One of the most enduring myths we love here in America is that we ended our involvement with slavery after the Civil War. While our Founders – people like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence but owned slaves himself – were tarnished, morally imperfect hypocrites, in our modern era, we tell ourselves, we’ve risen above that. We are pure! We’re no longer tainted by slavery!
If only it were true.
The recent fires that killed 112 workers in Bangladeshi sweat shops making garments for Wal-Mart and other American retailers show how we, today, are frankly more hypocritical and dishonest about slavery than was Jefferson himself.
As are those Libertarians who argue that the Bangladeshis were “willing workers,” when poverty is so severe in that country that working, chained into a firetrap factory, is essential to survival itself. To call the working conditions of much of the developing world anything less than slavery is to ignore the power relationships that keep workers behind fences, locked 24/7 in often-violent dormitories, and the companies that string nets outside windows to reduce worker suicides.