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Discussing Everyday Justice 3

2009 November 9

The recent contest to win a copy of Everyday Justice generated some fantastic comments and questions about justice issues. So over the next few days I will be addressing some of those in blog posts. I don’t assume to have THE answers to anything, but just want to share my perspective and hope you will join in with yours as well.

Arthur asked –
I never did find a good answer to what happens when the big coffee growers quit paying even the token payment to the gatherers? Do they then starve because we refuse to support the corrupt corporations?

and mjb similarily asks –
“if we get too focused on buying local and not causing hardship to the environment by shipping over long distances, etc, are we taking away jobs from the poor in other countries who make the goods we import? ”

This is why I think a balanced perspective is always needed. I think those of us that care about workers and the environment often are assumed to be anti-globalization. The whole idea of buying local or ethically when stated persuasively can have that effect. I do support the idea of buying locally, forming relationships with the people who grow your food and bringing community back into commerce. But I think it is naïve to think we can just pretend that we don’t live in a globalized world. If we turn inward and start thinking only locally, we will end up hurting people around the world.

The world has changed. Most countries worldwide have taken those first steps (or more accurately have been forcefully pushed) into industrialization. Through colonialism, the mandates of the IMF and World Bank, and greedy power-hungry leaders most countries around the world are now trying to compete in an economy designed to oppress them. Decisions have been made that have committed them to developing industry and exporting goods whether the average citizen living there wants to do that or not. The line has been crossed, there is truly no turning back. So while I support the concept of American’s buying locally and of everyone reducing our consumption, the fact of the matter is that people around the world still need jobs in order to survive in this brave new world we’ve forced them into. I don’t want to hurt them even more by protesting the existence of globalization and taking those jobs away from them. Globalization exists. Period. The real question is how we deal with it.

The point of stopping sweatshops or agricultural slavery isn’t to shut those operations down. The point it to improve them, to call them to higher ethical standards. And while on one hand stricter laws and oversight will have to be part of that process. The tightening of the belt and the taking of responsibility should not be passed onto the oppressed workers. Choosing to vote with our money for ethically produced goods shouldn’t result in non-ethical companies shutting their doors and getting rid of jobs. When they see that the public is demanding that they be responsible human beings, they will work to supply the public with what it wants. The idea is for jobs to be retained – just improved.

The truth is though that improvements will not occur just by letting the markets work as they do now. When the rich and powerful prevent the idea of a truly free market economy from ever occurring, there have to be deliberate steps taken to end oppression. Systems like fair trade help eliminate the injustices while retaining jobs. I am uneasy with the people (like Jeffrey Sachs) who say that oppressive working environments like sweatshops are just a necessary part of a country developing. That might have been truly in a pre-globalized world where a country was generally able to end that oppression generally because the religious groups stood up to industry. But it’s going to take the ethically minded in the powerful countries that are home to the oppressive industries to be the voice for the oppressed. The powerful will have to create systems like (fair trade) and make laws to protect workers around the world in order to end oppression this time. It won’t just self-correct. We have to be aware of globalization and work within it in order to ever improve things.


2 Responses leave one →
  1. Pippin permalink
    November 9, 2009

    Agreed. I’ve always struggled with what you’ve addressed– reading about the evils about globalisation, I’ve always thought– but how will ‘dropping out’ of the system help those who are caught up in a system that’s not going to just disappear? It’s a bit like the whole “finish your food, there are starving children in Africa” thing we were told as kids– how will our ethical choices actually help those trapped in unethical situations? Your post just explained perfectly the balance between being ethical inwardly (which is a definite start) and being ethical outwardly.

  2. November 10, 2009

    Although this topic of how the powerful always get the upperhand is fairly common, I find interesting the subjects that were contrasted in this article. It disgusts me in so many ways that there is in fact such a difference in the treatment of classes, and although this is nothing new it’s something people tend to forget until something like this is brought forward. Some things will never change, like many like to say, “the only difference between martyrdom and suicide is press coverage.

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