01 November 2007

China and Toys and Life

I've been a little bemused the last few months by the uproar over products made in China for a couple of reasons. First, I'm surprised this has come as such a surprise to so many people. What did you expect? There have been plenty of warnings in the past about this, although not quite so high-profile. If you're an uninformed consumer, be prepared for surprises about your consumption.

But what really seems odd to me is that we seem to be far more concerned about the possibility of Chinese manufacturing putting lead in our children's toys than with the reality of human rights abuses in China. More importantly, that China is unwilling to use its increasing international clout to stop human rights abuses in Asia (although it did finally condemn Burma as a member of the UN).

I can understand why your typical mother is worried about lead in a toy her baby is chewing on. I don't have a problem with the uproar the potential harm. But can't we be at least as concerned and up-in-arms about the real threats to the human rights, even lives, of billions of people? I'd far rather boycott Chinese products for that reason; to boycott China because we want to lessen the economic dependence on the country that results in so many governments overlooking so much in China.

I like how Suzanne Power put it in Time a couple of weeks ago:

It may take China decades to see that governments that kill at home make unreliable neighbors and threaten global stability. In the meantime a coalition of the concerned must insist that what is manifestly true of the economy is also true of human rights: in this age, there is no such thing as a purely "internal matter."

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