Are we morally responsible for the making of what we purchase?

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Coveny's picture
Are we morally responsible for the making of what we purchase?

So I came across this video of children mining cobalt in Congolese and it got me thinking about the whole battery debate.

On one side they say we are responsible for the way children are being treated in this video because we purchased the phone, so we are providing the incentive to make children work, and putting children in these terrible conditions, with terrible futures.

On the other side though how can we be expected to know every piece in the supply chain? Is it our fault that the country wants to use child labor in mining conditions to turn a profit? Isn’t that the same thing we did here in the U.S. not so long ago? Proponents say it’s the lesser of two evils: “It is common for homeless children or those without parents or adult supervision to be pushed into the sex trade or towards other criminal activities in order to earn money to survive. In this context, working in sweatshops is a far better solution.”

So who’s morally responsible for them working the mines, or do you believe it’s a lesser evil and we are helping not hurting?



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David Killens's picture
IMO we have a moral

IMO we have a moral responsibility not to turn a blind eye to unethical business practices.

If we ignore the evil in this world, then slavery, child labor, and other despicable practices will always continue.

We have the internet, a revolution in information transfer. Before the internet it was exceptionally difficult to research such travesties. So IMO it is also our moral obligation to do some researching before we buy.

Sky Pilot's picture
Mark Coveny,

Mark Coveny,

"Are we morally responsible for the making of what we purchase?"

Life's a bitch. I'm sure that it's possible to automate the mining operations which will actually increase productivity. But that will eliminate the jobs that the people need to earn money to provide for their needs. If the operation was automated the bosses and engineers and technicians would earn the money but the current workers would be eliminated from the equation. What would they do for work and money? The rich people won't give them any of theirs.

So it's either work at shitty jobs, earn a few pennies to live off of, and wreck your body and health or don't work at all and starve. Someday soon you may have to face that choice yourself.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
Personally I boycott

Personally I boycott unethical companies. Sure it limits my choices, I don't buy any Nestle products knowingly, I don't buy Apple products if I can find an alternative, I do not buy Sanitarium products as they do not pay taxes and so on. Trust me I am a nightmare to shop with as She Who Must be Obeyed reckons, but the only weapon I have against these unethical immoral bastards is my wallet.

algebe's picture
We are responsible. We

We are responsible. We shouldn't buy their products, and we shouldn't invest in them. But neither of those options is easy.

From my experience with Japanese corporations, managers are becoming more focused on environmental and social issues. First, companies fear consumer boycotts and negative publicity. Second, socially responsible investment (SRI) is becoming a major force in shaping business behavior.

I have to say, however, that consumers have bloody short memories. There's a Japanese milk company that managed to get arsenic into baby formula in the late 1950s. Over 10,000 babies were poisoned, and over 100 died. The rest suffered various degrees of physical and mental damage. Many are still suffering. The company tried to cover up the problem. Then it fought the lawsuits tooth and nail, dragging the victims through the courts for years. That company is still going strong, and it's still selling lots of baby formula.

With some exceptions, I think most big corporations are realizing that the risks of unethical behavior outweigh the gains. The one category of business that is totally and irredeemably evil from top to bottom is the tobacco industry. They deserve to be bankrupted by lawsuits and every executive and employee thrown in jail for murder.

Sheldon's picture
Yes we share moral

Yes we share moral responsibility for exploitation of people to supply us with cheap goods. We should pressure our governments towards ethical trade practices. Richer nations should band together to use surplus wealth to help the economies of developing nations, rather than exploiting them for quick profit, and we should pass and enforce international laws to protect vulnerable people from exploitation. Children especially. Sadly national self interest and unbridled capitalism seems too often to win out.

algebe's picture
@Sheldon: Sadly national self

@Sheldon: Sadly national self interest and unbridled capitalism seems too often to win out.

Yet if we look at the history of the past 250 years empirically, capitalism (unbridled or otherwise) is the only force that has brought real progress in terms of living standards, life expectancy, literacy, and other social indicators. Welfare and foreign aid are well-intentioned, but they invariably have serious negative consequences, including corruption and dependency. Nothing will stand that is built on other people's money (OPM) handed out by politicians.

Capitalism has its own negative consequences, but in essence it's a democratic and upwardly mobile system. One share, one vote. Persuade investors to back your idea, and you can go from rags to riches.

The negative consequences can be reduced or eliminated in two ways. First, governments need to set and enforce basic laws about things like child labor, worker and consumer safety, pollution, and the responsibilities of directors. Second, investors (and consumers) need to set criteria about the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects of corporate behavior, in addition to financial indicators or the prices of goods. And those criteria should encompass entire supply chains, both domestic and international.

Socially responsible investment and consumer activism are already becoming major forces for change in corporate behavior. The role of governments is more problematic. Governments cause distortions in various ways, such as the "too big to fail" syndrome, and the ability of business to influence politicians through lobbying and donations. The expectation of government bail-outs destroys discipline in the banking sector, for example. (That's going to have disastrous results in China.)

Even more serious is protectionism, as typified right now by the behavior of Donald Trump. Protectionism leads to poverty and conflict. It stops countries from discovering and maximizing their competitive advantages. We all lose.

LogicFTW's picture
All we can do is try to be

All we can do is try to be more informed buyers and try to buy ethically. Enough of us do that and maybe the needle can be moved. Nearly any large succesful commercial product/service can be found to cross some ethical boundaries somewhere in its process.

Sapporo's picture
You should take reasonable

You should take reasonable steps as far as your conscience tells you to. You shouldn't beat yourself up too much about not meeting that standard.

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