April 24th, 2013. It seemed to shock the western world a bit that day when a factory collapsed, killing hundreds of workers. Do you remember how you felt?
I guess that news wasn’t all that shocking to me. I’ve known for a long time that workers across the world are treated poorly. What happened in Bangladesh was just one incident, but one that caught the attention of the west. It is not very often that we think about the people on the other side of our clothing. It is not very often that was ask who grew the cotton, or who made the textiles, but we shouldn’t forget them.
Remember the victims.
Remember their families.
Remember that there are many other factories still operating in oppressive or unsafe ways.
So, what do we do?
There seems to me to be four options.
2-do something to appease our guilt
3-seek to do no harm
4-seek to do good
The easiest option is to forget. Tell yourself that clothes grow in the store and that there is no one on the other side of them. Please don't forget.
When we do something to appease our guilt we would maybe give money to a helpful organisation or stop buying things made in Bangladesh. While those things are probably good and helpful, they allow us to feel like we are "doing our part," and then continue to live the rest of our lives unconcerned with the needs of others. We might sponsor a child, and then support the company who underpays the child's parents working in a factory. When we just seek to appease our guilt, we enable the system to keep functioning as it does. We feel good because we are no longer buying clothing made in Bangladesh, but the clothes we buy are still made in oppressive factories in other countries. We feel good, because we are "doing our part," but the reality is that we are doing just enough to allow oppressive systems to continue without feeling bad about ourselves. “Our part” isn’t enough to make change. Most people feel like they are doing their part, but there is still unfathomable suffering in this world.
Seek to do no harm. This is my general approach, and yet, how often I fall short. This approach has me saying that I don't want to participate in suffering perpetuating systems. When I buy something I want to know that the production of it did not entail the suffering of others. I have so much. Right now I think the only thing i need to buy is food. Most people in this world have two or three outfits, I don't need more clothes. I have enough. When I buy food I have to make choices and I try to make choices that cause no harm to others. Doing that is fine, but it isn't doing good. It is just a refusal to participate in evil. It should be an obvious choice. No one deserves praise for refusing to participate in evil systems. The real question should be, how could we do otherwise?
Seek to do good. Seek to make radical change. Seek to create working conditions where the poor are given opportunities and their children can go to school. Stand up for workers’ rights. Investigate factories, make the conditions known to the public and create social pressure for the companies to change. There is a problem with seeking to do good. It is not easy. It requires of us time, effort, energy and money. If we really want to seek change, it will require our life. Here is the other problem, we can't change everything. But our inability must not be an excuse for changing nothing. It has been suggested to me that I choose one problem and fight against it.
Here's my conclusion. We mustn't be content "doing our part." If we really care about those suffering, the least we can do it step out of systems that perpetuate the suffering, but if we really care, even that won't be enough. Seeking to do no harm isn't a solution. If we really care we will pour our lives into changing the systems. Is it worth it?
Though sometimes it is easiest to be ignorant, information is available. Check out these websites: