Does It Help?
In my previous article I wrote about the plight of the people of N. Korea and how this impacts our faith. Today I’d like to explore a related issue of oppression as it relates to international business.
In the article Apple, China, and Doing The Right Thing, macstories addresses the question/accusation concerning Apple outsourcing to the infamous Chinese company Foxconn. Many news and social networking blurbs judge companies like Apple as hypocritical and exploitative because they know the conditions the workers are forced to endure, all in the name of profit, because westerners would be too expensive. But as with most other controversies, reality is deeper than a sound bite:
The fact is that these workers have a choice, albeit a limited one, about where to work. And they are working at factories like Foxconn —which, I remind you, is a wholly separate entity from Apple— because they are better than the alternatives: no job at all, or a job that pays far worse with even harsher conditions.Few who protest for helping the poor of the world actually do something constructive and long-lasting to make a difference. And they demand immediate solutions, including violent revolutions. But if what has happened in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring or any other revolt in history is any indication (which it certainly is), this approach rarely accomplishes its goal, and in fact makes things worse. In fact, the American Revolution is one of those few that actually improved things-- an irony surely miles over the heads of today’s America haters (shall we call them ’Amerophobes’?).
Think about that. As bad as the stories that we’ve heard about working there are —and make no mistake, they are horrid and no one should have to work under such conditions— the fact that Foxconn has a six-month waiting list of people hoping to become employees seems to suggest that they are still much better than any other opportunity these workers have available.
If the goal of a boycott is to assuage the guilt of first-world citizens for buying Apple products made under harsh conditions, Apple leaving China would certainly accomplish that. But if the goal is to make things better for the workers themselves, the only realistic option I can see is for Apple to continue what they’re doing: work with these companies, demand better conditions, conduct audits, and have the workers paid as well as possible for people in their position.
But as with trying to help the starving children of Africa or the sick of India, the problem is not a failure of compassion or donations or volunteers-- or even greedy capitalists. Rather, the problem is the corruption of the governments over those poor and sick and exploited people. They confiscate donations at the border and either keep them or sell them for outrageous amounts. Yet if we appeal to international bodies such as the UN to take over such countries by force (which, if done by the US is called ’imperialism’), then we would not have the right to complain should our own country be deemed deserving of destruction.
So what do we do? What do Christians do? Jesus taught that the world would be changed not by revolt or force or decree, but by spreading the gospel one person at a time. To change the world we must change people from within. Not even Roman soldiers were ordered to quit the army or subvert it, but instead were to do what all of us are to do: be
light. The NT never touches on the question of whether it’s right for a believer to remain in the service of an evil government, but it does tell us how to behave under any conditions. While many have tried to make the NT endorse slavery (or patriarchy, or polygamy, etc.) since Paul gave instructions about it rather than condemning it, they completely miss the point about changing society by changing people and getting along as best we can in the meantime.
In other words, the way to relieve the oppressed and free the imprisoned is not to boycott or revolt or slander, but to use any and every opportunity to get a foot in the door. This is the opportunity before companies like Apple, and of course it’s their responsibility to take advantage of it. If we must condemn them, it should be because they squandered this opportunity and did not use their clout to effect all the change they could. And we must remember that whatever standard we use for them will be used on us. Do we also look for small opportunities to spread the gospel? Do we take advantage of them and faithfully keep to the course, patiently waiting for results? Or do we ignore the suffering people around us, steal from them, lie to them, abuse them, destroy their property, or take advantage of them? Where is
judge not when the topic is capitalism, for example?
We should also remember that it isn’t just a business issue. The same people who condemn Apple will look the other way while allegedly
Christian political leaders never say a word to world leaders about oppression, much less the gospel. Who else will get the opportunity to speak to world leaders about Jesus, or convince them to allow their people freedom and personal property? We are to reach the people we come in contact with, and if we hold a position where we can reach where few others can, what will God say to us if we fail? Why do we not hold our leaders, Christian or otherwise, to account for failing to push for humanitarian relief? Where is the outrage when they go to oppressive regimes and come back saying
Oh, they’re not so bad, everything is fine, we don’t want to anger them...? And Apple is bad because they provide jobs?
I think the article makes a good point about this being more a matter of Westerners assuaging consumer guilt than actually caring about the oppressed. When we elect presidents and other state officials who wink at oppression instead of fighting it, how can we pick only on businesses? What I’m trying to say is that we aren’t consistent with our condemnation and we repeat the failures of the past. If we ourselves are not able to help the people of China or N. Korea or anyplace else, we need to be wise in choosing those who can-- and keep their feet to the fire.