Monday, December 08, 2014

The Cost Shifting of Negative Externalities Lands Mostly on Those Least Able to Afford It

Photo from the LA Times
From a heart-wrenching LA Times story on Mexican farm laborers, here's the rest of the price of the cheap food--the part you're not paying:
  • Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply. 
  • Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods. 
  • Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest. 
  • Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors. 
  • Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.
Erik Loomis has an answer:
If wages are stolen, workers threatened, bathing facilities not provided, etc., then workers should have the right to sue for recompense in American courts. Subway, Safeway, McDonald’s, etc., must be held legally responsible for the conditions of work when people labor in growing food for them to sell.
If the food is cheap, someone paid something along the way--a subsidy paid by someone--that made it cheap. Either someone got underpaid, or had to work in horrible conditions, or some pollution went into the environment that causes someone illness or death. If we don't allow that to happen in this country, then why do we allow it to happen in some other country if that other country is shipping the product to us?

Next time someone tries to sell you one of these so-called free trade pacts, ask them about the cost shifting. If you're not paying, someone is.

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