Outsourcing Sorrow, Death, and Terror

As garment workers continue to die making clothes for cheap-ass American and multiational clothing companies, cheap-ass American and multinational companies continue to deflect blame. “No, we don’t have anything currently in production with that garment company that forced its workers to clock in to a collapsing building, that is housed on the top floors of a building that was authorized for five stories but had another three added on illegally to keep up with demand that we helped foster and a working environment that we not only helped foster but gave US credence to and sanctioned. But since we don’t have anything currently being made there, we are not responsible for this bad thing.”

After all, how are they going to make profits if they don’t cut corners? Or, more appropriately, how are multinational corporations like Hobby Lobby, Walmart, fertilizer companies in proudly unregulated Texas, and The Children’s Place going to make affordable items and huge profit margins without underpaying workers and cutting safety corners?

The AP reports about the factory building that collapsed and killed well over 140 people earlier this week in Bangladesh:

Among the textile businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd. According to their website, the New Wave companies make clothing for major brands including U.S. retailers The Children’s Place and Dress Barn, Britain’s Primark, Spain’s Mango and Italy’s Benetton.

And though these corporations claim that they’re not responsible for such working conditions, they not only do business with the companies through contracts and trades, they sign off on these very same companies and the working environments. They do this explicitly in Third World countries with little union or governmental influence for the very fact that they seek to cut costs and corners as much as feasible and possible. They need to be held responsible for their contractors. For the collapsing buildings and collapsing lungs.

These multinationals and American corporations that have sold out the US workers have not necessarily found better (nor worse) workers, just workers who have yet to organize. And these same corporations are trying to do the same in the Third World working conditions that they tried to do at the turn of the 20th century and have been doing again since the 1980s – destroy workers’ chances to effectively organize for their rights. If these companies are going to send our jobs overseas, at least make it a fair fight – at least give these jobs to people who benefit from having American-style jobs and workers’ rights, rather than toiling for pennies an hour in collapsible and combustible conditions.

Oh, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Multinationals like Walmart and Dress Barn get to pretend that they are doing Third World citizens a favor by giving them some ludicrously small rate of pay because it’s better than the pay they would receive from… farming, I suppose? From having their own labor to use in a manner that might be more suitable to them if they had control of their own land and resources?

So by doing them a “favor”, these corporations – and us, their consumers, by extension – get to back out of the responsibility of providing safe working conditions? At least that’s the argument that economist writer Matthew Yglesias of Slate Magazine argues. The entire piece is incredibly frustrating, as he argues that it is quite all right that Bangladesh has different safety standards for their workers than the US does because, after all, those workers “choose” to work in unsafe working conditions.

This is a fundamental problem of American libertarianism and neo-liberalism: The idea that everybody everywhere has free will to choose how they live, where they work, where they live. This is a problem of severe privilege and immense narcissism.

But no, if we’re going to outsource our jobs anyway in this capitalist society, we’re going to need to outsource our safety standards (and that would and should include the right and ability for workers to organize for better treatment). If we can’t or won’t do that, then we have no right to brag about being such a great nation if our greatness is founded on the fact that we send our toils and disasters to other people while enjoying the fruits of their sorrows.

Which brings us to our second point, for not only do we outsource our capitalist worker treatments through third party textile manufacturing plants, we also outsource our fear and and insecurity through the War on Terror.

Yemeni youth activist and journalist Farea Al-Muslimi had a chance to share his own story in front of  a congressional panel recently.

I came to America (for one year) as an ambassador of Yemen; I went back to Yemen as an ambassador of America…

Local authorities could have easily arrested him if Americans had told them to… But now, when they think of America, they think of the terror they hear from the drones that circle overhead, ready to fire at any time. What the violent militants failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant… This is not an isolated incident… I have spoken to many victims…

I was torn between this great country (the US) that I love and the drone above my head that could not differentiate between me and some… militants… I felt that way when my village was also droned.

Thank you for having me here. I believe in America and I deeply believe that when Americans truly know about how much pain and suffering the US airstrikes have caused and how much they are harming efforts to win hearts, minds… in Yemen… they will reject this devastating targeting program.

We allow both of these monstrosities to happen with scant protest because they are happening far away. And because the people whom we are injuring here are both desperately poor, speak “funny” and look different. Indeed, they are dark-skinned and if they weren’t, we would be objecting a lot more vocally because we would identify more closely with them.

At least they can speak for themselves.

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