This past week, I taught a humane education course to an eighth grade class in Blue Hill, Maine. The course focused on changemakers, people who work to transform unjust and inhumane systems into ones that are healthy, peaceful and compassionate. We learned about Muhammad Yunus, who launched the microcredit movement that has lifted millions out of poverty; about Albina Ruiz transforming the trash system in Peru and with it the lives of thousands who live in and around trash dumps; about Kailash Satyarthi, who is working to end slavery in India; and about Eddie Lama, who educates people about animal exploitation, trying to put an end to those systems that perpetuate cruelty to animals.
The goal of the class was to inspire these young people to become changemakers themselves, to not only make personal choices that diminish the harm they cause, but to work toward better systems in general. The reason for this dual focus is because we can’t always make individual choices that are humane, just and sustainable. If, for example, all electronics are produced unsustainably and unethically, and if we must rely upon cell phones and computers, then we can’t buy our way out of our complicity through boycotts; we must transform the very systems of production.
The night before I began the week-long class, I listened to the radio show This American Life, which aired an excerpt from Mike Daisey’s one-man show about the production of Apple products. This powerful episode described Mike Daisey’s experience interviewing hundreds of workers at the Foxconn factory where many of Apple’s products are assembled in Shenzhen, China. The story Mike Daisey told was horrifying, although not surprising. He described the unimaginably long work hours (sometimes 16 hours/day for months), workers’ hands and joints destroyed by repetitive motion and the toxic cleaners that have caused permanent neurological damage to employees. The last fifteen minutes were devoted to This American Life’s fact-checking and presenting opposing perspectives, although Apple refused the invitation to comment.
On the first day of class, I had the students listen to the episode themselves. Then I gave them a homework assignment to write to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. I wanted these students to have the opportunity to use their voice to help change this unjust and inhumane system, since they couldn’t use the power of their wallets to simply choose more humane electronics.
Below is just one of their letters. I hope it will inspire you to also use your voice to create change.
Dear Mr. Cook,
I am an eighth grader from Maine, and I have recently listened to the Public Radio broadcast, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” This story, which I assume you may have heard, was told by a man named Mike Daisey, who is a devotee of your company, and independently went to one of your supplier’s factories in Shenzhen, China.
I am writing to you and Apple because of what Mike Daisey, and other sources, have witnessed in the Apple Factory, Foxconn. I learned many things in Mr. Daisey’s talk, the first being that your products are assembled manually by humans in massive Asian factories. The second fact is Foxconn’s workers, the hundreds of thousands of them, have very low wages. And the third and most distressing thing that Mike Daisey saw was the employee’s hands. Carpal tunnel at young ages, hands ruined by the continuous motions of assembling the same piece over and over again. I, at this moment, feel so lucky to live in a place where I will never have to do such a job.
I feel it is my civil duty to write to you in the hope that with a collective effort, your prestigious company can rise out of the cult of inhumane factories.
I am not suggesting that you change your whole system, for I am aware that it is important for Apple to make money, and these people to have jobs, but Apple can make small changes, like shorter work hours, rotations on the lines, and/or slightly larger wages, to deeply change many lives.
Thank you for your consideration, Mr. Cook.
Abigail Frost (age 13)
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.
Image courtesy of ralphunden via Creative Commons.