Letter: College students can work for fair labor conditions

I would like to hope that Lily Yan’s important column on slavery yesterday (“More subtle today, slavery still exists,” March 31) will prove the spark that reignites a bonfire of student interest in fair trade practices. Though a lot of indentured servitude is agricultural, there is also much bonded labor associated with manufacturing, and we could have a significant impact on this if we had a strong-voiced student-run fair trade organization. Perhaps college students themselves occupy too small a segment of the buying public to influence manufacturers directly, but the college students of today are the larger-scale consumers of tomorrow, and a movement to raise consciousness of exploitative conditions could mushroom from modest campaigns to major efforts to buy fair trade certified items — items made by manufacturers who are paying decent wages.

Yale student initiative is responsible for the conversion to fair-trade coffee in the dining halls. But this must prove only the beginning. With student initiative, we could not only see a Broadway filled with shops that sell only fair-trade manufactured jeans and T-shirts, but a whole American economy oriented to globalization conditional on minimum standards of decent wages and working conditions. An international organization of investigation and certification would also provide handsome service employment to graduating students eager to act on their principles.

Leslie Brisman

March 31

The writer is the Karl Young professor of English.


  • Leslie Brisman Opponent

    Dear Leslie Brisman,

    Lily Yan wrote a phenomenal article about those which are not given free choice over their employment. I applaud her work, and I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that these cases of border-line slavery are for the greater good. Ms. Brisman, however,you completely fu*k up Ms. Yan's argument. What we consider good wages are not realistic in much of the developing world. If one is given free choice whether or not to work, it should be THEIR choice, not our choice based on what makes us uncomfortable. Even the most socialist economists realize this fact, such as that sweat shops are good. Read Jeffrey Sachs book The End of Poverty. He is a socialist and makes many horrible arguments, but even he comments on the fact that sweat shops are necessary and the best thing for many people. He tells stories of women working in sweat shops, whose sole complaint is that there aren't jobs in these factories available for their friends and family, who would greatly benefit from said employment opportunities. As said by Lily Yan, the key to progress is CHOICE by the people affected, not the west easing their own conscience. The English department should stick to writing horrible inauguration poems and arguing that authors had a hidden purpose in their writing when in reality they did not. Leave the real world to non-Marxists who base their ideas in reality and not in optimism. Thank you.

  • Jiffy Pop

    Yes, leave reality to people who believe an invisible hand will ensure the greatest good for all.

  • Katie Harrison

    @#1, I don't know if you've had much interaction with Professor Brisman, but he is one of the most thoughtful people I have encountered at Yale, and I am both amazed and appalled at the amount of venom his wholly reasonable letter produced. I see how you can disagree with his thoughts about how we as consumers can use our purchasing power ethically (which is not even particularly Marxist), but I am truly confused about the source of your outrage and downright nastiness.

  • To #3

    The problem, #3, is that she doesn't consider what is ethical. Is providing a few farmers with increased living standards at the expense of others not being able to eat ethical? My outrage comes from her piggybacking on Lily Yans article, which is about forced-labor, to support her very liberal illogical cause.