By: Claire Fergusson, Grade 9
In war-ridden or unethical countries around the world, the people who can will usually immigrate to safer and more ethical countries. Some leave places like Mexico, China, and India to get away from sweatshops that believe in and support child labourers. But the question is; are we, as consumers, really doing any better by supporting sweatshops here in Canada and North America by buying their products?
In many countries around the world, there are horrific examples of sweatshops. Workers are in a position where they are subject to exploitation, with no living wage or benefits, terrible working conditions, and may face verbal or physical abuse. Many make less than needed in order to support themselves, let alone the ones around them, so there are very few options to enrich their lives with something better. They usually work between sixty and eighty hours a week, not including overtime, in gruelling conditions. Many are offered little or no way out, without much knowledge on how to get out of the business. They are under an umbrella of a few who make millions in the trade, while the labourers suffer to put food on the table. And yet here in the western world, we buy the goods they produce.
How does our dollar affect what we buy and sell?
If the American dollar is low compared to other currencies, they will not be able to import as many goods for the same amount of money. It will, ultimately, force companies to spend more money, while not making as much of a profit. And in turn, it will force the employment wages to stay low, and continue to deprive many of basic needs, in what the world considers a leading nation.
In Canada, our dollar has been as strong as it has ever been. The rising value of Canada’s currency means that more Canadians would make a profit on their sales if they continue to buy things for cheap from other countries. A strong Canadian dollar would also mean that we would be able to have more buying power in places like China and India, where a lot of the cheap goods are manufactured. It would make it easy for us to import, but have a harder time of exporting goods, such as lumber, to other countries. However, with a higher buying power, and a greater chance of higher profits, it would enable the resources for a higher minimum wage.
One of the places that people search for better opportunities if they can leave is in Canada and the United States. But still, many cannot get away from sweatshops.
For example, many dollar store managers put in long hours, but don’t get much out of it. Many have escaped poverty in places like China, India, South America and Mexico, but are then taken advantage of. How can they compete against the ones who have been in the trade for longer, and have grown up around ones who make their life this way? It is almost impossible.
In the United States, managers of dollar store chains work long hours, up to eighty hours a week, making just $550 per week, or just under $6.90 US per hour. On the other hand, the CEO of the same company raked in $5.38 million or roughly $103 460 a week in 2010. All the while, this CEO probably just sat in front of his computer and watched his stocks rise, while store managers scraped to pay their mortgages and support their families.
Sound familiar? It almost mirrors the reality of many in low-wage centres around the world. Is it not ironic that we are supposed to be a leader in the world’s pursuit of freedom and equality?
In a society so based on consumerism, we can choose to buy ethically. It is a difficult situation, because the ones that work so hard in dollar stores for so little have to be supported too, even if they are supporting sweatshops by selling their products.
All the exploited are trying to do is make a living. They’re just trying to make it by, and hopefully put food on the table. It is a recurring reality throughout our world, even in countries like our counterparts across the border, and our own. We walk a fine line between choosing to support them and deciding to buy ethically.
What do you prefer? Should we continue to buy more cheap products produced by sweatshops, or pay more for goods that are made by people whom are paid a living wage?
Although ethically made products might mean a less bang for your buck, it will help discourage sweatshops. It may help bridge the gap between rich and poor, and in time, find a solution for a line we have to decide to cross or not.