Thursday, June 20, 2002

A pathetically small attempt at doing something big

I have in recent months begun, to the best of my ability, to avoid purchasing Chinese made goods. If you have ever attempted this, you know how hard it is actually to carry through with.

The reasons for doing so are several. First, there is the matter of slave labor, prison camps, etc. China’s manufactories use an awful lot of forced labor, most of it from what I can tell political or social prisoners, rather than simple criminals. A man I know in the apparel business says that it is very difficult for him to discern (even after visiting factories himself) which factories use regular laborers and which use prisoners. (Prison labor as such is not necessarily a problem, by the way. Western countries use it too. But when the “prisoners’” “crimes” are things like going to Church, and they haven’t been given a fair trial, right to counsel, fixed sentences, and other basic rights as human beings, the concept is morally untenable.) So “Made in China” is a label that signifies a strong possibility of slave labor.

If that weren’t enough, many manufacturers are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the People’s Liberation Army. I think there is a better than even chance that after we finish with the Islamofascists we are going to wind up toe-to-toe with the PLA across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Therefore, I am not eager to fulfill Lenin’s prophecy that “The capitalists will sell us the rope we use to hang them!”

And finally, China is one of the least religiously free countries on the planet, after Wahabi Arabia. Christians see treatment akin to that in the pre-Constantine Roman Empire. Other religious groups fare poorly as well.

My attempt is not comprehensive, and very inconsistent. First of all, it may not be possible to live and work in 21st Century America and buy nothing made in China. And it is especially difficult if you have a five year old child when you decide to start doing it. If you were to go to Toys ‘R Us and remove all the products made in China, you would be left with perhaps half an aisle’s worth of merchandise, and most of that aisle would be board games. Try explaining to a five-year-old that the toys you allowed last week you won’t allow this week, because of some fairly difficult-to-grasp concepts around labor rights, slavery, and geopolitics. Had I never allowed such toys, he would be used to it. But the change in policy is a tough one, and I am waiting until he is just a smidge older to make my case.

Many products appear to come almost exclusively from China, and replacements from elsewhere are not easy to find. It took my wife a week of looking in many stores, for instance, to find a pocketbook not made in China, and it cost twice as much as comparable Sino-made ones. Our finances are such that until fairly recently the price tag might have made me balk at spending the extra money.

There are other countries that have labor problems, but I don’t spend as much time or worry focused on them. First of all, I think that many of these problems are culturally-perceived rather than real. I don’t see a problem with a company paying a country’s prevailing wage, whether it’s $0.50 an hour or $5.00. A cousin with whom I have frequent arguments on this subject will concede that these “exploitative” wages are often the best jobs around, and the difference between starvation and life for a family. I don’t really want to start a labor argument, but suffice it to say that I find much more clarity on China than I do on many other countries, and I find many of the things Americans take for granted to be the luxuries of wealth that impugn the “activists” as much as the complacent.

And so I now check the labels of the products I buy, and put back many of them when it says “Made in China.” When I can, I choose alternatives made in places like India and Mexico, countries whose democracy requires wealth for security. It’s a pathetically small attempt at charity that has more to do with Pride, really, and it’s horribly inconsistent of me to allow a major exception in the form of toys. But it’s a start.


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