Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Greenwashed Shoes, Bags, and Workers: It's a Sin

So, let's talk about sin.

As a business owner, I know that it is hard to make a product to sell to the masses that doesn't sin along the way. I certainly can't do it. And by sin, I'm using a very general definition: becoming estranged from God; violating God's will or a moral code. I'm not going as far as equating all sin with the Seven Deadly Sins, though some might apply as many are sins of excess.

In the case of goods made in China, I think the sin is treating some human beings as if they're worth a hell of a lot less than you or me. That certainly violates Matthew 7:12, "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." Working in just about slave-like conditions* isn't a work environment I want for me (or them).

To illustrate "sin," let's look at Greenslinging: Recycled Shoemaker Not Perfect. Here we learn that "not perfect" in the title actually means that just about slave labor is used to create "green" shoes. Worn-Again are shoes that are "actually made in a vast shoe factory in China where workers, who live in grim dormitories, are so unhappy with their pay and conditions that nearly one-tenth of them walked out on their jobs in February." That's not "green." Yes, the shoes are made from recycled materials, but the materials are flown from the UK to China (Nice carbon footprint!), many of the materials end up in the Chinese landfill, and the nearby river runs black. This is a similar story to This is Not a Bag, touted as ethical consumption (We avoid plastic bags!) that manufacturers the bags in similar conditions in China.

It is my great concern that our insatiable need in the first world to consume products has put much of the third world in just about slave-like conditions* with corporations as their masters, but you and me as a big part of the problem. And that's a sin.

*Just about Slave-like Conditions include extremely low pay (lower than what is legal in China), 7-day work weeks, 15-hour workdays, mandatory overtime, unsafe working conditions, and coercive regulations.