Nike CEO Phil Knight claims he isn’t responsible for sweat-shop conditions in his shoe factories because workers are sub-contractors and don’t work for him. Similarly consumers are often unaware of the sweatshop conditions and environmental degradation needed to produce the low-cost goods we take for granted. In both cases the problem is what Richard McIntyre in his book Are Human Rights Worker Rights? calls moral distance.
Moral distance is built into the dominate economic system to ensure that inequitable power arrangements are maintained. It prevents solidarity from developing between exploited workers and consumers, allows corporate elites to avoid responsibility and makes it seem that cleared forests, dying coral reefs etc. are someone else’s problem.
According to McIntyre, progress could be made in bridging this divide if more emphasis was given to expanding the rights of workers to free association and collective bargaining. Worker solidarity would then grow to combat exploitation and domination. Instead individual human rights are favored over collective rights allowing moral numbness to dominate social relations. I would add that expanding collective rights further to include the “more than human” world would ease pressure on collapsing ecosystems.
Listen to an interview with Richard McIntyre at: www.againstthegrain.org/se