I found this 2005 story on the Huffington Post during a recent Google session. Bob Burnett visited a factory that makes LEVI’S for the article and says there are only three ethical positions to take on the matter. The weird thing is that after I’ve committed over 4-months of my life to meeting garment workers and visiting their homes and factories, none of these “ethical positions” is my position.
What is my position?
I’m still thinking about that, but it’s not any one of them stated below. The dilemma isn’t that simple. If I was made the World Czar of Garment Ethics, I would encourage organizations to work with the factories to show them that, in a sense, a happy worker is a productive worker. If paying, training, and treating their workers better helps their bottom line, widespread changes may be possible. And that’s the thing, the changes must be widespread. If we focus on one country and improve conditions and pay, conditions and pay will only get better and more expensive, and eventually the industry will jump to where the conditions and pay are cheaper.
Here’s an excerpt from Burnett’s story:
Ultimately our purchase of foreign-made products is a moral question: do we take “fairness” seriously? There are three distinct ethical positions that Americans can take. The first is to view the issue as a consumer and to make purchasing decisions strictly on the basis of price and quality; to ignore concerns about who makes our clothes and what their living conditions are.
The second perspective is to see our decision as a reflection of American global economic policy and to demand that our government protect US workers as the first priority, to take care of our own citizens before we worry about workers in faraway countries, such as Cambodia. The problem with this position is that the Bush Administration has decided that American laborers are not as important as the earnings of their employers. George W. Bush and company are not going to worry about Cambodian workers, if they do not care about American employees; in fact, the Bush assault on the rights of our labor force has lowered the bar for workers around the world.
That leaves a final perspective, which steps outside consumerism and national concerns, and asks what our religious morality has to say about whether we should be concerned about the living conditions of the workers who make so many of the products we take for granted. As more than eighty percent of Americans identify as Christians, the applicable code of ethics comes from the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, “Treat people in ways you want them to treat you.” Indeed, Jesus emphasized that the rich should care for the poor, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor.”