Placing Myself in the Shoes of the Factory Workers

February 16th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

While the US is often viewed as a materialistic country, which I do believe is true, there is one issue regarding materialism that I think most countries around the world face, which is the poor treatments of the factory workers.  Whether we are materialistic or not, we still have to own products to meet the survival needs.

Even though the US has a large number of “big box” stores loaded with products from China, Europe does have “big box” stores too, such as Carrefour, Intermarché, and E. Leclerc loaded with products from China too.  HOWEVER – from what I’ve seen from my own travel experiences, I find that Europe still has many local, non-chain stores such as “boulangeries,” hardware stores, and cafes – stores owned by locals.  Also, Europe is loaded with open air markets where we can buy produce directly from the farmers.  So, in Europe, there are ways to try to avoid going to the “big box” stores and to support the locals.  However, in the US, it is VERY difficult due to lack of non-chain stores and open-air markets.

A year ago, in one of my photography courses, I watched an award-winning documentary film called “Manufactured Landscapes.”  This film did not only feature documentary photographs by Edward Burtynsky, but also a great in-depth life of the factory workers in China and other countries.  I was “walking” through the factories, landscapes with giant piles of trash, and being placed in the Chinese’s shoes.  During the parts where the workers were assembling small parts and cutting copper wires, I felt dizzy after a few minutes.  I felt I was seeing a one-second clip being replayed, but it was not being replayed.  That was the reality.  These workers were “replaying” their tasks every minute.  That’s what they do for hours for only about a dollar or two per day.  Viewing rows and rows of people standing up against the tables made the people seem like they were just machines.  Seeing images of people’s homes resting by a huge pile of garbage and men cleaning up the oil spills made me wonder if the government was aware of how they were living their life and the danger that these people were putting in themselves.  At the end of the film, I was left with this question – Should I boycott buying products from China, in order to give the CEOs of corporations that sell products from China and other countries the message that I am angry about their treatment of the Chinese workers and the need to treat them better, or do I buy the products, so that at least those workers can get the money from the small percentage of the cost of the products? It is a dilemma.

Burtynsky made a very good statement at the end of the film that we should perhaps think about:

“There are times when I have thought about my work and putting into a more politicized environment.  If I said, ‘This is a terrible thing that we’re doing to the planet’… then people will either agree or disagree.  By not saying what you should see that may allow them to look at something that they never looked at and to see their world a little differently.  So I think many people today sit in that uncomfortable spot where, you know, we don’t necessary want to give up what we have but we realize what we’re doing is creating problems that run deep.  It’s not a simple right or wrong.  It needs a whole new way of thinking.”

I honestly don’t know what to think.  I do need certain products to meet my end needs such as clothing for sanitary reasons, to keep me warm, and also as a woman, fashion is very important (I will discuss this in a greater detail in another post about the desire to shop for clothes.)  I could probably make my own clothes, but then I would have to weave my own fabric, which would be time-consuming.  Or should I pay more for expensive clothes on Etsy or at the open air markets created by independent artists who make all of their clothes by hand right in their own home or studio?  BUT – I also want to support the Chinese workers!  It’s a really thought-provoking question.  I do not have an answer right now, but maybe later or not.

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