Why is Ikea so cheap?

Below is part of a fascinating article from change.org…….. (See link at bottom to read whole article)

The Slave behind the bargain”

“In a recession like this one, “cheap” is the new buzzword.  But have you ever wondered why that bookshelf or tennis ball or t-shirt is so cheap?  Have you ever wondered if a slave is paying the cost of your bargain?

The Human Trafficking Project writes about the prevalence of slave-made consumer goods on the market.  Ironically, they point out, it is all too easy to give a presentation about human trafficking on a computer containing minerals mined by slaves, while wearing shoes made by slaves.  They also share some hopeful ideas, like whole towns committing to selling only fair trade goods.  However, the fact is that slave-made goods are in every part of our lives, and in many cases they are bringing us the bargains we so love.

Ellen Rupple Shell recently published Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culturean expose on labor exploitation and other abuses that big, discount-based companies engage in.  The idea behind the book is that someone, somewhere always pays the price.  Red Lobster can sell shrimp so cheaply because they buy it from Thai suppliers who use (often enslaved) child labor and regularly exploit and traffic workers.  Ikea can sell bookshelves for $20 because it buys lumber from suppliers who illegally deforest regions of Eastern Europe.  Both Ikea and Red Lobster have answered the allegations in this particular book claiming they monitor suppliers and don’t buy from the ones with dubious practices.

So who is the keystone in this whole chain of buying and selling and discounts and exploitation?  It’s us.  Ikea sells $20 bookshelves because we as consumers want to buy cheap bookshelves;  we’ve created a market for cheap bookshelves.  So in order to turn a profit, Ikea needs to buy the wood for those bookshelves for less.  When Ikea buys wood from the lowest bidder, Ikea creates a market for cheap wood.  This means wood suppliers are going to try and keep their costs down to sell to Ikea, which may mean using slave labor or deforesting areas illegally if it’s cheaper.  And this dynamicis not unique to Ikea or bookshelves- it happens with socks and MP3 players and ballpoint pens and coffee and underwear and everything else.  Yes, these companies can monitor their suppliers (and it’s a great step when they do), but the system is set up to give incentives to those willing to cut costs down to the bottom line, even if that means cutting human rights.

What if the system was different?  What if instead of always looking for the best bargain, we looked for the most ethically-produced item?  What if instead of having a closet full of slave-made clothes, it was cooler to have one guaranteed slave-free outfit?  What if instead of creating a market for cheap bookcases and cheap shrimp, we created a market for freedom?”


Image taken from PACIFIC LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY website


One thought on “Why is Ikea so cheap?

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