By Owen Terry
You probably see a lot of companies in a positive light. When Coca-Cola is mentioned, you might think of happy actors ordering Coke with their popcorn in the ads before a movie; hear about Nestle and you might picture the smiling rabbit on its chocolate milk bottles. But you probably don’t consider, or even realize, that Coca-Cola was allegedly involved in the assassination of union workers in Colombia, or that Nestle relies on child labor for its chocolate supply. And this unethical behavior is far from limited to these two superpowers — if you look up a company off the top of your head, it’s likely that you’ll find evidence of immoral conduct. For example, a quick Google search of “The Gap” reveals that they used child labor to
Why don’t we care about this? You might be thinking, “but I do care.” Chances are, though, that you still own an Apple device that was made in a sweatshop in
China — you might care, but not enough to forgo having an iPhone. As a society, we are problematically apathetic when it comes to immoral actions that don’t affect us. You would be outraged if someone argued in favor of child labor in America, but not if that same person ate a Crunch bar made of chocolate farmed by kids in Africa. As long as an attractive product is being offered, issues like 18th century working conditions don’t matter enough for us to actually refuse to buy it.
This isn’t due to a failure of individual morals, though. Even the nicest person you know has almost definitely given money to a company that abuses its workers. We have been raised under the harsh reality that, among those with power and money, immorality is the rule rather than the exception. Unethical corporate behavior is so common that it’s nearly impossible to avoid sponsoring it by giving your money to companies that engage in it. The problem is not the people, but the system.
We need government action. If Nestle, a company whose actions led to the deaths of millions of babies by malnutrition, is allowed to sell candy bars in America, America can’t call itself great. If our system protects only its own members and completely disregards everyone else, America can’t call itself moral.
Just because the responsibility ultimately falls on the government, though, doesn’t mean we the people can sit idly and wait for a solution to appear. It may be difficult to avoid every bad company, but we can still give support to the good ones. We can pressure lawmakers to work towards stricter regulation of business overseas. We can show that we care.
At the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais called out Tim Cook about Apple’s use of sweatshops. The audience laughed, and Cook was temporarily embarrassed, but then everyone moved on.
We can’t move on. We can’t just think about an issue for a day and then forget about it. We can’t allow ourselves to grow so cynical that unethical labor practices are a joke and nothing more. As long as we keep our eyes closed to everything that is unpleasant to look at, we can’t consider our society a moral one.