Before his fall from grace, Tiger Woods made roughly the same amount of money endorsing some piece of clothing or sneaker or something as all the people who worked in the sweatshops making that product did in one year of their labor.
I can buy an 11" x 72" hand hemmed silk scarf for less than five dollars. That's retail. So, I'm buying it from a company that probably paid half that, say $2.50 who bought it from a wholesaler for half that, $1.25. How much do you think the person who hemmed that scarf was paid?
I might hand dye and print and paint that scarf and sell it for anywhere from twenty to a bit less than fifty bucks. I might spend the day working on that scarf. Some people say they're too expensive.
Years ago, a museum in America had a show of uniquely American quilts. They sold a limited edition of these "uniquely American quilts" to a select bunch of folks who paid a good price for them. Where were those quilts made? China. The museum said that they could not have been able to sell a quilt anyone would buy if they used American workers. I'm sure that was (mostly) true.
A person who knits for a living gets paid by the yard. The going rate in Maine right now is ten cents a yard. Think about that next time you gasp at the price of a hand made sweater. Three hundred dollars for a sweater that was hand knit? The knitter got about a hundred bucks. This doesn't even include the price of the raising of the fiber animals or the spinning of the wool. . .
I have at least a dozen sweaters. I buy all of my clothes at the Goodwill, but they originally came from sweatshops. Some of my sweaters were hand made, by me, but all of those were made of wool that comes from. . .where? I didn't know when I made them. I do know where all my wool comes from now, but that's after a whole helluva lot of research.
I, by the way, make less than minimum wage designing and knitting sweaters and I'm glad to have the work.
I've been sure that people in third world countries are glad to have whatever work they have.
But. . .
I just want to point out that "we" fought for the abolition of sweatshops in America. Yet, we rely on the cheap labor of people in other countries. We've (mostly) become so poor ourselves that we must.
For those of you that can afford to buy true local products, I'd like you to think about exactly how local they are. Are all the raw materials in your local products actually local?
Local spinning mills generally do not use wool from animals that are raised in the United States. It's simply too costly to do so. But the consumer does not know that.
This post started out as being a rant about the concept of meritocracy, so let me end with a bit about that. In this country, we generally believe that those who work hard are rewarded. Do you think a person who works in a sweatshop works less hard than a person who works on Wall Street or a person who makes things by hand is worth less than people who do not? Do you think an elementary school teacher is worth less than a politician? That's a question that gets asked a lot but no one ever actually answers it!
Do you think a person who gets piece work wages is not working hard? I've heard people justify the insanely low wages of knitting and sewing from home that (mostly) women in America get by saying, "But they'd knit or sew for fun anyway" or "Well, they're doing that while they're watching TV and/or raising kids." So, if you're enjoying your work and/or doing other work while you are working, you should be paid less?
Does that really make sense?
With this kind of logic, a man who throws a ball shouldn't get paid a penny.
The logic of capitalism is simply this: profit. That's all.
Image note: Just 'cuz I like the image. It does make me think, however, about how women do a lot of things for charity, or for their families, or for "hobbies," and when men do the same things they are taken a lot more seriously. Yes, this is still true, in 2012, in the 21st century. More on that another time.