Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz and Invisible Hands by Corinne Goria are two great books that provided me with a powerful picture of how global markets of sugar production, agriculture, garment and electronics industries became subjects to not only political and economic challenges but more importantly its use of labor.
Sweetness and Power is a perfect example of how in the creation of an entirely new economic system, foreign luxuries such as sugar, tobacco and tea could so swiftly become part of the crucial social center of our daily life. Sugar in particular played a pivotal role in the early stages of capital accumulation in Europe. Therefore, the link between Global Economy and Modern Capitalism is inseparable. In the selected chapter, “ production “ , we clearly see that although the sugar plantations in Jamaica and other British colonial outposts heavily relied on slavery rather than wage labor, they were no other than predecessors of the modern capitalist factory system.
Corinne Goria in her book Invisible Hands, speaks on behalf of individuals whose labor was unfairly and inhumanely used to create a surplus value. Obviously, I am aware of the fact that many worldwide companies such as Apple, Dell, Walmart, Gap, Levi’s have relocated their factories into developing countries such as India, Bangladesh and China, where they have little or no tax on production, cheap labor and high profits. However, reading about individual stories of people who have become a part of the global economy and victims of capitalism has been shocking to me. It made me revalue things that were made by ‘invisible hands’ that I used to take for granted. A part of me is sickened by the fact that the food I eat, clothes I wear or computer I am typing on right now may have been made at the cost of such lives as Ana’s, Pournima’s, Li’s, Neftali’s and millions of others. The people whose lives are still negatively impacted by the corporations whose products we so depend on. As a consumer it made me question ‘who I am in this cycle?’. Am I one of those whose desire for luxuries is satisfied or am I one of the lured victims trapped into the chain of global markets?
I am grateful towards the author who wrote the book and every person who despite the continued pressure of their work conditions and possible danger to their own lives and lives of their families and friends, were brave enough to raise their voices and show us how little the lives of laborers have changed since slavery was prohibited. In conclusion, I would like to quote the words Ana used even though she couldn’t find a job because her name had been blacklisted:
“ Everyone has dignity. That’s something that nobody will change, and that’s what is most important: the dignity that one has a person , as a worker”
For our part, as consumers, there is a lot we have to think about.