The Dark Side of Capitalism

Brian Figg, Head Copy Editor

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Outsourcing: moving the production of goods or the management of services to an offshore location to decrease costs and improve profits.

Sweatshops: foreign factories that underpay workers, violate basic human rights and leave workers unsafe.

These conditions are commonly found in sweatshops: employing children, exposing workers on a daily basis to dangerous chemicals like lead, depriving workers of basic needs like water and a bathroom, making workers take 16 hour shifts, physical abuse of the workers and overcrowded, unsafe buildings.

It may come as a surprise to some that most of our clothing and textiles are produced in foreign countries. Most commonly produced in poor Asian countries, like China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, clothing is made cheap in sweatshops where impoverished workers are paid dismal wages. Isabel Reyes, a sweatshop worker in Honduras, is expected to sew 1200 sleeves onto shirts in a ten-hour shift. Her pay is 18 cents an hour. Reyes manufactures 60 shirts in an hour, and with a $30 retail price per shirt, the gross income from these products would be 1800 dollars. For every 1800 dollars worth of merchandise, Reyes makes 18 cents, which is one ten-thousandth of the total revenue. So where do the other 1,799.82 dollars go? Sure, there are expenses like shipping and domestic retail workers, but the majority of this money is filtered back to corporations and filtered into the bank accounts of owners and CEOs. This is part of the reason that the 200 richest individuals in the world have more wealth than 41 percent of the world’s population.

Sweatshop factories do serious damage on their workers. The factories pay extremely low wages for the often dangerous work. The main reason for the extremely low pay is the companies like Walmart have been willing to sacrifice anything, including human rights, for a cheaper product.

Reports on the practices of foreign factories come and go, and still these businesses don’t change their corrupt and cruel practices, because at the end of the day you and I will still buy their products. These companies know what happens in these factories. Our supply and demand economy, coupled with the Western culture of excess, has caused these companies to cut costs at the price of humanity. We often buy  the cheapest product without caring where or how this product was made. See, for us, the shiny packaging outshines our deeply coveted “Western morals”. A starving child in Vietnam could have assembled your blender or a woman could have been whipped for taking too long to sew your fuzzy pink pajamas. And, through more critical thinking, it becomes apparent that our economy and money controlled lives rest on the backs of impoverished foreign workers. Still question how cruel this system of outsourcing is? Consider the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.  The building housed 3,639 workers from five factories that all produced clothing and garments. These workers worked 14 hour days with wages ranging from 12 cents to 24 cents (kids made 12 cents). When on April 24th, 2013, the factory walls appeared to have cracks in them, many workers refused to enter in fear of losing their lives. The owner of the building, Sohel Rana, paid gang members to beat the men, women and children with sticks until they entered the building. They were also told that not entering would mean their money for the whole month would be sacrificed, essentially starving their families. At 8:45 a.m, the lights shut down and the building collapsed, killing a confirmed 1,137 (about as many people as the Junior and Senior class combined) people and leaving over 200 missing. This horrible massacre is just one example of how evil these sweatshops can be. Outsourcing means sweatshops, and sweatshops mean total disregard for human rights.

As I have said earlier, the consumer is partly to blame due to the constant need for cheaper items. See, when a worker paid 20 cents an hour is employed, the product is much cheaper than that of a product made by a worker paid 10 dollars an hour (the minimum wage for the United States). So when our President suggests that American manufacturing will increase under his leadership, does he realize that businesses wouldn’t even make a profit without taking advantage of these workers? No, a complete switch to only making goods in America would cripple large companies that hold up our economy. But it is also unacceptable that the estimated 7.5 million unemployed Americans are dwarfed by the 14 million outsourced jobs. Yes, there are more jobs outsourced by American companies than there are unemployed Americans.

Why don’t companies just slowly faze some jobs back into the American workforce?  They are simply unwilling to lose profits by employing Americans. And a complete switch to American manufacturing would financially cripple companies. What’s the solution to this process? Realistically, I can’t tell you that. If you or I had a solution, we would have a million dollar book deal and maybe even a chair in the federal government. For now, the best solution is to urge companies to reform their factories so that human rights are not ignored for anyone, no matter where the location. We can start buying goods from companies that make their products in America or have reputations for compensating foreign employees appropriately. We can buy “fair trade certified” groceries and products, and look beyond the label of our beloved multitudes of products.

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The Dark Side of Capitalism