Check your shirt’s tag. Where was it made? Do you ever think about who works to provide your clothes, electronics, sports gear, etc.? Most developed countries have laws about work conditions. Those laws protect workers and guarantee a minimum level of pay. But some other countries have different policies. Those differences can cause ethical issues for consumers when employee treatment violates basic human rights.
For that reason, the Trump Administration blocked shipments of baby pajamas from a Chinese company. The pajamas sell at Costco warehouses in packs of two for about $15. That’s a bargain for U.S. shoppers. But research into production practices suggested that the Chinese manufacturer uses forced labor.
Hetian Taida Apparel is accused of forcing ethnic minorities to sew clothes. The laborers are in an internment camp in China’s far western Xinjiang region. Most are Muslims. Their religious views threaten the Chinese government’s communist ideals. Government officials try to force the imprisoned minority groups to give up their language and their religion. They also make them work in state-subsidized factories that profit the government.
God gives people creativity and skills to provide goods and services that others need or want. Commerce, industry, and honorable labor is good, and scripture has much to say about working diligently and treating employees well. (See 1 Timothy 5:18, Ephesians 4:28, and Colossians 4:1, just for starters.)
Conversely, God is not pleased with unjust treatment of workers. He saw His people enslaved in Egypt, as Deuteronomy 26:6 says, “The Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor.” Malachi 3:5 promises that God will act against those who “oppress the hired worker in his wages.”
As Christian consumers (product or service buyers), awareness of unjust work conditions should prick our consciences. Is it righteous to benefit from someone else’s suffering? Or is it righteous to go without—or pay more for an alternative made under fair trade practices?
On October 1, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) stopped some cargo containers at port. The goods inside were not allowed to be distributed to U.S. retailers. The CBP says the contents might have originated from factories that mistreat workers and use child labor. Costco is one of the businesses scheduled to receive products from those containers.
Costco continued to sell the Hetian Taida sleepers it had in stock. A company representative stated, “We believe (the pajamas) were made in a factory other than the one that was the subject of the CBP detention order.”
Human rights experts say as many as 25 million people globally are victims of forced labor. Under the law, U.S. importers have 90 days to prove their products were made without forced labor. If they can’t, the goods ship to another country, or Customs keeps and often destroys them.