Socially Responsible Pr0n?

Hey there Pr0nistas –

I’m going to take a break from my usual free-wheeling style to try to start an actual discussion about something that’s been on my mind.

As I was surfing through other WordPress blogs today, I started reading The Urban Landfill, which was filled with pretty pictures of shoes and handbags – my kinda blog. One of her posts was on Matt & Nat, a vegan handbag & shoe line I’ve seen before.  I was familiar with their stuff and even liked what I saw, but hadn’t told friends about it – my stamp of approval for things I like.

What had stopped me from recommending this line was that all of it is made in China.  What’s the problem with products made in China? Aren’t many products we buy made there? Many are unfortunately, so many it’s almost unavoidable.

The reason so many of our products are made in China is because it’s very inexpensive for companies to produce their items in China.  There’s a minimum wage, but it’s not enforced; what few labor laws there are aren’t enforced; there are no unions, no sexual harassment laws, or Workers’ Compensation – all of these protections we have in the U.S. (and other industrialized nations) cost companies money.  In an effort to keep costs down for us, the consumer, companies take their business overseas, frequently to China.

What are working conditions in China? According to the U.S. China Business Council, “… In practice, however, the rights of Chinese workers are routinely violated. Workers are often required to work far more than 40 hours a week, have few days off, are paid below the minimum wage, and are not paid required overtime.  Improper deductions from wages are common. vSome Chinese workers must pay a … “deposit” to their employer, and … a “recruitment fee” in order to be hired… Physical abuse of workers, and dangerous working conditions, are also common. A New York Times article from January 2008 reports that “worker abuse is still commonplace in many of the Chinese factories that supply Western companies”

Now, I buy products made in China.  I don’t like it, but I do it.  So what’s my point?  My point is that I’m not making any claims to be particularly cruelty-avoidant.  A nice person maybe, but I digress. I’m neither vegan nor vegetarian. I won’t wear fur; I will wear leather, and I like my steaks cooked medium, please.

If you check out Matt & Nat’s blog, they say that their company is “a Montreal-based socially responsible hand bag line [and] is one of the most forward-thinking companies to date. And their bags (all vegan leather and environmentally friendly.)” An interview for The Montreal Mirror says, ” All their products are made in China, but … because their bigger buyers, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Dillard’s, insist on customers signing contracts that make sure no children were used in manufacturing, [Matt and Nat] uses the bigger, more ethically reliable Chinese factories to make their stuff. This keeps the company in line with their corporate philosophy.”

Talk to me pr0nistas: does this ride with you?  Does it sit well?  If there’s one thing that’s not pr0nish to me, it’s companies talking out of both sides of their mouths, and this leaves a bad taste in mine.  In a country still a Communist regime for all intents, where there’s no freedom of speech or the press or religion, in a country where you can only have one child, and females are routinely aborted, abandoned or neglected, in a country where 20 years ago peaceful protesters were killed in public, in a country where people disappear, is it enough for a company calling itself “socially responsible” to say it’s okay to do business in a country simply because they’re not using sweatshops?

Clearly by now you know my opinion, but I’d like to hear yours – agree or disagree.  What matters to you, pr0ners?

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14 responses to “Socially Responsible Pr0n?

  1. I am downright nauseated by their blase justification for this. I honestly don’t even know what to say, other than that I can’t imagine they believe their own “excuse.”

  2. An acquaintance of mine in Cambridge used to work (recently left) a company that designed consumer audio equipment and had it manufactured for them in China, as everyone does these days. He had to go to China to sort out problems with the initial production run, and he was nervous: Was he going to be abandoned there and be unable to work? Was it all going to be mind-shatteringly alien? Was he going to find anything to eat (he’s vegetarian and somewhat fussy)? Were conditions in the factory going to be appallingly bad and make him unable to continue working for a company involved in such horrors?

    He found that things were really not so bad there as he thought – conditions in the factory were about the same as a basic UK assembly line (he’s worked with them too), the food provided in the cafeteria was sufficient and edible, people seemed to arrive and depart work at fairly reasonable times, etc.
    The local management did try to keep him apart from the workers in case he saw anything he disapproved of, but he evaded them; he sat down next to the assembly line workers and debugged problems with them and they seemed to appreciate it; he went in the “employee” toilet (not the “management visitor” toilet) and it was merely less decorated than the posh one, quite OK, etc.
    So while there are undoubtedly horrible places to work in China, they’re not all horrible. To assume that, is really showing some assumptions about China that reflect unflatteringly on oneself.

  3. Okay, Nicolai. I’ll mention to the Washington Post, the New York Times and the U.S. China Business Council that they’ve been making “assumptions” about working conditions in China, not to mention the Chinese Government. I’m sure they’re quite benign.

    But the point to my post was to ask the question, do you find it acceptable for a company that claims to be socially and environmentally responsible to do business in a country where this goes on at all?

  4. Hullo love,

    I got your pingback, and I was appalled to learn about Matt and Nat…so I wrote an advisory note. It’s not my policy to remove posts, but I certainly don’t support them anymore.

    Thanks for the heads up!!!

    Urban Landfill

  5. Hey there!

    You’re welcome! Everyone should do what their own conscience dictates, of course – I would never claim to speak for anybody but myself. But…the more I read their blog, the more upset I personally got. I actually commented in it, because in one post they use the term “rape” to refer to getting overcharged on a hotel room rate. I don’t claim to be anything other than who I am, but I have certain hot buttons.

    I’m glad my post affected you.


  6. My great aunt made a conscientious effort to stop buying things made in China about seven years ago…now, both my mom and I try to do the same thing. In addition to humanitarian issues, I just don’t think the quality is as good. Coincidence? I think not…

    Thanks for posting this — good to know my family (and trend-setting great aunt! ;) isn’t alone in our views…

  7. Thanks for chiming in, Eolivet! I think it’s important to at least be aware of the impact you’re making on the world, and to look beyond what you’re told. For instance: most Japanese cars are actually made in the U.S.

    Again, I don’t profess to be a perfect human being – just someone who tries. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting. :)

  8. i agree with you. i find arrogance in individuals and companies that say they are socially responsible because they are vegan/vegetarian but support violating rights of people!

  9. I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.

  10. i am for improving the environment, but i do wonder how much pollution they make when they make recycled bottles, etc into material they can then use again for their products? i could be absolutely wrong but i read somewhere that it takes a lot of energy to get recycled stuff back to something that could be reused.

    i still think cloth bags or durable plastic bags (which you can reuse again) are more practical and create less of an impact on the environment. just my two cents…

  11. Wow…
    This really bothers me. I am a veg living in Montreal and have worked with Mat & Nat for two years in the Montreal World Vegan Day Fashion Show. They have done an amazing job promoting animal cruelty free products that we have been lucky to have but now im afraid that they are not sweatshop free as they claim. Can you send me the article about this?

    thank you so much for making us aware.

    and if you get a chance my blog is :

    • Hi Dan –

      Yeah, I’ve had a couple of interactions with them via their publicist on a related issue on their blog (using the term “getting raped” to refer to an excessively priced hotel), and I really wasn’t impressed. The response that I got was basically that the term “getting raped” is slang, and it also has a dictionary meaning outside of the sexual, and that’s the way it was being used in the blog post. I’m happy to post the exchange publicly or forward it to you if you’re interested.

      It’s not my intention to start some sort of smear campaign against them, it truly was something that had been on my mind for a while, and I decided to check out, and this was the result. Just today I was surfing around capturing links for Eco Pr0n. If you know of some good ones, please do pass them my way!

      The link to the article from a few years ago is here. My guess is that somewhere along the way they lost some ethics in the interest of money. It’s a shame. Thanks for stopping by – I hope you’ll stick around.

  12. Pingback: Eco Friendly Pr0n « Shopping Pr0n

  13. Pingback: Happy Pr0niversary Sales! « Shopping Pr0n

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