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Cheap shoes…at what cost?
Guess who built this library?


"Nine-year-old Bobby was a new boy in the breaker. As first, the work did not seem hard to him. But as hours passed, his back began to ache from sitting in one position. His fingers were bruised and cut and sometimes almost mashed by the rough, sharp-edged coal. No one could wear mittens or gloves since they made fast work impossible. To do his job well he had to crouch over the chute to see the fast-moving coal.

Hunched over the coal chute day after day, with no chance for exercise, the young breaker boys found themselves growing with crooked backbones."


Did you know.....? / Forty percent of our body heat is lost through our heads!

This story came from a book I was reading about child labor, called, "No Time for School, No Time for Play: the Story of Child Labor in America" by Rhoda Cahn. It talks about a young boy in the coalmines of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s. As a breaker, Bobby had to pick out pieces of slate as they quickly passed him on chutes to the railroad cars below. Think about it - bruised fingers, hunched backs, crooked backbones! Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Bobby made a guy named Carnegie a multi-millionaire. How did he do this? Well…

Carnegie made all that money by owning steel companies. To make steel you use coal. So, Bobby, and the thousands of children like him worked in the horrible factories and were paid very little so Carnegie could take all the big profits.

It's strange, but Carnegie gave a lot of money to charities like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Carnegie Hero Fund. He also had 2,509 libraries built.

Trekkers love Carnegie's free libraries and Internet access - should we?
But what was the human cost of all this? The way he made his money was by forcing men, women, and children to work in unsafe mills and factories. He paid them so little that they had to live in poverty. Was it worth it?

These are tough questions to answer. On the one hand, I like the fact that Carnegie gave away most of his fortune by the time of his death.
Daphne stares at Carnegie's portrait and wonders about his split personality
On the other hand, what about the poor workers who were threatened and beaten or even killed when they asked for more pay or better working conditions. How could Carnegie have allowed that to happen if he was so concerned about the American people? How could he, the man who claimed that education was life's key, allow boys as young as 10 and 12 -- boys who should have been in school getting an education -- to work in his mills? I don't get it!

This all took place a hundred years ago, right? Workers no longer have to work 12-hour days. They don't have to work on the weekends. And nine-year-olds are not being forced into backbreaking work. Times have changed, right?
Thanks to unions, these men can take a lunch break during the day
No. As American workers became more educated and more highly paid, American companies moved to foreign countries where they could pay smaller wages, hire children, and work them for longer hours. And -- here's the problem - these companies still give lots of money to charities.

Take Nike, for example. Like Carnegie's Steel Company, the shoe giant pays its workers (who are in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia) poverty wages. Like Carnegie, it makes them work in unhealthy factories.

Nike: friend or foe?
But, also like Carnegie, Nike gives away millions to charities. In 1998, it contributed more than $34 million to organizations such as Boys and Girls Club of America, INROADS, National Head Start Association, and the YWCA of the USA. Its programs are very important and have definitely helped thousands of kids, both in the U.S. and abroad. Nike isn't the only one, of course, but it's one of the best known on the list (Gap is on the list, too, by the way). Instead of exploiting American workers, they exploit the Vietnamese, the Chinese and others. Is that fair?

A mural portrays a greedy capitalist…but they don't all have to be like this guy!
Nike would do better to follow the example of someone else. There are companies out there who give lots of money to charity AND treat their workers well. Ben & Jerry's, the ice-cream maker from Vermont, is one of them. Ben & Jerry's certainly doesn't make as much money as Nike. Maybe it could make more money if it hired, say, Cambodians instead of Americans. Or it could save money if it didn't pay for its workers health care. Thankfully, though, Ben & Jerry's is very good to its workers.

Maybe other U.S. companies should treat their workers (American or not) with more respect?


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Irene - Bing cherries, fortune cookies, and other Chinese-American gifts
Teddy - Did the government rob a train?