21 July 2010

Xray Vision Anyone?

Treading uphill all the way, I digest the accumulated news at the gym in the mornings. And this article caught my eye.

Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

Aside from all the Good Guy cred, what got my attention was how the company plans to succeed by marketing its virtue as well as its product. Like Fair Trade Coffee, which I buy, Knights Apparel is telling me its product costs more because it pays more to its workers.

In some ways this is a lot like the appeal of organic food to health puritans, who do not want to sully their bodies with icky bits. But in another sense it is a kind of transparency.

When Upton Sinclair showed the true nature of the meat packing industry in his book "The Jungle" back in 1906, people learned the true nature of what they were eating, something so grotesque and disgusting that it moved the federal government to act, resulting in the FDA of today. Ralph Nader did the same thing with "Unsafe at Any Speed," which revealed the dangers of the Chevrolet Corvair and the disregard of the automobile industry to safety.

When we know not only the price of something, but the process involved in making it, we may elect to spend more if it is safer for us, or more honorably made. Of course, if we do not know where something comes from - food, drugs, clothing, cars - we can only choose based on what we can perceive such as price and personal experience.

I wonder what it would be like if all our stuff came with provenance, with a knowledge of how it was made and of what and by whom. Price matters. Quality matters. These we know. Decency matters too, and fairness as well, I think. At least I hope so.

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