The exploitation has begun

Money is actually starting to come in from writing and talking about the quest. Soon, I’ll have earned back half the expense of the trip, which is, you know, a good thing. But…an argument can be made that when the checks start rolling in the exploitation begins.

“Why don’t you leave her alone?” said my translator in Bangladesh, after I asked her to contact one of the garment workers for me again. “What does Arifa get out of this? You write a story and get paid, but what about her?”

I address this issue in a section of my book proposal titled, WHY I’M WRITING THIS BOOK:

I hope this book reaches the right reader with the right means, and the right ideas, so that he or she may take some action to make a difference in the lives of the world’s producers.

As long as there is poverty in the world, there will be cheap labor. Throughout the quest, I came across various international groups that were doing their part to eliminate poverty. Many of these groups are partners with the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History. In honor of the garment workers who welcomed me into their homes and lives, I will donate 1% of my advance and royalties to the ONE campaign.

Is it exploitation? I like to think it’s not, but in a way it is. The university professor who introduced me to my translator had this to say when I put the question to him:

“A writer writes; that’s how he helps the world. That’s what he can contribute.”

That makes me feel a little better about myself. Anybody else have an opinion on this matter?

Other questions I’m asking myself:

One of my goals of this project is not to be preachy. Does supporting ONE take away from that? Is 1% – of whatever advance or royalties I’m lucky to get – laughable?

Brands source their clothes in developing countries; I source my stories there. Is there a difference?

Melissa says:

Hmmm…it does bring up an interesting point to ponder: profiting from the situation of others. But, I think it is like the prof you spoke with said–how else are others to be aware of (any possibly help) the situation if you do not write about it and educate us. You are a writer. It is how you pay your bills.

And, I trust you to tell the story better than I would a lot of other journalists.

Rachael says:

Well, seeing as you asked….and seeing as you are going to make me Ambassador for Alliteration when you finally get famous (just don’t stop at rich – it’s gotta be rich AND famous OK)

writers write

writers need to eat
writers need to pay the bills

a man is worth his wages

that means you too

Are you worth less because the people you’re writing about are in poverty and being exploited?

Are YOU exploiting them? From what I’ve seen, you are advancing the cause of justice. Just like Wonderful William Wilberforce. Did he leave his weekly stipend in parliament? No, I’m sure he allowed himself to be paid.

Take your pay. And consider carefully how you will use it. Listen to your conscience.

As for the 1%. Yeah, actually it does sound a bit gimmicky. Just say you’re going to donate to the cause! Oh, alright, say 1% if you want!

Lisa says:

Does supporting “ONE” come off as preachy? No, it says “I believe change is possible, and this is what *I* am doing to contribute. Maybe you will find a way, too.” It shows you believe in your quest.

Is 1% laughable? No, but could you get away with saying “I will dontate a percentage of my advance and royalties”? Just as true, but it doesn’t encourage the reader to do the math and make a judgement on the amount….

As far as sourcing your stories there – well, if the stories weren’t sourced there, they would not be shared with the world. You’re sharing their stories in hopes that readers may possibly take action and help these workers – but a writer’s gotta eat, too (or there wouldn’t be any stories at all)!

Kelsey says:

I couldn’t agree with you gals more.

The funny thing about my Bangladeshi translator is that she is a journalist. What she said is a strange thing for a journalist to say. Although, I think she has some issues, one of which was some kind of weird crush on me. It was really weird having someone from such a conservative culture flirting with me like we were in second grade. It gave me the weebie jeebies.

I would hope that my writing, whatever the form, could offer an indirect benefit to the people I write about, which surpasses whatever direct benefit (donations) I’m able to offer. 1% ain’t much and I suspect, as suggested, saying that I was donating some of the proceeds would be the way to go.

I’ll be pleased as punch if I’m able to recoup all that I have invested in this quest. If I’m lucky enough to have a book published, I’m not sure if I could afford to donate much of its profits to the workers’ cause, seeing how I’ve got a mortgage, a second mortgage, and a wedding to pay for (only one week to go). But really, isn’t this a similar argument as the factory owners, the brand executives, and the ultimate consumers of the products the workers make? “This is our job. It’s what we do. We have a family to feed and a home to maintain.”

Annie, you, and I, live in the lap of luxury compared to the rest of the world. Maybe it’s this exploitation that has lifted us to where we are. I feel a little guilty about it, but not so much that when I’m lying on my leather couch in my home with central AC watching Big Brother that I can’t enjoy myself.

The ethics of our position in the world and writing about the world’s poor is an interesting debate for sure. I expect there will be many more posts to come on this issue.

Thanks for the feedback.

Matt says:

Kels, you should have told that translator to “Piss off.” I don’t think you need to have to explain yourself any further. Its not our fault they don’t live in a capitalist society. Exploit as much as you want, I support you.

Kelsey says:

Thanks for supporting my exploitation. You are a great friend. Great but demented all the same.

Let your voice be heard!