Saturday, July 27, 2013
Simplicity and Slavery
If you have been on the internetthe last five years, you've at least heard about the enormous forced labor and sex trade taking place just about everywhere. Primarily the debate has been pragmatic, with activists fighting for safe, paid labor for factory workers, and rescue of kidnapped and coursed workers. If you have lived under a rock, this link: http://www.fromtwotoone.com/2013/07/consumerism.html.
In the mist of this discussion is a tone of defeatism I haven't been able to shake. We would like to, and often do, feel that slavery is an offence to our society, it is the antithesis of democracy; the concept that you are born into a fate of injustice is something we like to chalk up to Stalin and Hitler. Yet within the happily idealized side of our patriotism is sense of the "necessary evil" of slavery. Even within the activism against slave labor, I cannot escape the tone that regretfully admits that people will always want in excess and cheapness. That we are dependent on slavery is held in tension to the admittance of our gluttonous appetites. You will notice several contradictions within this frame of thinking, but I believe, like me you've probably heard several of them.
To even look at slavery from a free person's perspective is a privilege. When we equate the gross over purchase of slave-made goods we first assume that 'we' (royally speaking) have over purchased. What this over looks are the millions around the world buying slave-goods with no other option. The palm oil industry, for instance, is a staple import from Indonesia to China. This is slavery begetting slavery. This is misery. The lives of thousands in grotesque and dangerous conditions making a good to send to others in equally wretched conditions. The absurdity, and hopelessness of the cycle is beyond what we've ever experienced as literate people reading and writing from the internet.
And then there is us.
You. Yes, you dear reader, the stuff you got at Dollar Tree, and Wal-Mart, and tomatoes you bought at Safeway. Are we able to escape the contribution to slavery that we do make? The irony is simple, we are quick to admit our excess, and our frivolousness in expensive purchases, but we are slow to spend more on things we can get cheaper.
Part of this has to do with the privilege we assume everyone in America has. The ridiculous belief that we're all able to look at our purchases with critical glances and well informed understandings of global trade and sigh blissfully at our petty quandary that causes the pain and suffering of millions. You are not all of America, or the grand sum of the western world if you know about modern day slavery, you are privileged with the ability to recognize choice.
To me this also speaks to a deeper problem, the way we feel about trade and market and our desires. We have attached prestige to the purchases we make. Today's activism against slavery has worked with this bent, attaching values of "responsible," and "socially aware" to the consumption of fair-trade goods. But a fair-trade sweater you could have gone without is an excess to the groceries and household items you bought like any other day. We have responsible excess, and perhaps that's a start. But rather than using allotted "excess money" for what is unnecessary we should rather advocate for simplicity. To buy our daily bread well. This might mean the lack of excessive pleasures, and that should be okay.
Out of this is the well-spring of real, ethical business. When the privileged who are able demand their necessities, not their indulgences, to come from ethical labor is a chance for change. We as Americans consume staples that are the same throughout the world. Here we have a chance to place our vote in ways that would sway a global market. Our demand for ethical soap, food staples, and household goods, is a vote for worldwide producers. Here is the use of privilege to advocate with our choice.
So today I resolve to buy a little less chocolate, because Real chocolate is not a .99 cent Hersey's bar. But more so, I'll use the less than convenient house hold cleaning powder (bet your grandma knows what this is) because its made in a country with labor laws, with rags from an old t-shirt, because they're reusable enough to spend money on local vegetables not paper towels. Real Goods, demand, Real Change. Real Goods, don't need to be made convenient to a western world with more leisure than any other time in history. Our privilege is Real, our choices are Real, the things we buy should be too.