The following essay is based on Jim Keady's 2000 documentary, "Behind the Swoosh". I strongly recommend watching the 20 minute short because despite the Nike sweatshop controversy taking place in the late 90s and early 2000s, it remains a poignant example of undignified exploitation in the modern era.
Despite the countless number of reports of purportedly illegal, rights-violating labor in poorer nations, I was very taken aback by Keady's film. What baffles me more is this coldness from the corporate figures, but that is to be expected from these folks, unfortunately. I knew that people made very little, but I was not prepared to see how hard their lives are, how much they suffer. I am ashamed of myself as a human being for not paying more attention to matters like this one, who are we to complain about anything when these people are killing themselves to make enough to eat twice a day. This video brought reality back to me, it said “look at what’s going on!” and I know it’s not just there, it’s everywhere. More specifically, this is happening anywhere there is substantial poverty, anywhere there are people to exploit, be it young or old, and that is very alarming.
Reading through the slides this week, and learning again about all these statistics and facts about worldwide poverty and how many are exploited for cheap wages, it really dawns on you how dark life is for others. Cheap labor is such a sad fact that I’m at a loss of words to describe just how I felt after watching this video. I will do my best, though, to describe my reactions.
When Jim pointed out that after rent, taxes, etc., all these people had left was the equivalent of $1.25 a day to do with it what they could, I started thinking about what we could do with a that—nothing. A dollar and twenty-five cents would probably buy you a bottle of water at one of the vending machines on campus, and that’s about it. A dollar and twenty-five cents wouldn’t even get you on a bus here in Miami-Dade county. Luckily, things are not as expensive in comparison in other parts of the world where a dollar and twenty-five cents is actually worth something. However, that still is not an excuse for why an innocent civilian would have to live under those unsettling circumstances: living on a poor diet, surrounded by vermin and open sewers; in the words of Jim Keady—“No way to live off $1.25 and keep your human dignity.”
It was truly heartbreaking to see the reactions of the factory workers when they were shown the salaries of these mega-stars, and what they earn due to endorsements from the same company that refuses to pay these laborers sufficiently to lead a satisfactory lifestyle. I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like had I been in their situation and then someone showed me that some random guy out-earns me by millions when I’m the one working day in and day out and all this individual has done is hit a tiny ball on grass… I’m not entirely certain where survival of the fittest saw the guy who plays golf triumph over a skilled worker. Oh, right, in a material society.
As a consumer, one could argue that the best course of action would be to stop buying this product. Unfortunately, this is not addressing the problem! These individuals wish to work and in fact, Matsumoto and Juang (2013) explain that East Asian cultures (such as the one in Indonesia) are very "collectivistic"; this means that they put a lot of themselves in their work, unlike us who are more individualistic and clearly differentiate between work life and personal life, they may blend themselves entirely with their work, so they need these jobs, they should not, however, be subject to these horrendous working conditions.
There is no reason to take their jobs away from them by not buying the products that they work so hard to produce. The problem is the corporation itself, there ought to be more awareness about this issue, the consumer should demand that the factory workers be treated with basic benefits—health insurance, a proper home away from the floods of excrement and vermin, a basic salary that proves enough to let them have a better life, and just as importantly: suitable working conditions. As consumers we have to speak up, we cannot let this go on, one letter isn’t going to be enough; one person cannot protest by themselves, many people should do it. Petitions and campaigns should be made, much like our project this semester, we need to spread awareness of this issue by using all the means at our disposal—social media being our principal medium.
Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L. (2013). Ch. 15, Culture and Organizations. Culture and Psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.