If you have reservations about getting in to business, you aren't alone. The world we live in provides countless challenges physical, mental and spiritual. In this episode we address the difficulties of the world we live in and what we can do to power forward.
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Good to have you here. This is going to be a difficult episode, but honesty and integrity are valuable to myself as well as our company, and as such I want to take some time and address those nagging feelings we have in the back of our minds. The ones that make us second guess ourselves, whether or not we’re doing good in the world, or if our actions are only fueling further distress. We’re going to have a mix of facts that I need to present, as well as my own opinions and beliefs which guide my thought process. Let’s start with my perspective.
I have a diverse work history; I’ve done physical labor jobs in the retail and grocery sector, I’ve done sales, my own freelance as a media producer, a few I’m blanking on... and I’ve also done background acting. It’s a fun and unique job that I think highly of, one that I would gladly consider returning to later on in my life. Many retirees take up background acting just so they have something to do. I met my current girlfriend on set and we’ve been together just about two years as of this recording. On a single day of shooting, things can get repetitive, having to redo scenes over and over (get used to hearing “one more time”) but the days are never the same again.. Except when people have to do reshoots. Rare case but it happens.
I want to bring up two days that stick out to me, which will tie in to my broader point as we continue. The first was a particularly difficult day from my perspective. We were asked to dress like it was summer time, but the shoot was during the fall, and additionally we had to look worn down, as in the story, society was in decay. When I arrived on set, the person in charge of wardrobe aka “wardrobe” had me wear my most tattered of pants (you bring a few options for them to choose from) and while I had thermals, they said not to wear them as it wouldn’t look accurate. I spent the next six hours out in the cold, as did about a hundred or so other background actors. We were on the verge of freezing, and we didn’t have the luxury of being able to move around much. One actor who I had made acquaintance with that day came up to me and said “how can they treat us like this?” After break I told them I’m putting my thermals on. The elements are a difficult part of background acting, one performer told me of a similar case where she had to lay on a stairwell for hours, the money she had to spend on antibiotics outweighed what she earned that day.
The second story happened around late september, a little earlier than the last story. And this time we were in a luxurious downtown hotel, we were expected to dress like famous people and walk a red carpet to a movie premiere. It was one of my first shoots and it left a pretty good impression on me as I started moving forward with that career. Setup took longer than the production expected, leading many to cancel whatever they planned later in the evening. We were sitting around in holding for, I believe, three hours, which is a long time to do nothing. It took so long in fact, that an actor I had made acquaintance with that day, said something very much along the same lines of “how can they treat us like this?” From my point of view, one of those questions was justified, the other was not.
In every job I’ve worked, I or someone alongside me had a complaint. On some jobs I or we were mistreated by management, harassed or even abused. Some jobs we were pressured to apply the squeeze on customers, which led to serious discomfort. Some jobs we were ill equipped to actually help, and wound up taking an unfair amount of abuse from customers who rightly were disgusted with the lack of resolution. As a freelancer, I had a client waffle between calling me an employee and partner, despite never giving me a raise, and paying me poorly to begin with, while also making liberal use of all caps. One client still hasn’t paid me for work I did months ago. I should probably mention, I’m quite like this job here, but it’s been a long road. Chances are, if you’ve worked a job, you’ve probably felt mistreated. You’re not alone.
Large scale companies are in this day and age, routinely exposed for untenable business practises. I’m about to use two different examples and by no means are they on the same level, we’re looking for the commonalities that are there..
First we have FortNite, by Epic Games, you… probably heard of this game. I played it for a while. But I wound up quitting because as a gamer, I don’t care for games that constantly change. Things need to improve and grow, that’s fine, but I would play a round, go get a cup of coffee, come back, and now there’s zombies. I finish my coffee, use the washroom, and now the zombies are gone. No thank you.
A report published by Polygon tells of a series of interviews with staff from Epic Games about the working conditions. Employees frequently worked between 70-100 hours a week. They had vacation time they could use, but decided not to so to avoid peer pressure. No one wanted to be that person. This was the result of what game developers know as “crunch” time, where employees have to kick in to overdrive to complete a game on time, say for the holiday season. However due to the ever changing nature of the game and the need for it to stay popular, developers are in constant crunch. This has resulted in high degrees of mental health issues and burnout. On top of that, many employees are hired on contract and the tech industry doesn’t have much in the way of unionized protection. This is a disputed issue I might add, as tech industry leaders claim that unionization would lead to businesses losing their ability to stay operational at all. Personally I’ve seen unions go both ways, it’s led to apathy among employees since they can’t get fired, but it’s also improved working conditions so that people didn’t walk away from a day’s work experiencing a net loss, such as the film industry I mentioned earlier.
Now on the other side of the world, we have Foxconn. You.. may not have heard of this Taiwan based company. Reporting from facing-finance.org, Foxconn has a history of horrible working conditions. Employees are lodged in overstuffed dormitories, where there’s no privacy, and are guarded by militant security forces. The hours are absurdly long, with no overtime pay. The employees have reacted unfavorably to alot of what happens, many have committed suicide and reports of rioting within the factores are numerous. Workers are often subjected to toxic substances which also spill over into the nearby water and air, leading to a 70% increase in respiratory illnesses. If you’re wondering whether or not their business is our business, have you heard of Apple?
So again, not a fair comparison, but there are similarities between Epic, a US company (who by the way are partly owned by TenCent, a Chinese Company) and Foxconn, a Taiwanese company with a massive China based Manufacturing plant. Employees are pushed beyond their limits, certainly beyond what company policy states. Both companies have claimed to have been made aware of this issue and are looking into it. The leverage has historically been in the hands of the employer and not the employee, as workers can always be replaced. I suppose it is worth pointing out that as bad as the conditions are, they are at least operational and are providing stable, consistent work. Pretty low bar to cross but it’s a fact nonetheless.
The article I referenced about conditions in China indicate that they're awful but things have changed over time, thanks in part to growing public pressure, one such major public outcry in the 1990s when companies like Nike were held accountable for exploitative labor practices. The situation in China as of today is undergoing rapid change, and the country has some serious issues they need to face. I couldn’t find the date of the Facing Finance article, but their sources are cited from 2010. A more recent article from 2018 tells of an entire town built up around this factory, including shops and restaurants, but also that many of these supplementary businesses had since experienced diminishing returns and as such have closed up. Another article in the LA times, published just a year later, tells of younger generations of Chinese citizens choosing to reject the lifestyles of their parents, opting instead to start their own businesses or learn a specific skill or trade.
It’s not my place to denigrate any supplier you might be working with already, or down the road, as I don’t know what the conditions are. From a broad scope perspective, China boasts considerable productivity and expertise in tech manufacturing, but over time the workforce became more provided by the private sector than the government. The younger generation, just as we had our own cultural shifts post industrialization, want to make their own way in the world.
One story I’m following personally is that India has been positioning themselves to take control of the global demand for manufacturing. According to BBC, India is clearing space the size of Luxembourg and their national investment promotion agency “Invest India” has been in touch with upwards of a thousand American companies. With China’s reputation harmed by covid 19, India is looking to take advantage of that diminished trust. And it’s not just India, there are also possibilities for Vietnam, Bangladesh, South Korea and Taiwan.
I know a lot of time was spent here telling you about issues with the workplace, to varying degrees of nightmarishness, my point is this; humans suffer. We suffer on the job, at home, in school, bad weather and worse breakups. Suffering is not often reflected in someone’s pay. Doctors aren’t paid extra for difficult patients, just as Customer Success Agents are not typically paid extra for being yelled at more times than average. Human suffering is rarely measured on paper, and the only compensation is the empathy and compassion of others. If I were to cast myself off from anything made with even a hint of human suffering, I can say goodbye to this job (again the job is A-OK but I can’t use any computers,) I won't be watching TV or movies, I won’t have anything to read or listen to. I’ll have to make my way into a forest and start living off the grid. Pretty selfish way of living, since now I can’t do good for others.
One question that, amid all this talk, I consider worth asking is, why are you working? I can’t answer this question for you, but I can answer it for me. Honestly, I want to improve my living situation so that I can self optimize. I’ve been very lucky in that I have the support of my parents as I try to make a life for myself. I continue to do a lot of work for free, but I also want to make a good earning so that I can afford my own home. I want my own home so I can arrange my own diet, sleep schedule, social life and work setting. I want to be better at doing me, so that I can better contribute to the net good. And also, selfishly, I want to enjoy my own life better as well. I look for a balance between doing things for myself and doing things for others. The more you do for others the better, but realistically as long as your ratio of service to self and service to others is above 95% self, you pass. Not with flying colors, mind you.
Now, what does all this have to do with Ecommerce? Well, I want you to think about how what you’re doing has a potential to make a considerable positive impact on others, knowing full well that we live in an imperfect world. When we set up our online stores, scale our ads and outsource our bookkeeping, we may not be able to fully grasp the favors we are doing to others. But there can be a great deal of satisfaction in running these operations. You may be advertising to someone who doesn’t have the time to go shopping, but has a few minutes to spare on their break to check out an ad on Facebook. We shop for enjoyment but we also need to do it to sustain ourselves and to better ourselves. By using the information gathered by these companies, we learn about the trends in the way people act. We are taking the time to search for products these people can use to make their own lives better. And even if we’re selling a product others are too, we can go the extra mile by building a trusted brand, fostering a community of like minded people, listing reviews publicly to reduce skepticism, having a blog or newsletter to share more information. When we go the extra mile to create a brand that people respect and cherish, we set a standard that others need to match, otherwise they fail to earn the trust of the customers. One interesting way I can relate that to this podcast is to consider the method by which I’m putting out content. I don’t exactly make this all up off the top of my head. I’m researching and having my peers fact check for accuracy. This information is all freely available, but are you going to spend all day looking into it? I’m doing the legwork for you and am condensing a great deal of information into a digestible medium in a short window of time to your benefit.
So with so much negativity brought up, I think it’s fair and balanced to also bring up some organizations in the world doing good. I’ll list some Ecommerce sites in a moment but first I want to extend some gratitude to China Labour Watch, founded in 2000, they provide factory assessment and improvement training whether it’s for community members, activists and negotiators, they provide a secure hotline for concerned employees to securely address workplace issues.
Let’s look at some ecommerce sites that are doing good in the world. Thanks for referralcandy.com, I’ve discovered Warby Parker, as quoted on their site “For every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need.” Some of their practices involve creative marketing campaigns like hosting a secret event during the cost prohibitive NY Fashion Week. They collaborate with other companies and brands, including Man of Steel, since Glasses are his disguise. They use a brand hierarchy as follows: Lifestyle Brand first, Value and Service Second, Social Mission third.
Another company I discovered via Oberlo, is Soap Co. According to their website, their product is Eco and bee friendly, and is also paraben and cruelty free. Additional information I learned from their website, they are fiercely environmental, their bottles are locally sourced, as well as their materials whenever possible. Their soap wrappers, stickers and glue are either biodegradable or compostable.
Last example is not a business, but a great article with a whole new list from shoppimon.com, they list a number of businesses that adhere to the ten defining features of Fair Trade, as listed by the World Fair Trade organization; Opportunities for disadvantaged producers, transparency and accountability, fair trade practices, fair payment, no child labor or forced labor, no discrimination gender equity freedom of association, good working conditions, capacity building, promotion of fair trade and respect for the environment. You can find a number of businesses on this list and I encourage you to check it out.
Lastly, I leave you with some takeaways, number one; relax. Everyone is trying to get ahead. People in impoverished nations go through hellish conditions, but what’s even more nightmarish is living in complete abject poverty with no money at all, to them it beats starving. The world is a place filled with a necessary negative energy that keeps us from losing our balance and our way. If we spend all day feeling sorry for everyone, not only could they possibly not appreciate the pity, but we end up being the pitiful ones. Second: don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. If a product is made in less than ideal conditions, and you really feel like you’re in karma’s bad books, take some of what you earn and donate it to activist groups looking to improve those same conditions. Third: Have gratitude. I am a spiritual man, and I only speak for myself in that regard. But no matter what you believe, there is a capacity within yourself to be grateful for what you have. Be grateful to your family and friends for being by your side. Be grateful to your job for giving you somewhere to work. Be grateful to yourself for trying to be a net positive. Not everyone will be.
What do you think of all this? I know it’s a sensitive and controversial topic, and so we’re open to feedback. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, don’t hesitate to reach out.