By: Agnessa Kasumyan
I’m a sucker for sad but ultimately motivational stories. Give me a documentary about cruel child labor, orphans having to face this harsh world alone, or genocides taking place on the very same planet we’re on, and I’ll probably be bawling my eyes as shamelessly as somebody watching “Titanic” for the first time.
Cheesy, I know, but it keeps me sane and humble. When I realize how easy most of us have it here in the States in comparison to people from other countries, I don’t know whether I should feel thankful or guilty. I don’t mean to take away from the difficult conditions and circumstances that many Americans have to live with today, but in this land of opportunity, we have one thing that foreigners don’t, and that’s hope.
At least, that’s what I used to think until I realized that our opportunities and easily obtained pleasures oftentimes result in or stem from the disadvantage of others, i.e., people who work in factories for pennies a day only to be treated harshly and never guaranteed that they can feed their families.
You know that company with an apple that has a chunk bitten out of it as its logo? Apple is undeniably one of the most successful companies in history, with its spiffy iPods, genius iPads, smart iPhones and lofty Mac computers. The company, its machines, and the people who work behind the scenes are no doubt revolutionaries in the Age of Information and Technology, but who are our revolutionaries when it comes to simple, human decency?
I guess that’s the bitten off chunk of the famous Apple.
Do you own a pair of Nikes? You know, the shoe brand named after the Greek goddess of victory? Nike shoes may help you run faster and reach sporting victories, but let me tell you, there is nothing vitorious or godly (pun intended) in a company using child labor to manufacture their shoes.
On hot, summer days, don’t you just love quenching your thirst with a nice, cold can of Coca-Cola, your worries momentarily drowned in the gassy liquid? I did once, too, but the next time you indulge in the poison, just think about how Coca Cola, according to globalissues.org, intimidates its workers around the world, and hires paramilitaries to keep up the intimidation tactic and kill union activists who work against them.
Despite the success of many industrialized companies, they are not above using cheap and cruel labor in order to guarantee maximum profit. Companies like Nike, Coca Cola, and Apple may be successful when it comes to their net worth, but their exploitation of cheap, foreign labor and violation of basic human rights only takes the advancement of society several steps back.
Protests against Coca-Cola’s reign of terror have arose in several countries, including Colombia, El Salvador, India, Mexico, Guatemala, China, and Turkey. The company buys materials from companies in places like El Salvador that practice child labor, despite having claimed to be against this kind of cruelty. According to naturalmatters.net, most of the children work as harvesters, requiring them to use machetes and other dangerous tools.
Some children even have to carry herbicides on their backs, spraying cans with handheld nozzles thus exposing them to dangerous chemicals.
Shortly after a lawsuit was filed by union activist Adolfo de Jesus Munera against Coca-Cola and accepted by Colombia’s Constitutional Court, Munera was found dead.
Munera was a former employee for Coca-Cola and a Sinaltrainal food industry workers’ union activist, protesting against harsh working environments, cruel labor and intimidation techniques, and shockingly low pay.
According to counterpunch.org, prior to his death, seven union activists had been abducted, tortured and killed.
Maria Engqvist of counterpunch.org stated that after the attacks against union workers take place, Coca Cola employees are warned to quit unions if they belong to one.
In the 1990’s, Nike was placed under close scrutiny for its utilization of child labor in Cambodian and Pakistani factories. Vietnam Labor Watch, an activist group, claimed that Nike violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
Though Nike took several steps to extinguish the growing controversy over the issue, it maneuvered its way around certain laws so that the changes made did more for the company’s own interests rather than that of its employees’.
For example, Nike was pressured into paying its foreign workers more sufficient wages; however, stanford.edu states that though the company agreed to meet the local minimum wage laws, the problem was that foreign governments set minimum wages laws extremely low in order to attract foreign investors like Nike itself. Therefore, the “higher wage” Nike agreed to really made no difference at all in their so-called humanitarian efforts.
Likewise, Apple has been faced with allegations of labor abuse in Chinese factories that manufacture the company’s products, with reports of violation of minimum wages laws, forced overtime, and poor working conditions, as well as the use of child labor, emerging as early as 2007. Though it seemed that Apple took several steps to reform working conditions and investigate the allegations, the company’s reputation with sweatshops has yet to improve.
According to the New York Times, 1,237 workers at an Apple supplier in China were injured after they were forced to clean iPhone screens using a toxic chemical in 2010. Seven months later, two explosions at iPad factories killed four people and injured 77. To make matters worse, Apple had been warned of the hazardous conditions its employees were working in even before the events had taken place.
Though Apple’s actions are inexcusable, it would be unrealistic to hope or expect the company’s sales to be slighted. Were Apple to manufacture its products in the United States, production costs would be significantly more expensive.
The Atlantic Magazine states that the average worker in China makes $185 to $350 a week. The average blue-collar American makes around $800. Okay, so not exactly filthy, Carlos Slim rich, but definitely a lot better than what most people make in other parts of the globe.
Naturally, Apple would have to pay American workers more wages in order to accommodate minimum wage laws, whereas it can easily get away with underpaying employees abroad.
Additionally, according to Forbes Magazine, it costs Apple $10 to make an iPad 2 in China. If the same product were to be made in the U.S., it would cost $292.77, almost 30 times more than what it costs now.
But, hold your horses. Before we start pointing more fingers at Apple and corporations, let’s think about what this means for the consumer.
If it’s going to cost Apple 30 times more in manufacturing its products in the U.S., then it’s going to cost us, the consumers, more to buy them. A “Made in USA” iPad 2 would cost over $1,100, whereas the current “Made in China” ones cost less than $600.
Similarly, in a 1998 speech, co-founder and Chairman of Nike, Phillip Knight, said that if Nike were to manufacture its products in the U.S., prices for their products would skyrocket. At the time, a pair of Nikes cost somewhere between $70 and $75, but if they were made in the U.S., they would cost about a $100 more.
Are Americans willing to pay more for a U.S. product, if for nothing but patriotism?
Highly doubt it.
Are we more likely to pay the moral costs, or the material ones?
No doubt, the former wins.
When we’re at the store, contemplating over which item to buy, we’re obviously going to go for the cheapest product, regardless of patriotic duty or moral obligations.
So many of the products that give us pleasure and hydrate our thirst for luxury are a reflection of our apathy toward other individuals who suffer for our hedonistic benefit.
Sure, they get paid to do it, but with what they’re getting, they might as well not get paid at all.
Ever heard of the saying “excuses are like backsides—everyone’s got one and they all stink?” Yeah, well, this seems to apply to every single one of us. Most people are aware of the cruel conditions under which these products are made, yet we continue to use them, encouraging companies like Nike, Coca Cola, and Apple. I’m sure they figure that most of us forget about their actions after a while because their products are too good to resist. They can go on and continue with their harsh methods of gaining profits because in the long run, it seems like we really don’t care as long as our consumer impulses are satiated.
One person’s effort may seem not much, but it takes only a few people to make more people listen. The next time you go to buy a cell phone or upgrade an iPhone contract, ask if you can get a different phone, maybe even a downgrade. If they ask why, tell them you’re not too happy with Apple these days. Trust me; they’ll want to know why you don’t want their overpriced product.