The personal tour angle will understandably not appeal to everyone, but consider the option when you next travel. The benefit of hiring a personal guide is that the day can be very much responsive to your likes and desires. If we had asked to see Indian art in Agra or listen to Indian music or take in a Bollywood movie, I know that is what they would have shown us. But we wanted to see how people live…that’s our “thing.”
Bilal asked if we wanted to see a leather factory where they make shoes. He happens to know the owner, although he was unable to reach him on his phone. We had a discussion about the leather. Since cows hold a special status in Hindu culture (more on that in another blog), we wondered if they used cowhide, and yes, they do. Also, goatskin and camel leather.
Up to this point our SmartTour visits to factories were showrooms of high quality where we were served tea or something cold to drink, offered the use of the clean toilets and had the craft explained, the better to appreciate the workmanship. For some reason I expected something similar. Instead, we visited a sweatshop.
I don’t know if you remember but it seems that we hear about factory collapses or fires in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan at least once or twice a year, so it did cross my mind. The place was not large, built of concrete and about 4 stories high.
Workers on the ground floor were seated around two large tables putting finishing touches on Bata women’s shoes and sandals. Each man had a repetitive task which would be automated in a western factory. Benefit here: these men have work.On the upper levels the workers were putting the shoes together in the earlier stages, many sitting on the floor.
Although I thought I recognized the Bata name, the website indicates no stores in the US. Perhaps some shoes make it into outlets. The company has world wide distribution and this sweatshop is only one of many that have contracts to supply finished shoes. Bilal made a comment that his friend, the factory owner, had a beautiful house as nice as the hotel lobby where he picked us up. I questioned him about the wages earned by the workers and was assured they made enough. There is no pension plan, no insurance options, no vacation package.
In our desire to purchase clothes and other goods at the “best” price, we have long overlooked the need to support our own economy by purchasing American made goods. Here our workers make more money because we have laws to provide safe working environments, and other protections. Our products cost more because of it.
I often read comments on Facebook about how people don’t like the way some of the big box stores limit their workers to less than full time work to avoid paying benefits and thereby cause them to require participation in public assistance programs to live. But I still see lots and lots of cars in those WalMart parking lots. People complain that they are on tight budgets and Walmart prices offers them a chance to buy the latest doodad advertised on tv. but until each one of us curbs our own consumerism to purchase only quality American made products, we are culpable in the decline of jobs in this country as the factory owners take their work to the lowest paid people elsewhere in the world. Greed on their part to make huge profits and yes, greed on our part to buy buy buy within our budgets instead of looking at the bigger picture.