Thursday, August 21, 2008

Profiting off Poverty

Product Red is a campaign of multinational producers that are each putting out a "red" item in which a portion of the funds will go to fight AIDS in Africa. The Gap has a t-shirt, converse has a shoe, there's a red myspace, a red motorola, American Express, and even Giorgio Armani hosted a night of fashion for the cause.

At best this campaign raises awareness considering the corporate counterparts are getting a much larger chunk of the profit than any AIDS victim in Africa, but much more this whole en devour is a large pat on the back in the form of an amazing pr opportunity.
Unfortunately there is a giant flaw in their plan.

The same cycle of unethical business that dehumanizes labor and has no regard for the environment is not suddenly going to solve the world's problems. The fact that the Gap is clinging to an "ethical" image is laughable. The company subcontracts its labor, a convenient method for the corporation to have no responsibility for how its garments are made. Just recently the Observer discovered child labor producing clothing for Gap Kids.,,2200590,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

The Gap's spokespeople said they were deeply embarrassed by the situation and severed ties with this production outlet. But this isn't new. In fact the Gap has continuously been accused of employing sweatshop labor and yet each time they act surprised and hope to quickly cover the situation.

Nike, which owns Converse, also has a long sordid past of using sweatshop labor. So these multinationals want to raise awareness about AIDS, but not about the global economic politic that lands developing regions in these types of situations. Africa is in such a state because of colonialism and the fact that the entire continent was raped and pillaged in the name of profit. But now through the magic of mindless consumerism we can solve these problems? More likely the Gap, Nike, and the rest of them are creating more problems in different corners of the world. Maybe someday the Gap will have a shirt whose proceeds will go towards educating Indian children. And Nike can make a shoe whose proceeds will benefit the women of Mexico's maquiladoras. It's a brilliant plot to perpetuate poverty.

I guess the biggest problem I have with this campaign is that it reinforces our consumerism. Now consumerism is moral. Not only that but I can wear a t-shirt that lets everyone know just how much I care. Shams like this also make people with good intentions suspicious of worthwhile organizations and reinforce feelings of apathy. People can make a difference, but exploiting one economically devastated area to help another is not the answer.

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