When it comes to the cost of convenience, we’ve become incredibly adept at fooling ourselves. Worryingly good in fact. How quickly we all looked pass the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people. With brands like Primark being tied to the disaster, it put the the true cost of our cheap clothing on show. There was outrage, there was horror. But there was, at best, maybe a small break from shopping. If that. Then we all got back to our lives. We got back to shopping and we got back to consuming. We like our convenience.
But if Rana Plaza was a shocking revelation, it was the first of many. Because it’s become easier now. Now we access the cheap goods online and we love it. Amazon and online retailers have become a way of life. It was only a matter of time before more revelations came.
They’ve certainly arrived now. Our news feeds have been bombarded with horror stories. First, the undercover Amazon workers and the damning exposés that followed. Fetching boxes from around a cement warehouse, hours on their feet, short breaks for lunch, or even being unable to use the restroom. And pressure, constant, constant pressure. “We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves,” one worker described it. “We don’t think for ourselves, maybe they don’t trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don’t know.”
Right To Our Door
But it doesn’t stop there. There are the people who get the goods to us. The couriers and drivers. Their stories have been flowing out too. Being harassed to get back to work after being injured on the job, being paid only by successful delivery, so if we’re not in they’re working for nothing. Real wages that come in at far below the minimum.
We read these stories. We scan through them on our iPhones on our way to work or read them on our work computers. The perverse relish we take in the juicy bits overrides any pangs of guilt. The convenience and low prices deafens our conscience. Even the writers of these columns, the ones who invested time and energy to share the stories of those directly affected, can’t seem to resist. The articles are often accompanied by confessions of using Amazon or other online retailers, because we’ve all just become so reliant on it.
Why Don’t We Care?
The question isn’t why do we use these services— the convenience and instant gratification is more than enough. The question is, why don’t we care more? Why do the poor working conditions and suffering that we’re contributing to seem far away, abstract? Why can’t we seem to make the connection between our behavior and the resulting trauma? And, if we can, why isn’t it enough to make the change? Because the suffering should override our convenience, not the other way around.
Is it just that with so much of our life being instantaneous, it feels natural that our shopping and delivery services would be as well? Do they just fit too seamlessly into the rest of our lives? Maybe it’s more than that, maybe it’s us chasing the endorphin rush, maximizing our consumption at all cost for the jolts of joy it brings. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But with the recent realizations about the treatment of couriers, the path is complete. From the goods being made to the goods being sent to the goods being delivered— the cost of convenience is nightmarish. And for some reason, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to care. Not really. And it’s time to look at why.