Consumers and workers: victims on both sides

There’s a series of articles in the Salt Lake Tribune on the terrible health impacts on workers in China who make the cheap things we buy.

For all the hullabaloo on American consumers’ concerns with the safety of lead in toys, anti-freeze in toothpaste, etc, at least we can choose not to buy it. For workers without knowledge of what they’re getting into, no OSHA-type safeguards, no legal protection or enforcement of standards, there’s perhaps no choices.

Consumer or workers, we’re losers in the transaction. The winners are the players in the supply chain betweeen the two ultimately ends: owners of the small workshops, larger factories, middleman brokers/contractors, China’s bureaucrats, and the multi-national corporations that don’t really sell anything except the marketing and branding of their increasingly tarnished reputations.

And this is not unique to China, which is the poster-child scape goat. This is a scenario seen in any other country that has cheap labor to manufacture goods for export to first-world consumers.

Cheap as we may think the price of something we pick up at big box retailer, it’s still inflated over the actual price of the raw material and labor to cover the cost of advertising, shipping and the layers of transactions.


2 thoughts on “Consumers and workers: victims on both sides

  1. It’s a problem that deserves more visibility and outcry and it seems to me that it’s a problem of disparity.

    Today, China’s economy is based on cheap labors and its people and environment are paying for it. At some point with Chinese sectors maturing and with global economy running its course, the disparities will eventually even out– in theory. Safety and labor regulations will mature, manufactured Chinese goods will be more pricey. But these type of human & environment costs while won’t be eliminated, will be controlled. That’s one argument.

    The practical side of me never believes pure global/free economy will materialized. We’ll ever be divided by greed, racism, history, power etc…

  2. like many Communist countries, China has some pretty good laws on it’s books. Unfortunately, they all lack this little thing called “Rule of Law” (strangely enough, that is what this current “capitalist” US government is aspiring towards: an ABSENCE of rule of law…) A weak judiciary, ubiquitous corruption, and sporadic enforcement has allowed this atmosphere of the “Wild wild East” to thrive as the Party struggles to maintain power during China’s transformation from a Marxist Socialist totalitarian regime into a free-enterprise, National Socialist totalitarian regime. Yay!! China uber alles: long live the 4th Reich!!

    Anyways, the invisible hand of the free market is already at work as all of China’s major importers, esp the EU, have have made it clear that substandard, toxic goods will no longer be tolerated. And with the Olympics this year, China will be a good little boy at least until the world turns it’s eye elsewhere.

    As for the workers and farmers, um – they will continue to be exploited as they always have in Chinese history – until their rage comes to boil and we have another revolution. Then we will start the cycle all over again except the name of the Emperor and his Court will be called something other than the “Chinese Communist Party”.

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