Being indifferent towards the suffering of others is one of the hardest character flaws to admit having. Recently, I was very amused with the comment sections of articles concerning the Norwegian documentary about fashion bloggers sent to Cambodia to witness the working conditions of sweatshops. The bloggers flew over there on a plane, cried for a bit and realized how awful life is. I’ll be honest with you, I fast-forwarded through every single episode. It was just so boring. What do I care about other people’s misery?
However, I did learn a lot from all the comments, status updates and Facebook shares of the videos. I found out that we should open our eyes and start considering the origins of the things we buy. I learned about the deep sympathy we have for all these poor kids working 12-hour shifts for a few cents day. I learned that the world is not a fair place. What I didn’t learn, however, was… what’s so bad about that?
No matter how many docs you watch on YouTube, you’ll still end up going to a chain retailer to buy a new outfit. The very same one that might be stained with the blood of an oriental child. Oh, so you’re telling me you don’t shop with chain retailers? Alright, but how can you be sure that the company whose clothes you purchase doesn’t violate any human rights? Oh, so you’re telling me that all of your clothes are personally knit by your very own grandmother?Alright, you got me there. You’ve officially saved one poor kid.
Look around you. Or log onto your Facebook account. What do you see? Pictures. Taken with smartphones. What do you think, who assembled your lovely iPhone (or Samsung?) Yup, poor children. From another country. One that treats its workers like animals. Did you consider their fate when purchasing your phone? What about your TV? Or your furniture? Are you really naive enough to think that everything you own was manufactured in factories with golden door handles? Did you think that the factory workers take long lunch breaks and eat seafood paella?
Oh, and on the subject of food…
Look into your refrigerator. There’s bound to be a few eggs in there. Did you consider the happiness (or lack thereof) of the hen that laid them? Well, too late to start considering it now. It’s probably been dead for some time. What about your favorite cold cuts? Did you know the name of every single pig that was slaughtered? Can you guarantee it didn’t suffer before it died? I could show you a bunch of docs that portray the real conditions of these animals. The same ones you happily eat for dinner every day. How sorry do you feel for them? I’m sure that you’re very sorry. The tastier their meat is, the sorrier you become, right? I know what you’re about to tell me. Animals are not people!
Do you want to know what would happen if every single product surrounding you was eco-friendly, GMO-free, organic, happy, free-range, etc.? Food prices would skyrocket. You might still afford everything, but everyone else would end up trying to get the cheap stuff at a discount grocery store. And there’s nothing wrong about that. Everybody who shops for clothes often enough already knows that, quality-wise, there’s no real difference between cheap and expensive products. Not to mention that it’s very common for the same factories to manufacture both brands, cheap and expensive, in the same building, from the same fabrics. Give Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah a read. He talks about it in the very beginning of the book. Incredibly often, the division between “shit quality” and “high quality” is only a matter of sewing on the right label.
Admitting to being indifferent towards somebody else’s suffering is not evil. It’s much worse to be unable to recognize one’s helplessness, because that’s what truly characterizes us. It’s even worse still to be one of these people who think that their compassionate comments, like and shares will translate into a real change. These people who act high and mighty to hide their indifference. Passive resistance has the same effect as passive approval. None. Every single Cambodian kid would tell you to kiss their ass if you told them how sorry you were for them. You might even get your ass kicked for it. For many people from such “labor camps”, this work is the only way to get by. It’s either that or rotting out on the street.
Look, it’s not like I enjoy the fact that my t-shirt was made for the price of a slice of bread. It’s just that there’s not a single documentary that could ever “open my eyes” and revolutionize my consumer behaviors. In reality, every item we surround ourselves with was made for as cheap as possible. Somewhere in China, maybe even further than that. Sure, I’d love to be able to only purchase products manufactured in healthy work environments, but most of us simply cannot afford that luxury. Just like we can’t afford organic food. Only a handful of us actually can.
Better work conditions equal higher prices. That’s how it works. Now go ahead, knock on the door of the average family and tell them that, from now on, everything will be 10% more expensive. Let’s hope it’s not even more than that! But for them, that 10% is unthinkable. Millions of families already barely scrape by ‘till the end of the month. Come on, now. Let’s be realistic.
It’s easy to hate on a clothing company and pretend that you’ll boycott them until the day you die. But it’s much harder to actually stop buying all products made in labor camps. All of them – no exceptions. Please be aware that you’re coming across as an idiot if you go on a Facebook rant about how awful the Cambodian slave masters are prior to taking a few selfies with your original American phone that was actually made in China. If you’re really trying to boycott these companies, that’s fair enough. Stop buying their products. But I’m not going to. Because I love my phone more than I love any Cambodian kid out there. And you’re the same.