Wake Up, Teen Consumers!


Do you ever think about where the threads used to make your tee shirt were spun? Or whose hands have touched the hem of your jeans? Do we really know where the things we buy come from?

Questions like these compel us to be more conscious of the unfortunate reality that exists in factories abroad--a reality we'd rather not face and is much easier to ignore.

Unfortunately, in our global economy, consumers are detached from the process that goes into making their final product. This disconnect between end product and the manufacturing process allows consumers to turn a blind eye to the appalling conditions in the factories that, through our patronage, we indirectly support. Although it would be challenging to vet the origins of all products on the market, it is important for us to become aware of the chain of events in manufacturing that leads to the merchandise we purchase.

One issue of which the general public might not be aware is the falsification of the origins of products, where companies make false claims that products are made in a country of origin using certain raw materials, when in fact, they are simply counterfeits.

A telling example of this phenomenon of product forgery is the Lokai bracelet. This colorful adornment has become the latest teen trend, claiming to contain energizing water from Mount Everest and mud from the Dead Sea. Companies are illegally copying the Lokai bracelet with artificial materials and branding these "knock-offs" as authentic. That's why it's crucial to buy from the Lokai Company directly, to guarantee authenticity and be a responsible buyer.

Another issue is the unethical use of child labor. Recently, it was reported that children in India were being used to obtain the cosmetic ingredient mica. These children do not go to school and instead work all day scraping to obtain this ingredient. Next time we wear foundation, we may want to check the ingredient label.

The appalling work conditions of factories in other countries may further taint the items we buy. There are over 4 million workers suffering under brutal labor conditions in the garment industry factories of Bangladesh, where the monthly minimum wage is $68 a month. The 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse that killed more than 1000 people woke up the world, compelling people to question the working conditions in factories abroad and ask the question we should all be asking: where is the stuff we buy coming from?

Or take factories in Cambodia, where the majority fail to comply with labor laws related to worker health, resulting in long hours overtime, unbearable heat levels in factories, and no access to clean drinking water. Most shocking, however, is that many factories keep emergency exit doors locked during working hours and thus put workers at risk in the event of a fire.

Companies get away with using cheap labor and inhumane working conditions by manufacturing their products in countries with little regulation. Companies plead ignorance when such problems are revealed since these countries provide little oversight and a lack of labor laws.

Competition among companies for the same consumers is another factor. Large manufacturers know that consumers are more likely to purchase cheaper products. Competition drives their business motives: to make products as cheaply as possible so they can be sold cheaply. Called "Fast Fashion," it relies on poor quality products that last for a year or two because you buy a new shirt or jacket that is the next fashion trend the following year. To not fall for this trap set by companies; rather, "buy less and buy better." Although higher quality products made under reasonable working conditions are often more expensive, they are ultimately more cost-effective because you don't have to keep re-buying them and, more importantly, support fair treatment of workers.

What prevents us from making a change is our reluctance to admit the existence of such dreadful circumstances and the role we play in their continuation. However, we do have the power to make a difference by becoming conscious buyers and taking responsibility for the choices we make. A dollar is a vote; whenever we spend a dollar on a product we are voting for what it represents. We are the problem but also part of the solution.

If companies' competitive goals are channeled toward ensuring better working conditions and obtaining a seal of high corporate responsibility then improvements can be made. Big companies hold a lot of power that can be used for good without having to spend money and increase their prices. Companies may mandate that factory make their factories safer through small measures like keeping doors unlocked so workers can escape if there's a fire to improve working conditions and save lives."

Fortunately, the influence of social media and technology makes it more difficult for corporations to conceal the truth from the public. With social media and the interconnected global community, information about factory conditions and companies is more readily accessible to the public. Businesses now compete to have a seal of corporate responsibility because consumers are more aware. Companies like Samsung, Apple, Gap, and Amazon, have been exposed as failing to protect their factory workers and using dangerous or abusive factories for production. Recently, it was revealed that Volkswagen equipped its diesel vehicles with software that enabled them to run better in tests than they actually would on the road. This severe safety infringement had devastating repercussions on the company's reputation and hopefully sent a warning that companies must be honest because the public is watching them.

What is our role as consumers? It is our job to take responsibility and be conscious buyers. If we learn that a product is made under unethical conditions then choose not to buy from that company. Although it may take more time, doing research into the sources of your food, clothing, and products is a crucial step in raising awareness and promoting better labor regulations.

Another way we teens can play a role in helping support good companies is to back small local businesses. When a chain coffee store moves onto a block, we may forget to patronize local coffee shops. Instead, we should continue to support small companies: know where our clothes come from and what the workers are going through. We don't want people to suffer so that we can put a piece of clothing on our bodies. The moral of the story is to think globally and act locally.

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