The US Congress recently voted to remove country of origin requirements from beef and poultry. Some would say it was just needless government regulation, others would answer, it's a sign that the meat packing industry will soon be evacuating the American landscape. Just like the auto industry, the steel industry and the electronics industry before. A nation of crumbling factory edifices, a nation of empty store fronts, a nation of people who used to be something else. It was Thoreau who said; "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."
Are we so detached from the reality of the reason that we can escape the ethics of the exchange? What is it worth to you to have beef or chicken packed by someone with some slight wage and hour protection, versus that of a slave? Does it bother you, having your beef processed under conditions which you have no control? Processed in a country which makes legal redress a comical absurdity, do you have a problem with that? This the Capitalism test, how much neoliberal Capitalism is your lifestyle worth to you? Do you care how much life someone else has to give up to provide you with your comfort and ease?
It was more than a century ago when Upton Sinclair described "The Jungle" in the meat packing houses of the Chicago stock yards. Jack London called the book "The Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery." Does it matter if we remove the jungle from under our gaze? Out of sight out of mind huh? Why should you care if your $200 running shoes endorsed by that sports celebrity were made in a sweltering factory in the Philippines, by workers earning bare subsistence wages, without any protections what so ever? Sucks to be them, doesn't it? Says the American who hasn't had a pay raise in three years, the American forced to buy private health insurance they can't afford to use.
Why should you care, if an American blue jean company moves south of the border, making acid washed blue jeans and dumping the acid into the river, polluting an entire town's water supply? It's not like the river runs by your house, right? But "Hey, blue jeans on sale!" If Chinese workers assembling I-phones are dissatisfied with their low wages and living eight to a room in company dormitories, they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, right? This then is the test. How then can we measure the metrics? The workers at the I-phone factory purchase their bowl of rice each day from the company store. So let's use the rice bowl scale. One rice bowl being intolerable and five rice bowls representing acceptable.
- Does it matter to you the conditions under which your consumer goods are assembled?
- Does it matter to you if multi-national corporations move to escape tax liability?
- Does it matter to you if multi-national corporations move to escape responsibility for environmental damage?
- Should virgin rainforest be stripped in the hunt for natural resources readily available elsewhere?