Nov 072007
Authors: Phil Elder

Americans are world-renowned for their moral flexibility in the goods they purchase and, more importantly, the sources of said goods.

The blood diamond crisis immediately comes to mind, in which our insatiable desire to have shiny rocks attached to our fingers and hanging from our ears led to the brutal massacre and enslavement of entire nations. Even now, unless the consumer insists otherwise, diamonds from these conflict zones can still be purchased, thus funding the warlords in charge of certain mining projects and fueling these humanitarian tragedies.

Though some choose to justify themselves by claiming ignorance to the situation before the purchase, this defense, when applied universally to humanely ambiguous products, is paper thin.

The Nike Corporation, for example, is literally famous for their use of sweatshops and subsequent exploitation of third world children for labor.

Do we see a decrease in revenue after said information comes to surface? No, we see LeBron James and Tiger Woods shamelessly plastering themselves with 15-20 swooshes, showing with beaming pride just whose pockets they happen to be in.

The most recently exposed case of exploitation-turned-fashion involves a corporation well known and loved by many college-aged students. In New Delhi, a factory owned and operated by the Gap Inc. was raided after suspected of using child labor.

What they found was abominable.

Children as young as 10 years old, bought by the Gap from their impoverished parents and not given a cent for their labor, worked 60 hours a week in conditions deemed unsafe even by third world labor standards and essentially enslaved to produce stylish and fashionable collared shirts and pre-stained jeans.

This has been an ongoing problem with the Gap, which has been quite active in finding a solution for their child labor problem.

This “solution” involves closing down factories that were caught by local authorities, imposing no new restrictions on other factory managers, praying that another factory doesn’t go down and, in the mean time, releasing a fashionable new clothes line like (RED), so that rich kids can feel a little better about exploiting preteen labor to look good because they’re giving five bucks to AIDS research.

Child labor is a notoriously unpopular subject, mainly because those who support it refuse to think about it. Ignorance is, of course, the only recourse available when one repudiates the possibility of buying a lesser brand name in the stead of child-exploitative products.

So what will it take to change the minds of those who openly embrace these corporations? No one mobilized against blood diamonds until Leonardo DiCaprio played a smuggler with a heart of gold in a hit movie, an entire decade post hoc. Will Eric Bana be forced to save Indian children from a burning factory before fashion-conscious youth will consider alternatives to supporting indentured servitude?

It all comes down to remaining informed.

Know what goods spawn conflicts, what companies perpetuate exploitation, what products are coming from the hands of small children or armed warlords in a rampantly impoverished nation. And instead of ignoring the accusations, the headlines and the pictures, maybe next time you can consider getting your favorite pre-stained, pre-ripped and pre-bleached jeans from another source.

Phil Elder is a senior political science major. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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