It came up in conversation. Evidently, sneaker-seller Nike uses near-slave labor in Siam or some place to manufacture its overpriced footwear. Poor laborers, according to my source (some guy in a bar), sweat for ten or twelve hours a day, earning the equivalent of $2. It's cheaper than stateside robots. "That's why I don't wear Nikes," I was told, as my informant pointed to his Chuck Taylors.

"Who makes Chucks?" I inquired.

"Converse."

"Yeah, I know that. But I mean who literally makes 'em? Well-paid, unionized, insured American labor?"

He didn't know. This brought up two fundamental questions of capitalism:

  1. Is the consumer beholden to understand the true origins of his products, in order to purchase ethically?
  2. Is this poor schmo in Siam really worse off for having this job? Does $2 a day meet his family's needs there, or is he forced to work in a sweatshop because imperialist industry has blighted every other opportunity?

Sometimes it's scary being free. Surely the head of Nike manufacturing has a responsibility to the company and its many shareholders to produce quality footwear as cheaply as possible. Surely there's consumer demand for same. Surely the Siamese need work. Or do they? Were their farms and native industries bullied out by the American GNP and its lust for luxury items it doesn't need?

All I got is questions and a $69 pair of New Balance sneakers.

If you can't be bothered to read this, what it basically says is:

"Big companies screw people all the time, and there doesn't seem to be a damn thing we can do about it"

Both Nike and GAP, two of the main companies under attack in No Logo, were hauled over the coals by a British documentary programme, 'Panorama' recently for their use of child labour, and allowing unethical working conditions in their factories in Third world countries. GAP actually complained to TV watchdog programme 'Right to reply' that the show was unfair, in that it presented a very emotive side of the story - interviewing the children themselves, which is bound to tug at the heartsrings of westerners, and showing the factory out of context.

The context being, of course that in such countries, all jobs are massively less well paid then in the First world, and many families have to send their children out to work in order to keep the family in food. So rather than it being a case of 1 or 2 companies forcing children at gunpoint to a sewing machine every day in terrible working conditions, they are merely part of a bigger, not very pretty, picture, which exists in all manufacturing industries worldwide.

If you can get cheap labour in Third World countries, and your competitors are lowering their overheads by employing it, you are, by the forces of commercialism, bound to use it yourself - and with the full co-operation and collusion of the labourers themselves.

In many cases, routine practices elsewhere in the world seem shocking to those of us who spend our Saturdays deciding which brand of DVD player to buy to complement the rest of our home entertainment system.

I am no expert on this subject, but what I do know is that there are very few companies you can buy from who are 100% "ethical" in their working practices - whether it be in treatement of employess at home or abroad. That is the nature of big business.

By saying "Oh, that's awful - it should be stopped", we are adopting a "Let them eat cake" attitude.

It hardly matters though, because soon the whole world will be owned by one behemoth company: The MicroSony Corporation - just as soon as they've bumped off Rupert Murdoch.

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