, but Wal-Mart claims that the factory was subcontracted by a supplier (which they refuse to name) which no longer does business with the company. The BBC has also reported that three middle-management officials from the factory have been arrested in relation to the fire.

The western economy has become dependent on South-East Asian manufacturing - at this point, nobody can dispute that. Even products designed in Canada are manufactured in China and by and large we don't pay nearly enough to the people who make them. Because we can all live comfortably on the minimum wage (or so they would like us to believe), people like me have the time to passively consider the issue and pontificate on it without due thought for the consequence.

The problem, as I see it, is not the salaries of the workers per-se - we do not live in a post-scarcity society and until we did I think that the pay rate a person can eke out for themselves will have to suffice - but the safety standards we are willing to effectively underwrite by purchasing products produced in these factories.

Having said that, there is one important consideration to make. If someone such as myself purchased clothing exclusively from western manufacturing, or even locally, I'd own perhaps two of each article of clothing, or need to be making a lot more money than I am now. The fact of the matter remains that the reason there are so many middle-class families in the west is that we exported our lower-class to the nations that make the things we luxuriate in.

It's time to bust out your keyboards and printers and send a letter to the retailers you frequent, protesting use  of manufacturers located in countries without adequate safety standards for their products. I know I for one have even less motivation to go back to Sears or Walmart in the near future. In fact, let's throw down a blanket boycott of all department stores and support local business at the same time.

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