Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why not Made In China

On an internet parenting forum recently there has been a debate about buying Made in China and of course, I had to wade in! I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here.

Since I did Crunchy Chicken’s Buy Nothing Challenge in April, I have avoided buying Made in China (and other similar countries in terms of manufacturing) unless I really can't find an alternative - which is fortunately rare.

Following the challenge, I decided to always try to buy second hand as my first choice , made in NZ as second choice and then fair trade/organic/made in a first world country if I can't do the other two. Children's shoes have been my latest stumbling block - even at the flash stores in town I could only find made in China - every pair!

My reasons for avoiding Made in China are hardly unusual - environmentally poor manufacturing processes, human rights abuses in Tibet and in their own country, appalling labour conditions, concerns about slavery, poor quality control and regulations. I don't believe the 'cheap cheaper cheapest' economy is sustainable for anyone, not for the Chinese people, not for the planet, and not for us.

The argument that I hear a lot is 'isn't it better for them to at least have jobs– if we didn’t buy their cheap goods they wouldn’t eat’I honestly think that its a bit like when people used to say that slavery was OK because otherwise these people would be on the streets, starving etc, so wasn't it better for slaves to be fed and sheltered! I think the economic model the Chinese have created, - which is 'cheap, cheaper, cheapest' is fundamentally unsustainable, for the planet and for their people.

If items were certified fair trade from China, then I would buy them despite China's human rights record - because fair trade programmes are directly helping the people. Even quality goods made in China, unless the factories have fair trade or similar certification, are made by little better than slave labour. So I won't buy them. I won't take advantage of workers that have no real choice, I won't create demand for dirt cheap labour, and I won't support these economic models.

It is really tough to do this - its not like we have money to burn. I do the second hand thing a lot - and of course, some of what I buy second hand was originally made in China. I feel that by creating a market for second hand things is more ethical than creating a market for slave labour. But it is really hard to find things that aren’t made in China – and if you can find alternatives, they are extremely pricey when we are used to buying 10 pairs of socks for $10.So its not something we can do easily.

But I have hope – even my mother in law who is particularly unconcerned by such matters won’t buy food products from China because of the poor regulations there.


Sarah said...

I'm on the same page, but it isn't easy for some things such as those socks! Last year I read a book called "A Year without Made in China" it really frustrated me because, while the author managed to go without chinese stuff, she did it without really changing her ideas of what her family needed, opting into a lot of continued consumerism. For instance, she spent hours hunting up big plastic easter bunnies....who needs them??

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. DH went and bought a second hand jig saw a couple of weeks ago, as it was the only one he could get not made in China (Got a made in England one instead). I am trying to buy NZ made if possible, and lots of stuff is second hand here, has to be when you have four kids :-)

I will have to try the yummy bar recipe. I did make the chelsea sugar one today, it was quite nice.

Dawn said...

Another good reason to avoid cheaply made goods...the packaging! It seems over half the product is usually just plastic packaging that will end up in the landfill. Great post.

Gypsy said...

Thanks for your comments guys. Sarah that is such a good comment about the plastic easter bunnies - even if stuff isn't made in China the mentality around collecting cr*P, with lots of packaging like Dawn points out - its still the same one.

Anonymous said...

I think we (at least in the US) are too accustomed to the convenience of buying things for too little money. My father-in-law was just saying that he used to buy burritos from a fast food place when they were 50 cents, but now they're $1.50 and he won't buy them any more!

I think food and gasoline in the US are artificially inexpensive (even with gas at $4 per gallon, an all-time high), and that will soon change. It will be hard for a lot of people to change.