“Made in China”

Is everything?

Picking up my child’s toys in his room the other day I realized that the majority had the words “Made in China” embossed on it’s surface.  The reaction I had was actually sadness.  Admittedly, I also felt a twinge of guilt for the toys we had accrued over the past 2 years having to travel so far, sad for the jobs that potentially were lost over seas, I worried about how the workers in China that made these products may have been treated, and wondered how safe they were since pretty much every toy has been in my son’s mouth, well, multiple times.

It’s not just toys that are being made overseas.  Our government is shipping the infrastructure jobs, rebuilding and remembering our country with the “Made in China” imprint.  My beloved, well-traveled powerhouse, the currently being reconstructed Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge was essentially built in China.  Although US workers are putting it together, more jobs could’ve been created had the bridge been, from the ground up, American made.  I even read that the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, DC was sculpted in China, using Chinese granite, by a Chinese sculptor.  Were there no African-American sculptors available?

With three years of unemployment rates in this nation over 9%1, over 14 million Americans without work2 and no sign of any rapid turn around, we should be paying more attention to where the products we purchase are produced.  A product manufactured outside the United States, means potentially another American without a job.  I’m one of those people who argued with my husband about not using the self-check out lane at the grocery store.  Of course, I enjoy human interaction and my husband prefers the company of computers to people (at least most people).  However, my argument was that the one checker manning 4 machines meant 3 people out of work.  Do you really think the grocery store will pass the savings on?  Doubtful!  Besides I’m willing to pay extra to help keep more people employed.

On a grander scale, what if companies did the ‘right’ thing and were willing to pay a little more to keep people employed here instead of moving their manufacturing abroad? Who will buy their products anyway if people don’t have adequate wages to purchase them?  It certainly won’t be the Chinese workers making at most $1.36/hour3 but in poorer areas earning potentially less.  Even if they move the manufacturing abroad, spending extra to ensure the workers health and safety is of utmost importance should be a pre-requisite, but who is going to enforce this?  Restrictions on these facilities in other countries are fewer; there aren’t any requirements about providing health care, or regulations about other benefits.

On NPR they were telling a story about Econolux refrigerators moving away from a small community in the Midwest to Mexico.  It’s not China but its move basically crushed this small town.  It mentioned that the state had offered to build them a new facility and allow them to pay no taxes to stay.  The Board of Directors for Econolux, the story went, took 7 minutes of private discussion to reject the deal because the cost of wages and essentially, the significantly reduced worker’s rights in Mexico made the move the economic choice.  Nothing the state offered could offset that financial benefit to the company, even if it meant the community that had been supported by that manufacturing industry collapsed.  U.S. citizens should ask companies to pay a moral price, by not purchasing from them.

While I am for a global economy I also believe in less use of fossil fuels to ship these products, Fair Trade, and Worker’s rights in all countries.  I personally want to support companies that are built on a strong foundation aimed at supporting the communities in which they establish, not at their expense.

References:

  1. Hatfield, D.  (2011) Contra Costa Times Editorial.  Hats off to U.S. Labor, Page A14.
  2. Joseph, J (2011) USA Today. America shouldn’t be ‘made in China’, page 9A.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “International comparisons of hourly compensation costs in manufacturing, 2008,” August 26, 2010, available at www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ichcc.pdf.

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