Who cares?

Tove Svensson Rissanen, Executive Vice President and Executive Director for the International Association Building, Norrtälje, Boston (USA)

“IKEA let Cuban prisoners make furniture,” was the headline on the Swedish Daily post one morning. The Swedish television program “Mission Review”, which claimed that IKEA had prisoners under a dictatorship make their dining tables and chairs back in the 80’s, has also made similar disclosures. At the same time spokesmen for IKEA argue that they did not know about the production of furniture in Cuba. Word now stands against word.

Does not sound good, say many, in the past says others.

I’ve always been a fan of IKEA and I love long shopping sprees in their stores, with the traditional finish of a plate of meatballs or pancakes in one of their restaurants. However, these recent findings tell me that the furniture company might not always have heart in the right place, as I so naively wanted to believe.

As for my dear fashionistas, it is now solemnly time to wake up from the illusion, that we have so many become victims of, in our yearning for beautiful designs and affordable price tags. Another recent article said “our fashionable jeans harvests lives” and we’re told how children in Bangladesh are working under conditions that lead to premature and painful death. The author also wrote that this is how everyday life is for thousands of workers in Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, India and Egypt, who “stands in crowded shops with no ventilation, and may spray sand in twelve hour shifts to get the fashion industry, jeans that look worn. The inhalation of silica particles gives the incurable disease, silicosis, and the satisfaction of their lung capacity is reduced dramatically. In the final stage they are gasping even at rest, and finally their hearts give up.” This is the reality for many of our global neighbors.

If you choose to not believe what is written, then go on and buy your jeans and furniture, without feeling guilty, but check where your garments or material is produced first. I bet you that 9 out of 10 will be from one of the countries I mentioned above. Also, take a minute to think about what the working conditions might look like for the person behind the product. Probably not a pretty picture?

My question is what comes next in this vicious circle of increased customer demand and lower prices? How far are we willing to let companies use non-human labor?

It is true that companies alone should not be accounted for all of this. Companies are of course driven by market demand, which comes from us, the consumers, and companies must follow these in order to survive today’s tough competition. But should this really be done at any price and must not companies take their full social responsibility and ensure that their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policy isn’t just empty words for a delusional brand-image? For sure it’s not fun to wear their designer jeans, when you know that the work behind belongs to a dying child.

I’m not trying to pull IKEA in the dirt, for something they perhaps did in the 80s. I’m also not looking to draw any specific fashion giants in the dirt. I just want to show how difficult it is for us consumers to know what goes on behind the scenes.

So no matter what may be your feelings into action, the focus should be on how we as consumers can be assured that our company’s have production that are in a humane manner. I really think that it is about time that companies become more transparent and can show us that they are operated properly. If companies have clean flour in their bags, which most of them claim to have, it should not be a problem for them.

It’s “every little” makes a big river and therefore we at inEmpathy believe that we with many members behind us will be able to create a more compassionate world. This is nothing that makes itself and is certainly not done overnight, but becoming a member of this organization would be your first step in showing that you actually care about your fellow man!

Maybe it’s easier to not see the real face behind the products you buy.