As President Obama took on his liberal critics on trade in a speech at Nike's headquarters on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Nike promised 10,000 American manufacturing jobs should the TPP succeed), those liberal critics fell all over themselves to avoid the substance of the President's speech and instead, focus on the symbolism. They say that Nike's former reputation for using Asian sweatshop labor means that the President is out of touch.
It would seem that the warning about throwing stones while living in a glass house should apply. A leading liberal organization condemning the President was CREDO, the self-proclaimed "progressive" phone company.
CREDO seems to have jumped a 10-year leap. Since the abuses of sweatshop factories began to come to light, Nike has actually been one of the few corporations that has taken responsibility to voluntarily change its practices. In fact, Nike is one of the only companies that allow for random inspections of its subcontractors' facilities by the Fair Labor Association, a collaboration of human rights, labor, consumer-advocacy, academic and corporate entities. Nike also became the first corporation to publish a detailed report on abuses at its contracted factories and to list all of its contractors publicly.
In contrast, CREDO's entire business - selling mobile phones/devices and service - runs entirely on products made in Asian (and a few other) sweatshops. Here is a list of all the devices CREDO sells. All variables of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, along with two "dumb phone" devices, and not one is made in America.
You simply cannot buy a single product from CREDO that is made in America, whereas Nike already does 10% of its manufacturing in the US, and has promised to more than double its US workforce should the TPP come into effect.
Who isn't familiar with Foxconn - the notorious worker abuser that is a key contractor for Apple, the maker of the iPhone - and its infamous labor, human rights and child labor violations? Samsung's contracted manufacturers have built up a disrepute that rivals Foxconn also.
And CREDO? They are a phone company whose entire smart-device line-up is made out of devices made and sold by Apple and Samsung.
Of course, CREDO would say that it isn't its fault that phones aren't usually manufactured in the United States. Ah, but some are - or at least were - and CREDO has specifically chosen not to support the device that was made in America: the Motorola Moto X.
CREDO isn't alone in selling sweatshop phones, of course, as evidenced by the fact that Motorola had to shut down the factory almost a year ago as the higher costs simply weren't being made up.
So it may not have been entirely under CREDO's control where the things it makes money off of were made, but let me be blunt: when your entire business model is based on selling foreign made goods to your customers under the guise of "progressivism", you should really shut the hell up about trade.
The iPhone is a great device. So is the Galaxy S 6. But in what sane world do the people who directly earn business profit from the foreign, cheap and exploitative labor conditions under which these products are made get to challenge the man almost solely responsible for the revival of American manufacturing?
As a matter of fact, the question of global labor issues should trouble us all. Sure, we can blame Apple and Samsung and others for taking advantage of cheap labor elsewhere, but just how many of you are reading this very article on a device most likely made in places where labor conditions are deplorable? I am not talking just about your iPhone. I'm talking about your laptop, your tablet, your printer, your desktop, your Kindle. It's easy to point the fingers at the corporations and say they are the bad guys, but just how many of us take responsibility for where our money ends up?
But the truth is that we cannot all always do extensive research on every product we buy and make sure we live in a way that exploits no one (and doing it in all cases would probably leave us, at best, in a cave). Precisely because individual actions (that includes individual persons and individual corporations) are rarely adequate to improve an entire system, we seek solutions to regional, national and global systematic problems through public policy.
That is the light we should be looking at trade with: public policy. So far, through the public policy of trade, we have only addressed the rights of corporations, and the TPP would become the first - and trendsetting - agreement to not simply recognize the rights of workers (including to collectively bargain and to a minimum wage) and communities (to live in a safe environment) but to make those rights an integral and enforceable part of the deal. In fact, with the TPP, those rights would take precedence over corporate rights.
And that is where the actions of liberal organizations like CREDO is the most deplorable. They, and every labor union and legislator opposing the TPP, are dedicating themselves to the trade status quo of NAFTA and CAFTA which promotes the privileges of corporations over the rights of working people and safety of communities. They may find the charge outrageous, but that is the precise effect of opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which seeks to renegotiate NAFTA and remedy the longstanding problems with our trade policy. By opposing it, they are in effect advocating for the status quo, which IS NAFTA.
As progressives, we must stop believing that the status quo is without cost, and we must hold those who are throwing down the gauntlet in favor of the status quo and against changing it in favor of a better day for workers, communities and human rights. We must do so even - and especially - if these people wear the label of a liberal.