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untitled for now

My eyes have been opened wide recently. I have a friend that I grew up across the street from, who no longer lives in the same province as  me, so I only get to see her for a few periods of time each year, but when I do she always seems to fill  me with knowledge and make me think, in good ways. She’s been talking about how recently she’s been making changes in her life when it comes to consumption. I’ve always been aware of sweatshops, and I’ve bought fair trade products whenever I could, knowing that I’m not paying to keep a sweatshop operating.

But what I never thought too in depth about is what I buy that’s NOT a fair trade product.  It’s disgusting how many products sold in North America are entirely or partly made in sweatshops. In case you didn’t know, in an average sweatshop, young workers work about 60 hours a week for around $50 a month, working with potentially unsafe machinery in cramped, unsanitary factories without days off or breaks. Just so national and multinational corporations can sell these products for far more than they cost to produce just to keep a large portion of the profit so they can expand. And I’m not saying “YOU’RE DISGUSTING BECAUSE YOU BUY PRODUCTS MADE IN SWEATSHOPS” because it’s hard to monitor and look in to. I’ll admit, the socks, pants and shirts that I’m wearing right now … I have no idea where they came from. Along with a good portion of my wardrobe. Fair Trade stores are rare, but it’s not only fair trade stores that are sweat shop free. There are lots of brands whose products are made sweatshop free in the USA and Canada, and there is also a union called Unite Here, that ensures that all workers for their brand have a voice, and fair working conditions. “They’ve negotiated an enforceable contract with their company that covers wages and benefits, safety on the job, and production standards” – Green America. The “UNITE” label on clothing is more reliable than “Made in U.S.A” because illegal sweatshops may be operating in the USA, or finishing touches to a sweatshop made product could have been done locally. Still, the union-made apparel directory remains too short, in my opinion.

Now, there’s two sides to every story. The people working in sweatshops are poor and do it because they have limited options to support themselves. If we all stopped buying sweatshop produced products, these sweatshops would be put out of business leaving many struggling families unemployed. In a perfect world, sweatshops workers could leave and get hired by a unionized company, or have talents to sell their products to a fair trade seller. But that’s not how North Americans have been raised to consume, making the issue complicated and unfortunate.

Sometimes I feel like a bad person for being born in North America. It’s not fair that people who are equal to me work in horrible conditions to provide a shallow life of luxury for my generation. I have daydreams of dropping out of school and moving to a developing country and just experiencing how they live, away from the North American life of mindless consumption. It’s one thing to live in North America and work for an organization that’s trying to improve third world human rights, and a totally different one to experience it first hand (at least I think so – I haven’t done either ..) We can work in an office, writing for a human rights magazine or blog or whatever (I would love to do that), then go home to their fully furnished home to a huge selection of what to have to dinner, but no, we’re too tired to cook so we’ll spend money on take out. Then go to sleep on our fresh sheets that someone in another country worked with unsafe machinery in an unsanitary factory making less than minimum wage. They’ll go home starving but can’t eat tonight because they can’t afford it. Or heck, we can go to a third world country and build schools for a month, then return home to tell everyone it was a “life changing experience” as we return to life as normal. We’re raised to consume things just because they’re there and available without thinking where they came from. And it scares me that I never thought about this until recently – because I was raised to be brainwashed by these multinational corporations that it’s good and normal to just keep on consuming.  When I step outside of that mindset, it’s like stepping in to a whole new world that not a lot of others have discovered yet.

I’ve owned about 9 different iPods in my life without knowing that many workers for Foxconn, a company that produces electronics such as Apple products runs “sweatshop like” factories have committed suicide over the working conditions. After reading this, I realized that many companies that aren’t sweatshops are still just as awful. So now I don’t even know WHO to trust.

Buying Fair Trade/Organic products is considered to be becoming “trendy,” which I thought was a good thing, there’s nothing wrong with supporting human rights and local products. But people are being judged for it, and it’s coming across as “snooty.” I own the book “Stuff White People Like” and it’s hilarious and stereotypical. But it makes white people come off as shallow for buying organic, being vegan, supporting fair trade, claiming that we just like to brag about what we’re doing to help. Which is true for some people, but they’re still helping a cause and getting critisized by people who are not.

I read this quote online and nothing has ever pissed me off more

“Fair Trade Apple products would make the fanboys even more annoying. They’d be walking around, their noses in the air, exuding moral superiority from every pore, and their farts would smell better than roses. It could become suffocating if you were caught in a confined space with one of them.”

Are you kidding me? Fuck you. You know what? If someone buys a fair trade product they have every right to feel good about themselves. They’re deliberately not supporting the violation of human rights. Who the fuck cares if Fair Trade Apple products would make a “fanboy” annoying. That’s not what the point of them is. These “fanboys”, whatever the fuck they are have a heart, and would love if you indulged in a fair trade iPod. It’s gross that someone needs to feel better about themselves for not supporting fair trade to the point where they judge people who have good intentions.

I hope I don’t sound too hypocritical because I’m a pretty civilized North American that has been taught to consume, consume, consume, and I’ve never been to a third world country or worked for an organization trying to help problems. I’ll probably never permanently live in a third world country, I’ll probably do the whole North American trip for a few weeks to do what I can for a country in need. I’m not here to say “hey look at me I’m solving all the worlds problems and judging the country I was raised in!” I just wrote this as an outlet for myself to make sense of all the thoughts in my head.

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