For quite some time, the blame game in the catastrophe of human rights violations has featured familiar characters. The corporates are the bad guys, the informal sector in third-world countries the victims and the people with cardboard signs yelling slogans the saviour. It is a classic hero-saves-the-day-from-bad-guys story. However, this dumbed-down narrative gets some things wrong.
Corporates are not the bad guys. We are.
Let us take Amazon for example. For far too long, it has been under fire from activists for the working conditions, daily targets and wages Amazon promises to its factory workers. Amazon prioritises performance— that too, never subpar. It expects consistent high performing individuals to match market demand. When factory workers lose motivation—and they are bound to because it is a redundant task—they are asked to leave. Within seconds, the vacant seat will be filled because there is no scarcity of unemployment. The problem this leads to is low wages and no income raise. In addition to unmotivating incentives, one could argue human rights are also violated in the premises of an Amazon warehouse. At times, employees argue that hourly employees were forced to work years for the company. Workers have complained of limited bathroom breaks, excessive emphasis on daily and linear productivity in addition to an unsafe working environment.
None of the workers deserve to be treated that way. But there looms a larger villain behind the curtains— us. We pull the strings of a factory worker’s life because we want something in a day and some things even earlier. Consumerism pulls the strings of our desires and our lives. This consumerism leads to almost 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and brings with it bad air quality, as more Amazon trucks occupy roads.
Wider wallets and a rising impatience have led to the growth of consumerism. Yes, a pregnant woman being forced to strenuous work certainly warrants empathy and action. However, let us look at it from the customer’s perspective, and by that virtue, a business’ perspective. Customers of Amazon are not going to understand why a certain product will take two days, all of a sudden when other platforms are delivering it within one day. It is crude but it is the reality of life. Lessening the burden of a pregnant woman leads to a delay in multiple customer’s purchases.
Will any customer endure delays in shipping? In the fast, modern and consumer-first economy we live in, will any customer understand that a business wishes to put their employees’ needs over the former’s? Finally, if customers do not subscribe to Amazon because of the delays in shipping, will there even be employees in Amazon?
Not just the speed of delivery but also the fundamental desire to want and need. You are exploiting a human’s life no matter what you buy. If it is something you want—like a pair of new jeans you liked and a leather handbag or something you need— a mobile phone because of online classes and paper. For every step you take in life, you are rendering children homeless, malnutritioned, women harassed and men hopeless.
I am not justifying any human rights violations made by any corporation or trying to play the devil’s advocate here. I am simply putting out the reality of life where the fittest, and by that definition, the highest performing individual, thrives. Does it make life fair? No. Au contraire, it never promised to be fair. Socialism only works in dreams and no matter how painful it is to hear numerous accounts of mistreatment in the gig sector, a metaphorical weighing scale will tell you— the person who pays will always have the last word.