A Harvest of Thorns: A Novel by Corban Addison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s difficult for me to really get into nonfiction because I read for joy, escape, and imagination workouts. I often find works of nonfiction too dry, overwhelming, or demoralizing. I pay attention to what I hope are reputable news sources. I find that the constant barrage of what is sold as news – “here’s how the world is on fire in every single way and there’s literally nothing you can do except march in the streets every day and vote every two years.” – to be profoundly disempowering, and even sometimes a bit disingenuous. I also struggle with depression.
That being said, I guess I have “known” on some level for some time that global capitalism is profoundly unbalanced in its protection of the first world consumer’s interest and ignorance. The drive for “cheap goods” has led companies away from American labor markets, where American laws and American unions have created basic worker protections and safety requirements. Possibly also in other “first world” countries like the UK and on the European continent. But I know more about America than those other countries… So I’ll limit my discussion to that.
I still more or less fail to understand how it is “cheaper” for American companies to outsource labor to foreign companies, where worker protections are less strenuous, and then ship these goods around the globe. It’s certainly not better for the environment or the workers in other countries who are being exploited.
That’s what this novel is about. A beloved fictional company (maybe something like a Wal-Mart), started out small and family-owned, with some great principles and ideals. As it grew, and after it was no longer primarily owned by the owner family, it became less and less scrupulous with its values. Hiding behind some great, toothless language, they feel pretty good about the fact that they employ workers in many developing countries, but don’t look that deeply at the cost to the workers of the company until there is a catastrophic fire.
The PR disaster brings about a transformation of heart in the company’s Chief Legal Counsel, and the book follows him and a few others into the seedy underbelly of global commerce.
At times, this book is absolutely preachy, which is kind of annoying. It invites the reader to consider the value of the lives of several characters, mostly women, in the light of abuses from their employers, and ultimately, the worldwide reach of this beloved company.
I think the author’s purpose is not only to educate but to persuade. To change hearts and minds, and invite the reader to a change of heart and conscience regarding what they purchase.
I think he succeeds to a point. However, it is disappointing to know that Americans are going to keep wanting (what I call) “cheap shit from China” until the cost of all that stuff is going to be too painful to bear.
It’s easier not to know – because once you know that by purchasing X or Y product from ABC company, you are participating in the oppression and/or slavery of others, you have to choose to care or not care. My concern is that Americans would rather choose cheap shit and ignorance, than knowledge and active resistance to the global commerce way of life.
I am willing to be surprised.
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