If you have questions about a product, contact the manufactorer and demand facts about the production. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t buy the product.
That way, at least, you’ll force them to make an effort to hide the fact if the doors at the factory can’t be opened from the inside.
I agree with you that we as consumers have a moral duty to demand that goods which we buy are produced ethically. So I decided to test out your idea and contact the manufacturers of my unicycles. I own a Savage giraffe, a 20"Torker, and a 28"Sun. All are cheap unicycles probably manufactured in China or in Tiawan with parts from China. After a quick google search, I was unable to find any information about how to contact Savage. I’m sure that there must be a way, but there was no easy web site that I found which gave this information. Nor did this imformation come with the unicycle when I bought it from Ace Cycles, although a sticker on my giraffe says “Made in Tiawan.”
Next I googled for Torker. After poking around the www.torkerusa.com site, I was unable to find a telephone number to call nor is there any information about where they are made (not even in what country). However, there is a snail mail address and an email address so I will try that and see what they say. My Torker has a “Made in China” sticker.
Finally I googled for Sun Unicycles. The closest that I came up with was www.sunbicycles.com, but they didn’t have any unicycles in their product list, so I am not sure that they are the manufacturer (or brand adfixer) of Sun unicycles. Their links to contact them and to order are broken. My Sun has no sticker telling me what country it was made in, although that information might have been on the box when I bought it from unicycle.com.
Now I am sure that someone who works in bike store could find someway to contact these companies, but it isn’t easy for the average consumer like me. Even if I do manage to contact them, will they tell me where the unicycles were manufactured and whether they are produced under a fair wage or even the legal minimum wage? I don’t know in the case of unicycles, but I don’t hold out much hope if they are anything like clothes manufacturers.
Unfortunately it can be extremely difficult to find out any information about many manufacturers because they hide behind a web of subcontractors. Disney is famous for doing these sort of shady practices whereby they claim that they have no responsibility for what a subcontractor does. Many companies won’t reveal the locations of the factories where their goods are made, so it is very difficult to investigate whether there are labor violations. If goods are made in Latin America, there is some chance of obtaining this sort of information, but it is almost impossible to obtain this sort of information from a Chinese subcontractor.
I am involved with a student group at Indiana University that demands that any clothes which bears my university’s logo has to be produced under certain conditions. The manufacturer signs a contract to abide by the minimum wage laws of his country, comply with that nation’s labor laws, and post the legal rights of workers for that country on the walls of the factory, …etc. We aren’t even asking that manufacturers pay a living wage, just abide by their countries’ laws. If a manufacturer signs the contract but doesn’t comply, we have the legal right to yank his contract. We have done it a couple of times, but it takes good organization and a number of universities working together in a consortium for changes to be made. One university working alone can not usually force a manufacturer to change its practices.
Althought the unicycle market is certainly different from the university clothing market, I think some of the same principles apply. One unicycling enthusiast who calls and asks questions about labor conditions won’t have much impact, although it might send a message that someone cares what is going on. I don’t believe that one consumer can force a change, but if 1% of unicycle consumers raise a ruckus, we might be able to improve conditions for the people who make our lovely toys. From what I have seen from the anti-sweatshop movement in other areas, the most important thing is organized opposition.
All that being said, I have seen almost no successes in the anti-sweatshop movement when dealing with Chinese subcontractors. They are protected by their own government from outside investigation of their labor abuses. This is why I ask if it is ethical to buy anything from China. I have less problems buying something made in Mexico, since there are some means of protesting what is happening in a Mexican factory and working in solidarity with workers who are collectively organizing for their rights.
So what can I do as a average consumer? If I have lots of money, I can buy expensive unicycles which are assembled domestically with most parts made domestically. Nowadays, I doubt anyone can find a unicycle which has every single part made in the USA, Canada, England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, or any other developed nation.
If that strategy is outside of my budget (I am a grad student after all) I can write a quick email to the seller (unicycle.com) and the manufacturer (Torker) and express my concerns.
In addition, I can also try to buy stuff which is made abroad under better conditions than in China. In this case, I might try to buy things which are made in Tiawan rather than in China. This stategy only works if I am sure that the Tiawanese company isn’t subcontracting out to China. Most likely, a unicycle like my Savage was probably assembled in Tiawan, using Chinese parts. This is better than my Torker which is probably 100% Chinese made.
So my plea is for anyone who knows how to contact unicycle companies, to post that information on this thread. And let us know if you find out anything about where and how unicycles are made.