During my early trips to Vietnam and Cambodia in the mid- to late-90s, I began to learn more about what has been called the North-South gap and the potential for obscene profits through exploitation. Lest we forget, “labor” refers to most people who have no choice but to sell their labor to an employer, fellow human beings who deserve to be compensated fairly and treated with respect and dignity.
Above is a photo of some Calvin Klein socks I recently purchased at an outlet market in HCMC. I bought them not because I have a thing for designer whatever but because of the price and fabric. You can see the suggested retail price of $22 USD, which means they were produced for export to the US. I paid 180,000 VND ($7.65) and the seller still made a tidy profit. Competitors sold similar socks for 150,000 VND ($6.38). (This is why US department stores can afford to discount these products.)
Since the socks were made in China, let’s take a moment to consider what the salary range is for garment workers there. In 2019, the average salary was $248 per month, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). This is how the game is played and rigged. (Note: Why “made in China” socks were on sale at a Vietnamese outlet market is grist for another post. In the meantime, use your imagination.)
This reminds me of the Dockers pants I bought in Phnom Penh. The ones that retail for $60+ in the US at Macy’s set me back $12, the price we agreed with the saleswoman on after some haggling. She probably still made $6 or more on each pair.
Bonus: Here are some of my encounters and experiences with “the system” in my formative years. Ah, the memories and lessons learned. Experience is one of the best teachers.
Shalom (שלום), MAA