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Labour Law and Consumer Choice

Reading this Daily Mail report of the September Slurpy day at 7-11, I have to confess surprise that there was not more fall out over the 7-11 slave labour story, which coincidentally aired on four corners less than a week ago.

When something really pushes our buttons, it’s incredible what can be achieved by the social voice, and there is no better example than the Alan Jones controversy in 2012.   By social media and consumer activism alone Jones was punished commercially for offensive comments about a politician.  It was remarkable and inspiring how much a united community voice could influence high level commercial activity.   But when it comes to more mundane  abuses, such as the rights of others in the workplace, we seem quite happy to push on regardless, especially if we are getting something at budget prices.

In many ways it correlates to Global trends in the fashion industry.  Very good work is being done by many on uncovering the origins of our fashion wear as a response to the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh.  With 1100 dead this is rated as the second worst industrial accident in world history.  Yet “where do our clothes come from” is not a question that is receiving much attention, other than around the fringes.  We all play our part in this economy that demands a constant supply of new, cheap clothing, but we rarely stop to think who is making them or under what conditions.  All we notice is how much they cost.    While we can watch Four corners,  aghast at the idea of workers anywhere in Australia being paid $5 per hour, we are not prepared to turn down our fish tank full of slurpy on September 1.

I’m not attempting to lay a guilt trip on consumers.  If I was, this would be hypocritical, because I’d be just as guilty.  A busy lifestyle gives little chance for choice, let alone fully researched ethical choices.   But modern Australia has settled into a strange paradigm.   Labour law activism has been part of our culture since the industrial revolution, yet  Consumer activism is almost non-existent.  Evermore in today’s society we see these elements sitting in conflict.  How much longer can we go on demanding legal impediments to exploitation on a governmental level, but create market demand for exploitation on a consumer level?  Something has to give somewhere.  I’m not suggesting this has to be started by consumers, but we need to be ready for change.


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    • Helen Carter

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