Baseball and apple pie are cherished here in America, as the symbols we invoke to show how patriotic we are. We protest the ever-increasing Japanese automobile market which infringes upon our beloved Chryslers and Fords. And as good little consumers we all buy sneakers made by capitalist companies from the U.S.A., right? Wrong. As has become publicized in the past few years, companies such as Nike often use child labor in foreign countries to produce their shoes. Although this does lower the price for us consumers, we should resist buying products made by companies that do this, and we might even consider applying some governmental pressure to such companies to stop using child labor abroad.
The first thing to consider in this matter is the life of the average American, who supposedly benefits from the current practice of child labor because of the lower prices. We buy Nike shoes under the assumption that we are purchasing an American product, when in actuality we are not. What’s worse, American workers cannot compete with foreign labor at twenty cents an hour. We end up with merchandise trade deficits of over $200 billion, and lose millions of jobs to these underpaid foreign workers. Companies are peddling their wares in America, but opting to hire cheap labor elsewhere, as opposed to giving anything back.
In the words of Rep. Bernie Sanders, “It is time that we ask these corporations to come home. If we’re good enough to purchase their products, we’re good enough to manufacture them.”
Another factor to consider is the effect on the child laborers themselves. By continuing to allow Nike to operate under this system, we are perpetuating an unhealthy way of life for many Third World workers. Since we are the main economic power in many of these Third World countries, we have a responsibility to care for the welfare of the people there. Our current practice is akin to slash and burn lumber processing; companies go in and take advantage of the impoverished populace without regard for the devastation they cause. This is not to imply that the United States has some obligation to raise third world wages to our level here, but current wage rates for some foreign child labor are below the poverty line even for countries like Indonesia. The same corporations who pay hundreds of millions of dollars for advertising campaigns refuse to pay a few cents extra in wages in order to allow their laborers to afford the necessary physical needs of subsistence.
What’s more, the child laborers themselves are forced to work in terrible conditions. Suffering at least 50-hour weeks, the children are beaten when they perform poorly. Working for far less than minimum wage under intolerable conditions, it looks more and more similar to slavery every day. Granted, these children still are free under the law, but in the harsh reality of their lives, parents who earn substandard wages require their children to work in order to support the family’s basic needs. Thus the child laborers are forced into a life of underpaid overwork from which they will never have the economic wherewithal to escape.
All of these things â€“ the underpaid labor for long hours, the poverty and starvation, the mistreatment of children, the lost jobs, the trade deficit â€“ are encouraged by companies who continue to perpetuate these evils because it remains profitable. Until we stop buying products made from foreign child labor and demand more responsibility on the part of companies, there is no reason for corporations not to maintain the current trend.