Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dinner Parties, Walmart and Globalization

Last Saturday evening I went to a dinner party at a friend's house. A HUGE dinner party. She had invited 30 people. The woman is insane. However, her insanity is not the point of this post.

A conversation took place at our table and I've been thinking about it since then. Bear with me here, I'm not sure this will be even remotely coherent.

The conversation started regarding the exploitation of underdeveloped countries by the west. Number one scapegoat? Walmart obviously. Now, I'm no fan of Walmart and their practices (stock, employees, etc). I've been there only a few times and bought there even less often, so I don't consider that I sustain them in their evilness.

Now, this woman (let's call her K) started on how she'd seen children's boots at $9.99 (I didn't ask her how she'd seen this, since she boycotts Walmart - perhaps she recieved a flyer, hmmm?). K said no one had any business paying $10 for children's boots. That such a low price simply meant the exploitation of some worker in China or Pakistan. And let's face it she's right. She said, it has got to stop. Right again. That paying these people wages that weren't even survival wages was horrific of us (oops, of Walmart). Yep K. You're quite right. Goods should be manufactured here because we're losing all our jobs, so what if those kids boots cost $50? It's a fair price. OK.

But what about the poor here I asked? What about those for whom those $10 boots are a godsend? Those for whom those $10 boots mean that the kids will have breakfast all month instead of half the month?

K's answer. That's ridiculous. I tried to point out that not everyone is a professional making 100 Grand a year. Didn't go over very well. *sigh*

Discussion continues. Guy across the table (let's call him R) works for a major sports clothing company. He was explaining how the Chinese are taking all the contracts, how their workers are exploited (Again. Damn it people, I'm NOT debating that!) How their industry is so polluting. How, if this continues, within 20 years they will be the number one economic power in the world and how would I like my currency to be the yen? (Did I point out that actually it was the yuan, and the yen is Japanese? No, being the magnaimous bitch that I am I passed on that as I wasn't really high on their list of likeable people at that point. But, being bloody minded, I did take him up on the other things).

Yep, their industry is polluting. Big time. But you know what, they're at the point where the west was over a hundred years ago. They're having their own industrial revolution. They're gaining a higher level of living. You don't think we polluted the world back then? From K: Well they just have to stop. They just have to become ecologically minded.

Um, excuse me, who the f**k are you to dictate what they must and must not do? Isn't that just a little (actually a helluva lot) arrogant? Canada has signed the Kyoto agreement and since then the level of pollution we put out has risen, not gone down! The US won't even sign it! The third world is causing pollution?!?! Take care of your own fucking back yard before you start harping on other people's! (that didn't go over too too well either *sigh*)

Isn't it just as arrogant to tell these countries how they must do business, how they must act, how they must treat their workers? Who the hell are we to tell people what is right and wrong? Last I checked, the west hasn't been preaching by example. I read somewhere that a Walmart salary isn't enough to live on (Walmart again!). We have our own poor and not much is being done to get them out of poverty. 'Cause lets face it, with the $$ the west has, there is no reason for it to have people who aren't eating enough.

As for China being the next economic power. So What? (That signed my death warrant I think. That put me over even Walmart on the "evility" scale). These things are cyclic. The West has been top dog for hundreds of years.What's wrong if someone else gets a chance?

Both K and R jumped down my thoat at that point. Would have ripped my head off gladly and burned my remains if it had been the done thing in polite society. They want all this stopped. End of discussion. They don't want to have to squirm when looking at how things are done elsewhere. They want Western culture to be the norm (just so long as there are no McDonalds and Burger Kings fucking up the landscape when they go play tourist in Asia and expect people and things to be "quaint" for their amusement.

How did this conversation go from exploiting third world countries to the evil of said third world countries???

I tried to point out that the thing is, there are NO easy answers. Yes, overseas manufacturing takes jobs away here, it also makes lots of things accessible to our own poor. Yes these people want what you have, all your advantages, whey should they not be allowed to acquire these advantages? Does it make you uncomfortable to think that perhaps the millions of "underdeveloped nationals" will be as rich as you within your lifetime?

Yes they are exploiting workers over there, and it has to stop. Absolutely and now is already too late. But how can it be done? Simply boycotting walmart and other stores (and yes, I did get snarky and asked G if she was really certain that everything she bought was made in Canada by workers fairly treated... if looks could kill I would be excessively dead by now) will simply put these people out of work and they'll be even LESS better off. Well, at least they won't be exploited. Starving perhaps, but not exploited. Whew, makes one feel better doesn't it?

Seriously, I don't think they cared. As long as nothing touches their own comfortable way of life, they don't care.

Just as seriously do I? What have I done lately for anyone other than give a buck or two to a panhandler and my castoffs to Le Chaînon (a battered woman's shelter). Not a thing. I'm not saying I'm any better than them, but at least, damn it, I'm not ready to put all the blame on big corporations and the evil asians. At least I think about beyond mouthing platitudes.

Somehow I think that both K and R won't put me on their list of people to hang out with. I'm sure they're good people, (as am I, I suppose), but... well.... let's say meeting them did not turn into a great meeting of minds.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Well said. I agree completely. Everybody wants everything to be simple, easy, good or bad, black or white, and life just isn't like that.