Nobodies by John Bowe landed on my front porch this morning. It’s about modern American slave labor and highlights migrant laborers in Florida picking fruit, Indian welders in Oklahoma, and garment workers in Saipan.
I’m especially interested in reading the chapter on the garment workers. Saipan is a US Commonwealth and, being such, can label the clothes they produce as MADE IN AMERICA, despite workers’ wages around three dollars per hour.
Kinda makes you feel less sunny inside when you wear clothes MADE IN AMERICA, doesn’t it?
Three dollars per hour doesn’t seem like a fortune, but it would to many of the workers I met in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China. Even with paying their workers less than half of the national minimum wage, I’m surprised that the factories in Saipan can compete with their counterparts in developing countries. I’m guessing that it has something to do with the lack of regulation and tariffs on Saipan products since they are seen as MADE IN AMERICA.
A few of the questions I’m hoping Nobodies will answer for me:
Ethically, should I feel guiltier about drinking fruit juice made from USA fruit or fruit in Colombia?
Should I feel guiltier about wearing a T-shirt made by, what Bowe refers to as, Slave Labor in the USA or workers like Arifa in Bangladesh?
I don’t think there is a difference. The people that produce much of our stuff live lives much less fortunate than our own. Whether they live in the USA or somewhere in Asia, there’s a big spread between producer and consumer. What I think Bowe’s book is going to bring up is that we are allowing the abuses within our own borders where we have laws in place to protect laborers (but so does China). In the USA, where we verse about freedom, sing the national anthem before ballgames, and recite the pledge of allegiance before the start of the school day. We can stop slave labor in our own country, but we don’t.
But we accept all of this.
Alternating summers, the fields around my childhood home were planted with tomatoes. Migrants picked them. I saw the wood boxes around the corner they lived in and called home. I went to school with their sons and daughters for a few months every year until the fields were picked clean. Isabella Lopez didn’t speak much English. My neighbors, good people and hardworking farmers, were their employers. The migrant workers were paid poorly. I knew it. All migrant workers are paid poorly.
I never thought much about it, really, just accepted it.
Hopefully Bowe’s book can do its part to make our country a fairer, freer place, where we don’t accept injustices without question.
Watch the interview – John Bowe on the Daily Show