As consumers, we go about our days, shopping and saving…all without thinking about the tiny details. We probably don’t think about what goes into most of the things that we buy — whether it is good or bad.
This seemingly innocuous recently surfaced online. A Reddit user named Samson_says found it in a shoe box.
It’s a rough drawing of a factory worker wearing a traditional Ethiopian headdress, and it was discovered in an unopened box of Naturalizer shoes.
“We are thirsty and overworked. Militia soldiers are on top of each other watching us. Help us.”
This is a translation that one Redditor came up with while examining the drawing. While there has been a lot of debate on what the exact translation is, the consensus is that this is a desperate cry for help. Other users have given similar translations, all of which identify words like “soldier,” “thirsty,” and “help.” These workers are being abused and exploited at every turn.
Naturalizer is partially produced by a company called Huajian, a major shoe exporter. They also work with brands like Guess and Toms. They recently moved their factory from China to Ethiopia in the hopes of exploiting workers.
A spokesperson for Huajian says that they do use strict rules to keep their employees focused and productive, but it’s clear that the industry superpower is hiding something deeply unethical.
Between the years 2000 and 2010, labor costs in China tripled, leaving workers with no choice but to live on about $630 a month. To those of us living in a first-world economy, that is absolutely nothing…but to the big businesses looking to mass-produce products as cheaply as possible, it sounds too expensive.
That’s why greedy manufacturers have been moving their factories from Asia to Africa, where there are absolutely no minimum wage laws to protect factory workers.
Helen Hai, the CEO of the new factory in Ethiopia, saw the earning potential of moving away from China, noting the preferential tariffs on exports from Africa to the U.S. and Europe.
While you could argue that bringing such a large factory to an area with low employment and a high poverty rate is a step in the right direction, you also have to consider that locals are heartbreakingly desperate for work…even when it costs them their health and their lives.
This note is obviously an indicator that the Ethiopian government needs to take more responsibility for what’s happening to their people in these factories.
Ridiculously low wages and tyrannical work conditions run rampant in the facilities, and employees are worked to the bone for the manufacturer’s gain. They have no regard for the safety and well-being of their workers.
The average staring salary for factory workers in Ethiopia is between $35 and $40 per month.
Ethiopian people have no choice but to take these jobs and endure frightening working conditions if they want to feed themselves and their families. Something has to be done, and it has to be done right now.
(via FT, Al Jazeera)
So how can we help? It might seem like a small thing, but if we can learn to shop ethically, we can stop these human rights violations in their tracks. You can learn where to shop here! This site, and others like it, allow you to do quick searches on companies that you like and learn the truth about their production policies.
Other than doing your own part by shopping ethically and donating to charities that support workers, you can also raise awareness of the problem. Share stories like this so that the plight of factory workers in the developing world can be heard by as many people as possible.