Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Modern-day Sweatshops and the Inquisition

These two articles – one from Lehigh Valley’s The Morning Call about the inhuman working conditions at the Amazon warehouse and the other from Mother Jones about similar conditions at an unidentified warehouse – made me think of an analogy that may seem over the top, darkly humorous or cheeky at first: the Inquisition. But I’m not joking. Here’s why.

Being a Church institution, the Inquisition could not sully itself with something as mundane as bloodshed. (Its officials had no problem subjecting innocent human beings to unspeakable torture, but actual executions? How gauche.) So they came up with a legal fiction: instead of condemning their victims to death outright, they would simply “relax” them – turn them over to the Inquisition’s “secular arm” with a pious injunction to “shed no blood”... wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

In other words, the Inquisition outsourced its executions, and used that very outsourcing to evade responsibility for them.

That is the analogy that came into my mind when I read this sentence: “Temporary-staffing agencies keep the stink of unacceptable labor conditions off the companies whose names you know.”

It’s only a blurb at the bottom of the second page of the article in Mother Jones, but that’s what it made me think of.

Apart from the Inquisition... the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 must be turning in their graves. In the US of 2012, the sweatshops are back.

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