The relatives of a victim of last month's collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building grieve among bodies from the disaster at a morgue in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 5, 2013. (Photo: Taslima Akhter / The New York Times)

The relatives of a victim of last month’s collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building grieve among bodies from the disaster at a morgue in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 5, 2013. (Photo: Taslima Akhter / The New York Times)

If you’ve read our materials or been to one of our presentations, you know we talk about “taking down the system” (or “taking down the global economic system,” if we’re feeling more verbose). But what do we mean by “the system?” As we’ve said:

From global warming to genocide, the crises that confront us are not accidental — as if politicians and business leaders were somehow independently deciding to murder union organizers, pollute the seas or strip the land. Rather, these atrocities flow from a global economic system that requires them to maintain its functioning.

Truthout has published an analysis of sweatshops that is a good example of how injustices (such as sweatshops) that may seem to come from the decisions of a few corporate executives are actually created at the highest policy levels — but then commentators turn around and blame consumers for them, as if it’s our shopping decisions that create the problem. From the article:

On May 5, The New York Times dedicated its “Sunday Dialogue” feature to letters about the factory collapse in Bangladesh that had killed more than 1,100 garment workers a week and a half earlier. The “dialogue” started with a letter from University of Michigan business school professor Jerry Davis, who apportioned blame for the disaster to “the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing,” and to us. Through “[o]ur willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions,” he wrote, we “create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.”

There’s a striking omission in Prof. Davis’ list – the people whose policies make the sweatshop economy possible.

For more than three decades, US politicians, think tanks and columnists have promoted an economic program known in most of the world as neoliberalism. Here in North America, we use nicer-sounding terms like “free markets,” “free trade” and “globalization,” but the effect on developing nations is the same.

The analysis is worth a read, and could ultimately apply to many other injustices including global warming, mass extinction and genocide of indigenous cultures. And let’s hear it for the author’s conclusion, too:

After all this, when a major industrial accident occurs, the sweatshop promoters turn around and point their fingers at us, the consumers.

In fact, we are guilty. Not because we buy clothes, and not because, as Professor Davis claims, in “a web-enabled world” we can somehow “quickly research which brands oversee safe practices” – those of us who actually live in areas where our choices aren’t limited to one big-box store or another. We’re guilty because – up until now, at least – we’ve stood back and allowed the politicians and the talking heads to turn the Global South into a global sweatshop.

Read the full piece here.