Wednesday, 1 August 2007


“If today you don’t work hard at your job, tomorrow you will work hard on finding a job.”

This is not an advice from an employment consultant or a human resources manager, but the message on a banner placed in one of the canteens of a factory in the town of Zhongshan (Guangdong, China). As reported by Justin Jin in a news item published in the South China Morning Post on 30 July 2007, thousands of workers work 18 hours a day to scrub jeans to give them a “vintage” look.

What reasonability do we – as consumers – have towards such workers who produce goods in inhumane conditions? If there is a case for responsibility, what is the extent and ambit of such responsibility? I think that every person has a responsibility (of varying level) to contribute to the project of human rights realisation. It is not merely the business of states and/or corporations to ensure that human rights, say, of workers are not abridged simply because they have lesser bargaining power. If by exercising buying preferences in a particular way, one could make a positive difference, then one should try to do so. Talking a walk on this road would not, however, be very easy or straightforward. For example, boycotting a product produced in inhumane conditions might render many workers in developing unemployed, or there could be cost-related issues. So, there are trade offs to be made, but still consumers – both individually and collectively – have a moral responsibility to factor in human rights and environmental considerations while buying products.

One most important precondition for such consumer activism is a free flow of information, something that would have to strengthened.

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