What are the true costs of products we buy?

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/foremski/foxconn-suicides-time-for-fair-trade-electronics-would-you-buy-a-fair-trade-iphone/1358

This is a subject that has bugged me for some time, though not limited to just electronics but rather products in general. From industrial engineering perspective industrial giants like Ikea have done a lot to raise the perception of better standards of living as more and more people have access to cheaper products with adequate quality. Things are not built to last as creative destruction and fashion will make them obsolete in no time. True cost of the product is outsourced so far away that social or environmental problems can be contained with local iron fist, while we as western consumers can reap the economic benefits of cheap – constantly improving stream goods.

When labour fights were local, we knew people who were affected with those conditions and saw effects in our own environment – we were much keener to take action and had both emotional as well as rational connection to the cause. If you had a baker in the town who was able to sell bread cheaper, because he beat his wife, kids and local orphans into submission and forced them to work longer hours – there was a good chance that you would have not purchased goods from him, once you knew what was going on. Exploitation and oppression was concrete. Child labour in Asia or horrific mining conditions in Africa on the other hand are distant and quite abstract ideas to us, especially as numerous layers of producers, buyers and marketers have washed products and raw materials clean by the time we see the end product.

It can be argued that global trade has brought much good into many areas of the world and may have improved humanity’s operational efficiencies in global scale as organizations can utilize global resources more efficiently. Depending on your viewpoint you can think of global trade bringing work and earning opportunities to places where there were none as an example of good or as a sign of race to the bottom.

Progress and development is good, but it should not be based on constant exploitation and oppression of people worse off.

But what can consumers do?

In global and connected economy almost no-one is completely not guilty. ”Fair trade”-products are just a drop in the ocean and there are no global indicators for example sustainability of products, which could be supported and used also in advertising: ”Now 35% less slavery! Only 10% saturated fats!”. Realistically it will be eons before any such indicators can be made as it seems such a burden to measure and figure out CO2 emissions for products, also something which producers would not do without rules mandating them to do so. At the moment ( at least as far as I know ) calculating product’s CO2-impact is rather expensive operation, which naturally limits willingness to decorate each packaging with such data. One can only imagine what an operation it would be to calculate a much more complex indicator which would include extremely fuzzy components.

Return to non globalized world is not going to happen nor would it benefit humanity as a whole, so we should focus on making globalization work for the humanity and help us create more just world.

How to do it, is much more complex question – but I bet the answer is not inside IMF nor in WTO or in unconstrained markets.

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