On a global scale, the exploitation of workers, especially in developing countries, is nothing new. The sweatshop culture from which we derive most of our everyday products is something we’re all aware of- we continue to buy and wear those $18 K-Mart jeans because they’re cheap, look relatively decent to wear and we’ve grown somewhat doubtful as to whether it would actually make a difference if we were to stop purchasing them anyway. In many cases, rather unsuspectingly, we turn a blind eye to the origins of the products we buy because it’s the most efficient option. And in a society driven by the ever-pressing need for efficiency and cost reduction, those K-Mart jeans are just the perfect fit.
While it is easy and convenient to distance ourselves from the exploitation of workers in the sweatshops of multinational corporations in ‘faraway lands’, a possible step forward could be to firstly begin acknowledging the unfair working conditions of low wage earners in the developed world.
In the US, the debates surrounding the minimum rage are ongoing, with thousands of McDonald’s workers staging large-scale protests against their highly exploitative pay conditions just yesterday. While the situation isn’t quite as dire here in the ‘lucky country’, the fast-food chain still retains some degree of infamy for its low wages. We’ve all joked about the paltry $11 an hour our Maccas friends earned as teenagers, but at the same time, fail to realise just how sad of a joke it is. In the process, we fail to acknowledge the culture of convenience, profit-making and blatant exploitation that this is based upon.
Call it a first-world problem if you will, but it is not until we realise the destructive nature of this culture in our own country that we will ever stand a chance of facing up to it on a broader, global level. For as long as it remains convenient for us to ignore the power these multinational corporations exert over the common worker, this behaviour will be deemed ‘acceptable’ and in a sense, encouraged. We’ll continue to buy the McDonald’s burger made by a grossly underpaid yet willing teen in a restaurant down the road and we’ll also continue to wear the jeans made by a poverty stricken worker in a sweatshop overseas. But while we justify these actions as harmless and convenient, we’ll only further justify our very own exploitation.
I don’t wish to sound high and mighty here, though, it’s just some food for thought.