By Lauren | February 9, 2012
This week, my friends at TheStreet.com invited me to write an article on where the four Republican Presidential candidates stand on China. It was interesting to research, and something of an eye-opener for me. Somehow, I would have thought that China is important enough as an economic and military power that the candidates would have well-considered and clearly-articulated ideas about how the United States should interact with Beijing. I was very much surprised to discover that only Mitt Romney has a lot to say on the subject, and even he isn’t especially specific about how he thinks our government should react to China’s manipulation of the yen and mistreatment of political dissenters.
China drew pretty significant headlines last month when employees at Foxconn, China’s largest manufacturer of computer parts and microchips, threatened mass suicide when their employer refused to pay promised compensation. Still, I doubt the U.S. media would have paid much attention were it not for the fact that Apple and other major U.S. corporations buy from Foxconn. (Is there anything more fun for a reporter than exposing the clay feet of companies that try to maintain a positive public image?) And it’s worth pointing out that Foxconn’s treatment of its employees is hardly unique in China. From what I’ve been able to find out, China’s burgeoning economy has created a sweatshop-and-company-town culture very much like ours was during the Industrial Age. Labor is cheap, profits are king, and employees brave miserable working conditions while being paid a pittance because they lack any meaningful alternatives.
So while the Republican candidates are sorting out their own positions, I’m wondering if it’s ethical for consumers to buy Chinese products, knowing how badly the workers in China are often treated. This may be little more than a rhetorical question, since it’s almost impossible these days to buy consumer goods that aren’t made in China. Then again, if we’re really serious about boosting the U.S. economy, this might be a time when ideals and practicalities go nicely hand in hand. We can continue to buy inexpensive Chinese imports created by workers who are suffering at the hands of their employers, or we can buy American, rebuild our own economy and, in the process, vote with our wallets against inhumane working conditions. I think it’s time American consumers put their money behind their principles, and made it a point to buy goods that aren’t the product of human misery.
To read my article for TheStreet.com, click here.