I don’t know if anyone caught the news last week. On September 11 a textile factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan killed 289 workers. The factory made jeans destined for Europe. In reading about this tragedy and why it happened I was reminded of a quote in an investigative report on Apple and its Asian manufacturer Foxconn in the New York Times in January 2012. The series focused on the too-often fatal working conditions for employees who polished aluminum iPad cases. The quote by MIT professor, Nicholas Ashford, was, “If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.” Jeans? iPads? A profoundly sad common denominator…these tragedies were avoidable.
100th anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, NYC
The Pakistani event stands almost a century apart from a similar occurrence on our shores. In March 1911 146 workers, mostly young female immigrants, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC. The catastrophe spurred pro-worker activism and legislation that serves as the backbone to our health and safety protocols today.
Why is it so easy to see failure to act when colossal events occur? How recognizable are modestly sized failures in our own lives? Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us that, “drifting along is too easy to do.” (It’s up to the Women, pg 9). Have you failed to act on a transition that needs to happen? Or, are you drifting in a transition that’s already begun?
Despite initiating a handful of targeted experiments, my transition can be characterized as ‘drifting’ at times. Here’s an example. I’ve been debating whether or not to host some focus groups to help me further my understanding of women’s transitions. I’ve been ruminating this for months. Months! Just last week I put my first outline together. Why?
Earlier this year a friend shared with me that ‘she was just going to let things happen.’ In the context of our conversation it made sense. She wasn’t thrilled with her current work gig but she wanted to focus on a few personal priorities. Is this failure to act? Or informed prioritization?
Here’s a dream I’ll say out loud…maybe the simple act of saying it will force me to act. I’d like to make a documentary about the sourcing of the ‘top’ holiday toys. You know….toys like Tickle Me Elmo. The documentary would highlight the toy’s roots: materials, manufacturing, assembly, packaging, shipping, and distribution. My guess is that households would be summarily horrified to learn about the conditions that young people work under in order to deliver the said holiday hit to their Christmas tree (or other symbol of holiday faith or heritage).
Last weekend a young Chinese graduate student joined our family for a day. Our family is hosting her through an international student program at Harvard. We took her to our town’s soccer field to watch my son’s game. As girls and boys scampered around in colorful team shirts she remarked, ‘girls don’t play soccer in China.’ I wonder where the shirts were made? Would it surprise you that I’ve never looked?
Why am I all worked up about this? Most days I view my ability to transition as a privilege. A hard-earned privilege I might add. That said I’m often frustrated by my own failure to act. I fear that I may waste this time or this chance by not really acting. Not really. I am also enraged by the employee tragedies in Asia. I can appreciate the tremendous draw that a consistent salary represents to a household in Pakistan. I can’t imagine the anguish of a child not returning home from that job.
I guess today’s post is a report card on myself, on my pace and the completeness of my transition process. I am critical of the timescale I’m using to act. I’m less critical of my completeness but there are times….
My wish is that you don’t’ wait until a colossal event requires you to act. Next time you buy jeans or an iPad, take a moment to ask yourself where in your life you have the opportunity to act. My guess is it may lead to an interesting discussion.
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