Are You Contributing to Oppression Pt. 2
I posted a blog a couple days ago and posed the basic question, “Do we oppress people who work in inhumane conditions if we buy the products they make?” As is usually the case, the discussion on Facebook was better than on the blog. I wanted to share those comments, because they are very good, and then pose a few more thoughts. I’m not going to post them all for space sake. You can read them all here.
I think yes. The problem I have is that I need excess income so I’m forced to work for people here in the U.S. who have factories in countries that force people to work in inhumane conditions. NAFTA, bad. — Matt Chappell
I think the problem is not only people being cheap, but also ignorant. And I’m referring to myself here. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t know where everything I buy comes from. Forget about just apple products, what about everything else we buy? I make an effort not to shop at clothing stores where I know they are made in sweat shops, but that’s just one tiny little piece of the pie of all the things my family spends money on. I suppose at least it’s something, but we need to make ourselves more aware in general. Ultimately, yes, I think we play a big role in the problem, as does the company. — Lori Wilson
just curious what would happen to the guy in the story if everyone stopped buying those things and they had to shut down the plant where he worked… don’t get me wrong, I think underpaying them is a really crappy (edited) thing to do, but on the other hand doing nothing to bring opportunities to work is also pretty crappy… it seems like there’s got to be better way to find a win-win. — Jeremy Brown
Here’s a flip side to the hypothesis that was posted. What if these inhumane places of employment did not exist? How would these individual live? Where would they find employment? Prostitution? Child slavery? I am by no means condoning the conditions in which they work however sometimes good intentions equals the opposite effect of what we hoped we would accomplish. A person cannot take this stance unless they are willing to take it to the nth degree. For instance, Devin will need to start growing all of his own food, including meat. After all, ranchs are utilizing the labor of mexican immigrants to pick the veggies and to run the cattle. Devin will need to build his own home out of tree’s he grew and mud that he brought to the home. After all, he can’t use plaster, or 2×4′s or any other product offered at his local Home Depot as all of them can be traced back to some sort of inhumane labor. I do not believe that God calls us to boycott every conceived company that slights scripture. I do believe he calls us to Love God, Love each other and to do stuff. “do stuff” does not mean to take on every single travesty we encounter. Here’s another spin on this. God uses all things for the purpose of His good. Maybe these technological toys we have are actually part of the plan? Do you really think that the Christian body could have accomplished all that we have without it? I would have never known about the Water Project without it. I would not be able to communicate with Daniella my compassion child. The list goes on and on. — Bob Woodard
Jeremy, that’s the problem in a global economy. It’s cheaper to make the goods somewhere else where there are no unions, no minimum wage and no standards for working conditions. If tech companies made all their components in the US, no one could afford to buy them. Look at the diamond market. No one will buy “blood diamonds” today because of the awareness brought to it. Companies and governments pay attention to where the diamonds are coming from so as not to support the oppressive nature in which they were harvested. I think the win-win is to do that in other industries as well. What if Apple and others refused to buy components from factories that had inhumane conditions? The problem is we love money more than some person oversees we’ve never met. We’d rather have my gadgets at a cheaper price and turn a blind eye to what is happening to the people that make them. I don’t really have any solutions, just lots of questions and a general feeling of this sucks. — Doug Foltz
This is an excellent article, Doug. My wife who is from Mexico worked in a factory much like this when she was around the age of 14 or 15 years old. Your article is a very different and very interesting way of looking at our(the U.S.) technology. My wife worked at a Nike factory and I refuse to buy Nike products do to the fact of the stories she has told me. However I have bought my wife and iPhone, because that is what she told me for quite a few months and when she was able to return to the U.S. I bought it for her as a kind of “welcome back” gift. This kind of makes me look like a bigot I assume. This is a VERY tough thing, your article I mean, to conquer. What is right? What is wrong? I guess it is something I need to ponder I guess. I have tried to become more thrifty and not spend money on material things. Especially things that oppress others, but I was raised that if you want something and you work for it you should get it. So seeing this side of things makes me think a lot different. — Matt Chappell
It’s good to have these discussions. Change happens. I’m thinking of what Starbucks and other coffee companies have done with the Fair Trade concept. Same thing needs to happen in the manufacturing industry. Change will happen if we speak up and put pressure on companies by making it VERY uncool to buy products made by slave labor. It’s just good business, let alone the moral implications. That’s the beauty of free enterprise and capitalism. “If customers demand it, businesses will deliver it.” BTW Apple makes a VERY good profit. I’m sure they would pay more to their suppliers without raising retail prices IF customers demanded it. And if Apple won’t, then some other business will. BUT customers have to demand it. — Mark Kitts
I was really interested in this article and started doing some research. What I found was really interesting. I think our external view produces some fairly bumptious opinions.
The average salary for the manufacturing industry in china is almost double that of bakers 50% more than wood workers and maids, 30% more than garment cutters, higher than hotel receptionists, furniture finishers, car mechanics, bus drivers, carpenters and firefighters according to this websitehttp://www.worldsalaries.org/china.shtml Are we going to take a moral position on the payment of all these other workers and salaries as well. Doesn’t taking these positions contribute to the stigma that we already fight that christians are judgmental and condescending? Furthermore according to this site
(http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2011/01/19/china-near-top-of-the-list-for-wage-overheads-in-emerging-asia.html) the wages being earned by those workers in china’s manufacturing community is significantly better than many of the other countries in Asia. In your response to Jeremy you seem to indicate that the US is the standard for which to compare everyone else to. I am a huge patriot of this wonderful country but don’t believe we are the standard for which to hold the global economy to, specifically our artificially inflated (governmentally mandated) minimum wage. – John Irving
So here are some additional thoughts.
- I really appreciate John doing some digging on the actual salaries. It’s helpful to the discussion. Bob, Jeremy and Stephanie also had similar concerns that even though the jobs weren’t ideal, at least they had jobs. If they didn’t, they may be forced into even more dehumanizing lifestyles. While I agree, that doesn’t make me feel any better about the situation. People are still be oppressed. People are still being dehumanized. Arguing that it could be worse if they didn’t have the job, isn’t good enough. I don’t think that the American lifestyle should be the standard of living for the world. For one, it isn’t sustainable. I’m ok with people in China and other places in the world living with much less than myself. What I’m not ok with is people being treated as if they aren’t human, as if they are just a part of the assembly line they run. Our country went through this in our history as became an industrial nation. Unions developed and laws were passed to protect the worker from exactly these kinds of problems. It’s because our nation valued each human life as a creation of God that these laws were passed. Despite your political feelings about unions today, they were critically vital at one phase of our history. China hasn’t gone through this and may not. They are a communist nation who puts the interest of the nation (and those in power) before the interests of the individual. Apple and others knew that they would be dealing with a corrupt nation who kills those in their country who disagree with them. Take a look at this NY Times article for a brief description of the working conditions. These sort of working conditions are dehumanizing and oppressive and take advantage of the poor.
- Let me gently answer John’s question that taking this position contributes to the stigma that Christians are judgmental. I believe it is our job as Christ followers to fight against that which is evil in the world. As Bob said, its tough to fight every wrong, but as a whole body of believers around the world, these are things that would she be against. This is clearly the work of Satan not the work of a God who loves people. We should stand against it. Does it make me sound judgmental? I’m sure it does to those I’m speaking against. But those being oppressed have no voice unless we speak on their behalf. Here are some Scripture on how God views the poor. When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. — Isaiah 41:17 I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. — Psalm 140:12 Here are a few verses regarding commands for followers of God to serve the poor. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen. Ezekiel 16:49-50. The voice of Scripture is clear. God cares about the poor and wants us to help them.
- Mark’s comment about coffee was well made and I think applies here as well. The answer is bigger than any of us. There will always be poor in the world. There will always be oppression and corruption in the world. That oppression and corruption is not part of God’s plan, but part of the consequences of sin. The good news is that God is restoring the world through the work of Jesus. The picture of heaven is one of peace, where all this mess is gone. Heaven is much more than just personally avoiding hell. It’s about God restoring all of creation. We may not be able to solve this problem. I don’t think boycotting will help (as I type on my mac). I do think speaking out helps. When we become upset by this and tell others, companies will change their stripes. They will demand better working conditions for the workers. Last Summer when the outrage began, Apple responded by helping Foxconn give a raise to all the workers. That’s a step in the right direction. Let’s continue to be a voice for those that don’t have one.