TW: Mentions of Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse, Oppression, Terrorism, and Suicide
May 1 marks International Worker’s Day, a day originating to celebrate the working classes worldwide, and highlight how far us folx, as a global collective, still need to work to eradicate exploitation worldwide. In honor of this day, we thought it would be fitting to highlight the ways to reduce the bloodshed on the hands of every individual in the West and reduce our support of the West’s terrorism upon the Global South.
First, let’s unpack this… what exactly is worker exploitation?
Worker Exploitation, and manifests in almost every means of production, from fast fashion to food to your highlighter to cell phones. The West (Canada, The US, and Europe) is the origin of this system, Operating off of kyriarchal exploitation, this system has historically destroyed the well being of folx in exploited countries of the Global South through methods of restricting environmental, emotional, physical, and economic well being, colonialism, and imperialism. In many ways, the West has historically been the longest thriving terrorist organization.
It is extremely important to remember the fact that while a major company either A. hasn’t had a reported on instance of worker exploitation in a while (this is a bit horrifying in how casual it sounds, doesn’t it? If we replaced Apple with Sarah, and said ‘Oh Sarah? I think she is pretty okay. I mean, Sarah hasn’t exploited the people working for her to the point in which several of them committed suicide in a while. She still won’t allow folx to come over though, but I guess we should give her the benefit of the doubt!’ We’d be a little more concerned, right?), B. has a statement of their fair worker practices with no business transparency, and/or C. is a part of a global agreement for worker’s practices, we must be wary, and pay attention to actions rather than words. In other words, there’s a reason companies spend thousands on appealing advertisements from our fav celebs to create an emotional attachment to a product, creating trust rather than suspicion. We cannot wait until bloodshed is exposed to start healing a historical slaughter that is already taking place.
Becoming aware of this dynamic and how entangled we all are to its existence is both horrifying and daunting, but as we all carry the power to allow this to thrive, we all have the power to demolish it, and foster better tomorrows for our fellow human beings. Let’s get on that train of revolutionizing ourselves and the planet, shall we??? Let’s goooo!
Support Ethical Brands
It is a bit tricky to figure out what exactly constitutes an “ethical brand”. A Fair Trade Certification, Business Transparency, or an extensive record of their efforts towards their workers’ wellbeing usually are good indicators. In addition, while supporting this sort of is met with both negative and positive opinions in activist dialogue, there is much to be said about supporting up and coming brands who are consistently and regularly trying to aid the movement within their own sourcing but aren’t certified just yet. It takes an incredible amount of time and money to acquire a certification as well, and within the current capitalist system of destroying competition, most businesses struggle to accumulate funds to break even.
While buying things made in West can fall under the umbrella of ethical shopping, as labor laws in the respective areas ensures more safety, we must also be cognizant of the fact the West historically and continually exploits immigrants and folx in what are called Maquiladoras in their production, often being able to impose sweatshop labor like conditions, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse with threats of deportation.
A common opposition to this suggestion comes in various shades of ” I cannot afford these brands”, which, if one is below the poverty line or in the working class, is entirely valid! But, if one is in the middle or upper class, they must remember they are technically a part of the global bourgeoisie, and so the aforementioned statement truthfully comes off as “I cannot afford ethically made (insert any product), (but I can afford to go to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts almost every day).” Perhaps, we would emotionally and morally do better to ask ourselves if truly value our own economic currency, and what exactly we ‘need’ to obtain. Would the 40 dollar Nike t-shirt fulfill you more than time spent on self-empowerment?
Thrift and Buy Second Hand
While this method carries a multifaceted impact, as it works to remove funding towards corporations that detriment the environment and human rights (and these two are intertwined, as factories often pollute the water supply in the country they are based, causing workers to suffer illnesses they cannot afford to treat), we must remember that this, if one is part of the global bourgeoisie, cannot be the only method one pursues against this system.
A complete boycott, without supporting ethical companies, spreading awareness, etc, can enforce the perpetuation of swallow factories, where businesses will ‘swallow’ a countries entire economic livelihood to be based around the pennies they pay as wages; when they aren’t making enough money, completely uproot, and ‘fly like a swallow’ to another country for cheaper labor. This method of Western Colonialism in turn, leaves a country completely desolate, enforcing how imperative it is to operate one’s activism on a layered scale.
With that being said, you can thrift or shop second hand of almost anything- and while the purchase originally went towards the company, yours will go towards someone trying to get rid of what they don’t need anymore. Ebay, Depop, Mercari, Social Media Market Places, and even stores like Best Buy have listings for almost everything second hand!
This was briefly mentioned in the first point, but shopping small is surefire way to combat this epidemic, as it works to redirect funds towards business trying to thrive in our current capitalist economic systems that support monopolies who use methods of , for lack of a better description, literally ‘kill or be killed’ to maintain their power. Some places to start are buying from markets, shops by you, places like Etsy, and from independent artists (and especially from folx who have marginalized identities that already face a wage gap!)!
Buy to Last
The question of if one should continually supporting these corporations (hopefully) if a definite no, but realistically there will be circumstances in which A., one cannot afford any of the aforementioned options and/or B., one cannot buy something second hand for safety (such as with tattoo needles, band aids, underwear, etc.) or if in a tricky situation. There then comes yet another method…. buying to last! Supporting worker’s well being, unfortunately, resides in the grey area of still supporting companies to prevent swallow factories, and aiding efforts that work to aid rebuilding economies in the Global South. Reducing the amount of economic support we give to exploitation and trying, in the end, is what truly matters.
Listen, and Check Yourself
A large part of how any system thrives are the factors that contribute to its normalization. Our language, such as calling exploited countries in the Global South ‘the third world’ (when in fact, many countries in the Global South are more ‘developed’ than the West), or developing countries, while simultaneously seeing images of the glorification of the US and oppressive corporations, can develop the internalization of othering, as well as the Western Savior Complex. Both of the two contribute to those of us in the West acting as sort of a ” dead beat parent “, saying we care (when we do practically absolutely nothing to aid the well being of those we say we about) while acting as though the times in which we do ‘care’ (through things such as volunteer tourism) make up for the bloodshed we’ve continually caused. We truly are in many ways influenced by our five closest friends, and those friends influence their friends, and their friends influence their friends, so the normalizations of dehumanization we make a part of our everyday activities does have power. Stay ‘woke’ and keep listening, all we can do is grow together.
Speak Up, Speak Out!
If you haven’t heard of these methods or this system of worker exploitation before, use that as a microcosm for how much more discussion this topic needs! Recognize the power in your voice, and how society fosters what is normalized; promote brands working towards global equity, instead of free advertisement for those who do not. Share the stories of those who have been silenced, and encourage your friends, family, peers, institutions, and even your favorite artists/celebrities to become more cognizant of the role they play in this system.
Please use this article as a guideline, and feel free to comment below ways you know of how to eradicate this system and heal society for our fellow human beings! This is a system we all benefit from, and therefore the responsibility, and power to help, lies within each and every one of us. Unfortunately, there is not an absolute way to separate ourselves from this system entirely, but what matters is that we care, that we pay attention, and that we try. Corporations, quite literally thrive off of the public, and your emotional currency is priceless- are you paying attention, or paying oppression?