“Could Those Who Make Your Shoes Afford Them?” asks Miguel De La Torre at Ethics Daily.
I get to buy hiking shoes because the poor of the earth make them for me at slave wages. My riches are directly connected to their poverty.
That will get some people’s hackles up. They’ll respond defensively, as though De La Torre is suggesting that this connection must be simple and causal — as though he is saying that their poverty must be a direct consequence of our riches.
Set that aside for the moment. Don’t worry here about cause and effect, just appreciate that the connection is undeniable. They make the shoes. We wear the shoes. From their hands to our feet.
That’s a connection. It’s almost an intimate connection.
And it means we can’t disconnect ourselves from the haunting question in the title of De La Torre’s essay: “Can those who make our shoes afford to buy them?” Or our jeans, our shirts, ties, socks, suits, sweaters or underwear? What about our cars? Our appliances? Our coffee?
Please don’t hear these questions as an accusation. If we think of it that way, we’ll wind up with the defensive distractions of abstractions, or with the resentment that comes from inescapable guilt.
So let’s consider this not as an accusation but as an aspiration.
Think of it this way: I want those who make my shoes to be able to afford shoes. Don’t you want that, too?
Of course, this isn’t just a selfless, warm-fuzzy bit of Kumbaya generosity or altruism. There’s self-interest here as well. We should want the people who make the things we buy to be able to afford those same things because if they can afford that, then they can also afford to buy the goods or services we provide. When the poor of the earth are only paid, as De La Torre says, “slave wages,” then we’re all missing out on people who might otherwise have been our customers.
This is part of what I imagine a better world looks like. The people who make the things I buy can afford to buy the things I make. Those who make my shoes can afford to buy them.
That’s the world I want to live in.