Death By China, Peter Navarro's documentary that opens this weekend in New York, starts with a clip from Black Friday in which hundreds of people eagerly await cheap electronics at a Best Buy. The filmmaker questions various customers on the origin of their purchased products, and every person responds with the exact same answer: "It's from China... Just like everything else."
One man responds, "Well to tell you the truth, I didn't even come here exactly for this (referring to a Mercedes Benz toy car), but I saw it and I can't pass up the $200 deal."
"Did you see where it was made?"
"Oh yeah, it was made in China, but I'm fine with it."
We are all guilty of the same negligence, from corporate America to you and me. Upon purchase of these "Made In China" products we're aware that they may break, wind up in storage, or simply just get tossed in the garbage months or even weeks after purchased. There are even TV Shows like A&E's Storage Wars that magnify the American tendency to overconsume, and statistics that show one in 10 families own storage units.
But infinitely more problematic is that we are aware that Chinese goods are directly correlated to unacceptable working conditions that have caused corporate America to move their businesses to China, which has resulted in 57,000 American factories that shut down in the last 10 years.
In our defense, we are all products of our shopaholic environment -- a place in which it is hard to buy a pair of shoes, a new toothbrush, or practically anything at all without contributing to a major humanitarian crisis affecting both China and the U.S.
But we all need a film like Death By China to put us in our place and to remind us that we're all guilty as charged. The film reinforces that a large part of China's trade advantage comes from their labor and environmental neglect -- 16 of the world's 20 dirtiest cities are in China, and less than 1% of their urban air meets the air quality standards of the European Union. In China, approximately 130,000 people die due to human rights abuses during work every year.
Yet for some reason, all of our desires to indulge have allowed us to disregard our values.
It is up to each one of us to recognize that by indulging in cheap labor we are complicit in the world's ethical collapse. But how do we walk away from this shopping addiction? We need to start somewhere, and we can begin with the American people demanding ethically produced goods. The ethical shopping movement is here -- ready to jump hurdles over the "Made In China" bargains. But the ethical shopping supply will not grow unless it has the demand.
I am the founder of the fair-trade initiative Same Sky, a company that pays HIV positive Rwandan women 15 to 20 times the average wage to make hand crocheted jewelry. As the Founder, I am very aware of the potential of the ethical shopping movement. We started in 2008 and have seen tremendous progress since then. Over 50% of our customers are repeat customers. In the same way that many Americans have become addicted to cheap goods, I have seen many people become addicted to quality products and the feel-good shopping that supplies our Rwandan artisans with food, medicine, mattresses and their own homes, all of which resonates with our human values.
Peter Navarro's Death By China is a call for action -- you can see it this weekend at the Quad Cinema in New York to learn how your everyday shopping habits might be affecting the 25 million people in America without a decent job.
Follow Francine LeFrak on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FrancineLeFrak