Idealistic students fail to recognize factors involved in sweatshops

I am writing in response to the two articles that were published in the Oct. 18 edition of The Hatchet. Those articles were the staff editorial Stand against sweatshops, and Students advise consumers: Progressive Student Union raises concerns about sweatshops.

There are only two things in this world that truly make me upset, and those are ignorance and stupidity. If you are sitting there wondering what the difference is between the two words, then you fall under this category to some degree and you need to get a dictionary and look them up.

To assist anyone who lacks access to a dictionary, allow me to offer a vivid example of what I mean. The Progressive Student Union and the concern about sweatshops is a prime example. They are ignorant for believing themselves mature and educated enough to tackle an issue of international magnitude when in reality most have never seen the facts with their own eyes. Finally they can be labeled stupid for drawing such a hard conclusion on an issue not meant for the likes of mere children, who have yet to discover what life really is outside of the safe cradle of the arms of mother and father.

I have been there and I have lived this very issue firsthand. Let me share with you the reality of sweatshops.

First and foremost, I am in total agreement that the sweatshops within the borders of our own country are truly an issue that must be dealt with, and someone needs to offer a voice. This is the United States, and there is no excuse. Simply put, it is against the law and should be dealt with and approached as a criminal manner. I am sorry to say that a protest or petition will serve no purpose to resolve the problem. Your resources would be better spent lobbying your cause before the government. Even that can seem a futile effort. Isn’t bureaucracy a beautiful thing?

Beyond our borders we need to change our way of thinking. I spent two years in the Philippines on a humanitarian mission and was afforded many opportunities to live and serve in what most Americans would call literal hell on earth.

Still, I was able to adopt their culture and way of life and realize that even though they seemed to do absolutely everything backwards as to what I knew as an American, that did not make them wrong or their culture wrong or their way of life wrong – only different. Most Asian and South and Central American countries are developing nations. Who are we to try and compare their way of life to ours? Who are we to even begin to think that they can or want to be like us and have what we have? Go and ask them – I did. They are happy with their way of life. It is what they know. Who are we to tell them anything different? I believe those that try to force their ideals and beliefs on others as to how we think they should live, without asking them first, are the epitome of hypocrisy.

Oh sure, you hear terrible things about working conditions and extremely low wages.

First of all the working conditions are not that bad, considering the economic base and standard of living in the developing countries that we are talking about. They are not the U.S.A.! They do not have the same laws or standards! And that’s OK, really it is. When the average home is nothing more then a dirt-floor hut, and the country is poorer than that dirt, and everything from centralized power, sewer, water, and transportation is years behind what we have here in the U.S., you are a fool to think that a U.S.-based company could go in and build a modern Silicon Valley facility or factory up to par with U.S. standards. They would have to rebuild the entire nation from the ground up.

Let’s talk wages. I will even offer examples from other sources. You will hear such statistics as workers only being paid 33 cents an hour or $1 an hour or $5 a day. Let’s approach these examples from a truly realistic focus and not distorted facts that play on the heartstrings and ignorance of some people.

In the Philippines, for example, the monetary unit is the peso. Today one U.S. dollar equals approximately 40 pesos. Now in the U.S., one dollar will buy you a dollar’s worth of goods. In the Philippines, one peso will buy you one peso worth of goods. To expand on this idea, if you take one U.S. dollar and convert it to pesos you will now have 40 pesos, and you will be able to purchase 40 pesos’ worth of goods – just as if you were in the U.S. where forty dollars purchases 40 dollars’ worth of goods.

So when you hear, for instance, that these sweatshop workers only make the equivalent of $5 a day, what does that really mean?

It means they are making on a daily basis: $5 U.S. dollars x 40 pesos = 200 pesos a day; on a weekly basis: 200 pesos x 5 days = 1,000 pesos a week, some 200 pesos x 6 days = 1,200 pesos a week; and annually 1,000 pesos x 50 weeks = 50,000 pesos or 1,200 pesos x 50 weeks = 60,000 pesos.

Would you be surprised to learn that the 50,000 pesos a year salary has nearly the same spending power in the Philippines economy as would an annual salary of $50,000 a year here in the U.S. economy? Of course you would, you don’t know any better. Listen to the Wall Street Journal – are you surprised that adults might know a little more than you? Who died and made you Alan Greenspan? The Philippines is beginning to develop a middle-class society that was unheard of before. Why is this happening?

Because these people have jobs and make garments, electronics, housewares, and even Nike tennis shoes that we buy and wear on our feet. Can you say, developing nation? The U.S. was once a developing nation.

Now, what happens when ignorant people take it upon themselves to try and shape the world around them without being asked? Well, the real travesty is that many of these companies have had to close their doors, which in turn puts a lot of people out of work with no income.

I am just wondering if the Progressive Student Union is working as hard to guarantee better jobs and salaries for these people that they will displace with their efforts to put them out of work. Have you ever considered the impact you have on these people? How many times have you heard of these people writing letters of thanks for destroying their jobs and taking away their incomes? How many times have you received letters begging for help to save them from their jobs? Did you ever stop to think that maybe they are happy doing what they are doing? Are you so much more intelligent than them because you are an American college student that you need to help straighten out their lives for them and tell them how they should live halfway around the world in a completely different culture? Did you ever think that people make a lot of money by pushing this issue and herding persons like yourselves to get behind the cause like cattle being led blindly to the slaughter?

I guess ignorance is bliss, especially if it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside because you need to take part in causes like this to gain any level of self-esteem or self-worth. Look around you – there is a new cause everyday. You know the phrase: Causes are like – insert item here – everybody has one.

I have been there, and I have watched the people die of hunger and disease because of these noble efforts. What do you have to say for yourselves now? The facts remain that these people now have jobs they never had before, and they are making money, and they are feeding their families. They have a sense of security that never existed before.

On a daily basis I watched as fathers and mothers and even children rose before the crack of dawn to go find work for the day so they could bring home enough food for their family to eat the one and only meal they would have that day, if any meal at all. Imagine going all day without food, wondering if you will get to eat that evening before bed or maybe not until the evening of the next day. If unsuccessful, most of the fathers simply wouldn’t come home, and we would end up offering assistance.

But charity truly isn’t the answer and cannot feed them all. How does the saying go? Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed
him for life.

Bring on the Nikes and the GW sweatshirts, I will buy them all and be proud of it!

We need a new slogan: Shop the GW Bookstore and Save Lives.

-The writer is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.