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Published on June 18th, 2010 | by Omar

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Not easy to live with a clear conscience these days

The drive to buy everything for cheaper is something that everyone does. When we buy groceries most of us look in the various weekly fliers from Safeway, Superstore, etc. to find who has the best deals on what. We do this even more so when we’re buying bigger ticket items such as computers, phones, etc.

The question comes what is the threshold price for a given product? Or what exactly is item X worth? It’s a question that seems to involve more than just what it costs to manufacture the product. You can manufacture/create anything but what can you sell it for? If people aren’t willing to play how much it costs to make then it’s probably not worth making. Or is it? Unfortunately in this day and age of globalization the answer to the problem of "manufacturing cost > price consumers are willing to pay" is to reduce the manufacturing cost.

How do you do that? You get items manufactured abroad where cost of labour is less and employment standards are minimal to non-existent. We’ve all heard about Nike sweatshops where children manufacture shoes. Is there something adherently wrong with the notion of children working? In an ideal world yes! Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. People need money to buy food to eat, clothes to wear, etc. How does a family earn enough money to live in the 3rd world? Wages are low, middle income level jobs are few and far between, education isn’t available. In the third world, families have more children to provide greater for into the family unit. Is it fair, absolutely not but it is a reality.

However, what compounds this issue is the inhumane treatment of employees in factories around the 2nd and 3rd world. The company that manufactures the Ipad, Ipod and Iphone treats its employees abhorrently. If I were the owner of a factory in some third-world country I would not have a problem hiring children if it were a means for them to help their families. However, my ethical responsiblity would be to ensure that they worked in a good environment and that if possible I provide them with the ability to make more out of their lives. Ie investing in your employees and allowing them to excel as we do here in Canada.

What does this all boil down to? We in the 1st world love cheap good. I want my gadgets, clothes and shoes to cost as little as possible. The corporation needs to therefore sell the item as cheap as possible, however they want to make as large a profit as possible. So they get goods manufactured in the 2nd and 3rd world where, as I said before, employment standards are minimal to non-existent. Employees are paid little to nothing, treated like robots who are forced to simply go through a cycle of working, sleeping and eating.

The drive to buy everything for cheaper is something that everyone does. When we buy groceries most of us look in the various weekly fliers from Safeway, Superstore, etc. to find who has the best deals on what. We do this even more so when we’re buying bigger ticket items such as computers, phones, etc.

The question comes what is the threshold price for a given product? Or what exactly is item X worth? It’s a question that seems to involve more than just what it costs to manufacture the product. You can manufacture/create anything but what can you sell it for? If people aren’t willing to play how much it costs to make then it’s probably not worth making. Or is it? Unfortunately in this day and age of globalization the answer to the problem of "manufacturing cost > price consumers are willing to pay" is to reduce the manufacturing cost.

How do you do that? You get items manufactured abroad where cost of labour is less and employment standards are minimal to non-existent. We’ve all heard about Nike sweatshops where children manufacture shoes. Is there something adherently wrong with the notion of children working? In an ideal world yes! Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. People need money to buy food to eat, clothes to wear, etc. How does a family earn enough money to live in the 3rd world? Wages are low, middle income level jobs are few and far between, education isn’t available. In the third world, families have more children to provide greater for into the family unit. Is it fair, absolutely not but it is a reality.

However, what compounds this issue is the inhumane treatment of employees in factories around the 2nd and 3rd world. The company that manufactures the Ipad, Ipod and Iphone treats its employees abhorrently. If I were the owner of a factory in some third-world country I would not have a problem hiring children if it were a means for them to help their families. However, my ethical responsiblity would be to ensure that they worked in a good environment and that if possible I provide them with the ability to make more out of their lives. Ie investing in your employees and allowing them to excel as we do here in Canada.

What does this all boil down to? We in the 1st world love cheap good. I want my gadgets, clothes and shoes to cost as little as possible. The corporation needs to therefore sell the item as cheap as possible, however they want to make as large a profit as possible. So they get goods manufactured in the 2nd and 3rd world where, as I said before, employment standards are minimal to non-existent. Employees are paid little to nothing, treated like robots who are forced to simply go through a cycle of working, sleeping and eating.

How do we break this cycle?

  1. Stop buying frivolous items that we really don’t need
    
This one is the hard one, we all love to buy everything we see. The latest and greatest models of this that and the other. I am very guilty of this myself but am trying to change my impulsive buying habits.

     
  2. Stop expecting prices to go lower and lower and live within ones means
    
Every time there is a roll-back at Walmart means that someone is likely being made to shoulder the cost of making it cheaper (partly the producing corporation but primarily the employee)
     
  3. Buy products that are made ethically
    
This is a difficult thing to achieve, it primarily consists of looking and buying things made in North America / Europe. Even then one still has to be diligent. For example, many local farms do not treat their staff very well. However, buying ethically has the negative effect of punishing the employees of these sweatshops by causing them to trim their staff, etc. which leaves them on the street.

Subhanullah….However, lets be real, in order for change to be made, these types of buying habits would need to be made by the masses. We can’t even convince people to stop polluting with the threat of global destruction…how can the masses be convinced to coerce corporations to ensure their products are made ethically by spending their money ethically? It’s easy to go and buy an ipad/ipod/etc. when you don’t see the oppression that takes place in producing it. Out of sight, out of mind.

May Allah (swt) forgive us for our ungratefulness and enable us to be successful in our fight against oppression at any scale regardless of who the oppressor is or whom they are oppressing. Ameen.
 

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