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Peng Shuai has been “disappeared” by the Chinese Communist Party that holds a monopoly on government power and financial success in the nation. Peng is one of the top female tennis stars in China. It can be assumed she’s being dealt with similarly to other critics of the state like billionaire Jack Ma who went missing for months only to pop up acting like a grey shell of his former self and abstaining from normal business.
A few weeks ago Peng posted to the social network Wiebo accusing a former deputy prime minister of China of sexually assaulting her and a host of other manipulative and unethical behavior. The social media website, closely controlled by the CCP, deleted her post within minutes and Peng hasn’t been seen publicly since.
The editor in chief of China’s central news agency posted videos of a forlorn-looking Peng having dinner with her friends several days ago. If you believe those videos are organic, please find my email on my author page because I have an Ostrich farm in Altoona to sell you.
If the CCP can abduct and beat down the most famous people in China, then what hope does an ordinary citizen have to disobey the regime? My heart goes out to the Chinese people, but this isn’t exactly breaking news, this is normal operating procedure for a system driven by fear of dissent.
My alma mater Loras College, like thousands of other colleges, has a deal with Nike to supply sports gear and branded merchandise. Nike is well known for using abusive labor practices.
More than 20 years ago, a Catholic soccer coach at St. John’s University in Minnesota resigned from his position in order to investigate where his team's practice gear was made. Proving the sweat shop rumor true, the coach documented his findings in the documentary “Behind the Swoosh.” Nothing has really changed since it’s premiere. American celebrities are still honored to partner with the brand and there is no guarantee that other brands like Adidas, Under Armor or any other mass produced sports label is producing in an ethical way.
I’ve been stewing for years over how personally responsible I am for what’s happening there, considering how many products I own and continue to buy with suspicious production practices. Although there are many options available, they similarly come from unfamiliar countries with reports of poor working conditions.
How am I supposed to investigate every product I buy? I can avoid certain brands, but does that even make a difference if the industry standard is to contract with dubious foreign factories? If the consumer on an individual level isn’t responsible for these labor practices, then is our government? Or foreign governments? These are questions that swirl in my head whenever I click “buy now” on Amazon.
Setting aside the politically contentious option of production isolation or employing a massive staff of American foreign inspectors, using the market has proven to be an effective way to pressure reform.
Public shame is powerful and we should lean in to cancel culture to affect change abroad. Open source information - basically watching social media for leaked videos - is a major tool for this movement. H&M was “canceled,” for using cotton sourced from Uighur slave camps in China and it now has an branded ethical cotton line. Companies, even those with a market stake in China, ultimately are focused on profit.
Cancel culture has resulted in social justice for some brands. Now, thanks to accessible information on production practices and with the internet making political organizing easier than ever, consumers have the ability to incentivise fair trade more than ever before. Reposting videos or articles and refraining from buying suspiciously produced items when possible is more powerful than we realize.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org