My book is wonderful. I like my own book. I’m very proud of the reporting. I realize that in this day and age, there are so few reporters who leave the internet, leave the phone, leave the office, and go out into the real world to report on what goes on in the real world. And I’ve realized that if you don’t do that, if you don’t take your cues from the real world, objectively, without any ideological claptrap, then you become:
- a bad journalist; and
- an unreliable guide for the rest of the world to rely upon for learning about ourselves, and learning how to make the world work better.
Now, where I think my book falls short is that I was so involved with describing slavery and showing what it looks like, and opening all of our eyes to how it really works (which, by the way, is very, very different from how we imagine it works), that I failed to offer enough hope, enough solutions.
So let me just say that to improve conditions in agriculture, for example, here in the USA, would cost virtually nothing. Americans get the cheapest food of anyone in any country, anywhere, represented by a percentage of what we earn and spend. Spaniards pay about half as much. Japanese and Swedes pay about twice as much.
Agribusiness companies are the second most profitable sector of the American economy, after pharmaceuticals. And finally, agribusiness receives something like 47 billion dollars a year in subsidies and other goodies. If consumers alone shouldered the cost of raising the pay of every single farmworker in America, so that they were actually paid the minimum wage (I’m not talking about giving them condos, I’m talking about paying them what they are legally entitled to earn, according to our laws), it would cost the average American family $50 a year. Of course, there’s no reason that cost should be shouldered by consumers, since we’re already giving plenty of money to these companies through subsidies and, of course, our purchases at the checkout line.
But that’s another discussion. With clothing, it’s the same thing: the scholar Andrew Ross calculated that to pay garment workers around the world would cost us exactly six percent more at the checkout counter. Six percent. We really need garment workers in Bangladesh to make 21 cents an hour for us to get by? Come on.
None of these problems are expensive to fix. They just take some action. And that’s the thing: we’ve stopped believing that our own, puny, individual actions will matter. And that’s increasing pathetic to me. And, just to be honest, I’ve been guilty of that attitude for a long time. I’ve walked around thinking, “Oh, god, everything is so screwed up, it’s impossible.”
But I’ve really had a change of heart. I realize that all I need to do is be active for a few moments a day. I can e-mail or call Burger King and ask them why they refuse to take responsibility for workers who pick their tomatoes whose working conditions are so horrible, they repeatedly get enslaved. How tough is that? That’s five minutes. I can do the same thing with the Gap and ask them why they keep buying things from factories in Third World countries who repeatedly get linked to child labor and slave labor. I can’t write an e-mail to the Gap?
See, this is the thing. No one person is ever going to fix everything that’s wrong with the world. But every single person can take 5 minutes a day to do what they can. And guess what? If you take those five minutes and do something, you can forget about feeling guilty, depressed, or lame about the rest of the world, and about your role in the world. Because the depressed feeling doesn’t do any good for anyone. It certainly doesn’t help the poor. And it does not make you a good person to feel sorry for the poor.
So there. Start: Campaign for Fair Food.