Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Swoosh 'n' Sweat
There's been a lot of talk about dirty and dangerous Asian factories over the years - sweatshops if you like. You know the ones, where the employees are overworked, underpaid and generally exploited for their labour. Nike, in particular, and their brands such as Converse, seem to cop the heat over the sweatshop issue. Are they paying their employees too little? It would seem so. Are they working in unacceptable conditions? Almost certainly. Are the fat cat industrialists and controlling capitalists making disgusting amounts of money from these operations? To be sure.
There is an argument, however, that sweatshops aren't all bad, after all, the people working in these factories are being paid more than many other workers in their homeland. And this is certainly true in some cases. I've seen several Chinese factories firsthand. The people work hard and they are paid little, but the general consensus amongst the workers was that they were happy to have jobs that could help support their families. The jobs are sought after. At the start of each year, thousands of kids come streaming into the big cities of China from the country, to hopefully gain employment in one of these places. They queue out the front. They're desperate to get in.
I would say, however, that just because others work for less, or don't work at all, or that these jobs are relatively attractive (relative to hauling human shit in buckets in some poverty-stricken village in west China) doesn't make it right to exploit workers. These factories are dangerous. I've seen 16 year old girls work at huge, dirty, loud and dangerous grinding machines which could take off hands rather easily, wearing no gloves and no eye or ear protection. I've seen old women lugging around heavy metal doors on their backs. There is no OH&S, no safety officers, no safety gear, few breaks, long hours and little hope of aspiring to anything else. It is drudgery. And then they have to breathe that air and drink that water.
But why does Nike get singled out? Isn't everything made in China? The vast majority of clothing, footwear, toys and hardware - just to name a few - are made there, in equally poor conditions, let me tell you. Is it just cos Nike got caught?