A few months ago I decided to read Naomi Klein’s book, “No Logo”. The areas of the book I particularly liked dealt with the recent (and by recent I mean the last 15 years) trends of corporations to cut themselves off from owning any means of production by outsourcing their manufacturing to other countries, and with it, the companies sense of responsibility for the labor conditions under which their products are produced. I thought it was a good book overall, perhaps a bit basic, but a good primer for anyone looking to learn more about the way corporations are run these days, and sweatshops in general. I found it at my public library.
However, after reading this book I was somewhat shocked to see the following response by the author when questioned by The Guardian in 2000 about the ethics of her own purchases:
“This is not a consumer issue; it’s a political issue. There is a way for us to respond as citizens that is not simply as consumers. Over and over again, people’s immediate response to these issues is: what do I buy? I have to immediately solve this problem through shopping. But you can like the products and not like the corporate behavior; because the corporate behavior is a political issue, and the products are just stuff. The movement is really not about being purer-than-thou and producing a recipe for being an ethical consumer. That drains a lot of political energy” – Article
I strongly disagree with this view. The reasoning put forth in this quote frustrates me on a number of levels:
How is a corporations decision to sell a product a political issue? Do we elect Nike to represent us for shoes politically? No, we tell them we like their shoes by purchasing them, which makes this very much a consumer issue. Businesses sell things because people buy them. If people don’t buy things, business will try and find something they will buy. That being said, their products may indeed influence things in a political manner, but their business model is consumerism, their motive is profit, and as a result they live and die by consumer interest, not by political persuasion.
The idea that one can like a product yet not like the behavior of it’s producer (the corporation) completely denies what a product really is; A “product” is the product of everything that was required to produce it; corporate behavior, sweatshop labor, everything required to see it from the drawing board to the consumer’s hands. To see a product minus these aspects is to look at the item in a way that is not in accordance with reality. If I were to subscribe to this line of logic, I could simply steal money from people, and just say to myself “hey look, I have money”, despite the reality that I would have stolen money. This line of reasoning is the disconnect; the wall that consumers must overcome to truly understand that the product they buy is the collective sum of labor and material. To perpetuate such a disconnect is counter-productive to everything her book supposedly stands for in the first place; exposing the truth behind big business and it’s sweatshop products.
I firmly believe that “Free Markets” are not built upon politics, they are built upon purchasing. And as such “Free markets” will not be changed by politics, they will be changed by ethical consumption. One can simply look to the drug war to observe how well industries that are driven by consumer demand can be eradicated by political pressure.