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The Inhuman Fabric

Stephanie W. Wang

Last week’s holiday offered yet another convenient “rant about commercialization for a day” opportunity. I suppose public outcry against corporatism for a few hours, even if motivated by reasons unrelated to actual social justice causes, is better than nothing. However, we only seem to decry the corporate oppression under a money-equals-love regime when we happen to be broke on the day before Christmas or when we happen to forget a mandatory gift-buying date. What about all the other days in the year when workers all over the world continue to be exploited? They are not abused and silenced so that we can lament their plight whenever it serves our own purposes. Let’s face it, the specter of greedy globalization is haunting the developing world and complaining about the commercial culture in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day simply isn’t enough.

Before anyone is tempted to hurl neoclassical economic theory at me or quote from an Ayn Rand reader, I implore you to understand that the lack of rights in workplaces all over the world is intrinsically unacceptable. Isn’t it time to think outside of the Edgeworth box for once and consider the issue of equity rather than efficiency? Just in case the economic prosperity in the past has made many forget, let’s be realistic once again. Yes, there is still forced child labor. Minimum working standards are not still not met. The meager wages are still unable to sustain a minimal standard of living. Yes, there still exists a class below what we consider to be the working class, a class whose voice is never heard. No, I will not buy the “at least they are working” argument. Ask yourself, would you be infinitely grateful to be treated as a sub-human working insufferable hours under horrid conditions?

Of course, the most important question is what must be done about this terrifying reality that shows no signs of amelioration? I don’t know about you, but I know that I haven’t done nearly enough. Even worse, I have betrayed the cause and bought into the petit bourgeoisie mindset because of laziness. How easy it is to grab a couple of shirts on sale at The Gap or scoot to The Coop before going home for Winter Break to buy MIT apparel for relatives. How comfortable it feels to never think about who is making these products and under what deplorable conditions. How simple it seems to never consider that with each dollar rung up at the cash register, another child may be forced to work and stripped of an education. I am guilty of selling out, of betraying the hopes of people who need us to speak for them and fight for them. They did not have the choice of not working in subhuman conditions but I did have a choice to do my part in stopping this atrocity and I didn’t. Did you?

MIT also has a choice as a vendor of collegiate paraphernalia to ally with the corporate bullies or to stand up for basic human rights. I hope that MIT is serious about eradicating all possible labor abuse in factories manufacturing MIT apparel and not simply paying lip service to appease concerned faculty and students. In fact, I cannot conceive of any reason why the administration would be unwilling to make this necessary commitment. Then again, the administration has made incomprehensible decisions in the past so perhaps I should not be so optimistic. This time, the choice is so obvious that hopefully they won’t be able to confuse the issue, dawdle indefinitely, and do nothing in the end. If they do, I make a call to the entire MIT community to not let the administration get away with a blatant disregard for humanitarian justice.

If you disagree with my position because you support free trade, free markets, and free exploitation, I have to ask: when is the greed going to stop? When the conglomerates have exhausted their supply of expendable workers? When this exalted globalization has succeeded in creating a truly homogenous world of consumer culture to replace real culture? How about when the proletariat’s powers can no longer be diluted geographically and a revolution is inevitable? Certainly it’s understandable that globalization doesn’t always sound so bad from our perspective as the ones who can reap the benefits. However, if the corporations and the colleges who profit tremendously refuse to be audited on labor practices in their factories, then let’s start with auditing ourselves. It’s time to start focusing on how much other people are suffering in this world for those so-called benefits. It’s not hard to agree on basic labor standards. Just think about what you would be willing to endure as a worker and realize that your fellow human beings should not be expected to endure any worse. It’s not hard to refuse products made in workplaces without these standards. MIT can certainly make it easier by ensuring that none of those products can be found at The Coop.