The news from North Africa and the Middle East has been truly amazing lately. It’s a little scary for business owners and everyone else who depends on oil (in other words, nearly everybody). Recent unrest in oil-rich Libya has sent oil prices skyward. But over the long term, expensive oil may be a small price to pay.
Nobody knows what kind of change is happening; all that’s certain is that change has come and likely will continue. The ideas behind the gathering, singing, shouting, and violence are contagious: Wanting basic human rights shouldn’t be too much to ask. North African countries are swept up in it. News of at least some unrest has also trickled out of China.
The human rights issue has muddied the ethical waters of the global economy. People who own a smart phone probably don’t think about--or at least don’t like thinking about--where it came from. As BusinessWeek reported last year, gargantuan electronics manufacturer Foxconn placed huge “suicide nets” next to buildings on its main campus after workers jumped from the rooftops. The photo is downright eerie.
I talk with manufacturers nearly every day, and I don’t take for granted how a plant can buttress a community--and how its closing can decimate it. Does closing a plant and going overseas make a company more competitive? Would it prevent a company from shuttering completely or becoming acquired and dismantled by the competition? Such debates have filled volumes, but I hope buried in the discussion is the fact that businesses aren’t just dollars and sense; they are people with children, spouses, and mortgages.
Thankfully, U.S. citizens live in a place where people can and do speak freely. As protesters in the Middle East march for the right to speak, Wisconsin’s citizens are exercising the right. You can agree or disagree with them, but their right to speak should be sacrosanct.
I have no trouble with globalization. I know it’s a reality. If a part can be made better, faster, and cheaper elsewhere, it probably should be. But from an ethical perspective, shouldn’t the actual people who make those products better, faster, and cheaper (or at least as good, fast, and cheap as the market demands) be free to live their lives and not be brutalized? Ideally they should even reap some kind of reward for their efforts.
And factories shouldn’t have suicide nets--anywhere, ever.