When Really Cheap Is Too Cheap
There’s nothing like finding a super cheap price on a quality item. It feels exciting and, as every canny shopper the world over knows, there’s nothing like a bargain.
But there is a limit to how cheap deals can be. Remnant sales, super specials, giveaways, and incentives are all excellent sources. But what’s not is when our discount pleasures rest on someone else’s misery.
The world’s is being reminded of this issue with the tragic collapse of a multistory Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, housing various sweatshops. Working long hours in dangerous conditions for a pittance, Bangladeshi women are making clothes for Westerners at bargain basement prices.
What makes it even more disturbing is the list of companies exploiting the poor to maximize profits. Companies like Benetton, which charges a pretty penny for its “exclusive apparel” uses these desperately poor women to provide them with super cheap garments, which they sell for premium rates (incidentally, Benetton has publicly denied having apparel made at Rana Plaza, despite clear evidence to the contrary).
Surely, if they are a principled firm, Benetton would keep a lot of Italian workers employed making garments and still turn a tidy profit. But no. They prefer to source cheap items and sell them at high prices, while promoting themselves as decent corporate citizens through their “Unhate Campaign” promotions.
Undoubtedly, fashion brands like Benetton would send a more congruent message if they insisted on humane work conditions for the women making their products in low-income countries. It’s time shoppers realized how Benetton and other brands that used women working at Rana Plaza (like: Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Joe Fresh, Primark, Adidas, Duchamp, Cotton On, Kmart, Wal-Mart, & Big W) calculate their equations.
Mind you, these practices are far from new. People have been exploiting others since time immemorial and the sweatshop phenomenon has been the mainstay of fashion houses since the late Nineteenth Century. But now, it’s 2013, and in the 21st Century it’s time we agreed on what too cheap is.
I lament the loss of local jobs and regional specialties and uneasy about mass globalization. Not because it’s such a bad idea in theory, so much as the real difficulties it produces in the process. Ultimately, it falls on the poor to be the virtual slaves of the well off, with exploitative companies raking in seedy profits. Everything relies on cheap energy and cheap labor.
When people are forced to work in conditions that are totally unacceptable to us, it’s wrong. When we buy ultra cheap products (which are often inferior in quality) we are feeding the ugliness of this slavery machine and that’s a tragedy future people will find appalling.
Economists will doubtless point out that the formula for cheap production is much more complicated than it looks. For example, giving work to the poor in Bangladesh gives them opportunities they would otherwise miss. That seems reasonable, unless you were one of the people killed or maimed in the collapse of substandard buildings. Or burnt by fires in factories with no easy way out. It’s not much of an opportunity when a lousy job risks life and limb.
“Cheap at any price” is not the solution and we know that. A better way means we buy to support humane opportunities, and surely companies like Benetton (with all their sassy attitude) can at least try harder not to degrade workers and customers alike and maintain standards we‘d all like to see.
To be completely happy at the expense of others is actually ugly (all reasonable people appreciate that). Our basic humanity towards each other is the foundation of a happy life in action. Where possible, we can encourage and support others to achieve to enjoy life too. So consider the real cost of quality when you shop. Is what you are getting a bargain for good reasons? Or is it unreasonably cheap?
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