I am embarrassed to admit that I own a pair of pink Nike running shoes with a breast cancer ribbon on them. This is embarrassing for a few reasons: I’m lazy, the running shoes are pink, and I have shoes with a breast cancer ribbon on them. But even more than that there is the feeling of gross hypocrisy that comes with the realization you just bought a pair of shoes that are designed to “raise awareness” of an issue everyone is aware of, yet that were inevitably manufactured in a facility that is harmful to the physical and mental health of the people who work there. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the very conditions in the factory where my shoes were manufactured led to increased rates of breast cancer amongst the women working there.
And that’s what Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China by Leslie T. Chang is all about. Suddenly, the thousands of women working in Chinese factories are no longer nameless. They have ideas, they have words, they have interests, they have passions, they have frustrations. As travelers we are often looking for the cheapest options: cheap airfares, cheap sleeping bags, cheap food, cheap hostels, cheap flip-flops, cheap mobile phones, cheap bottled water. Sometimes, we even justify our purchases of these cheap products with the idea that our travel is doing good (“I’m volunteering at an orphanage!” “I’m going to spend a day picking up trash on the beach!” “I’m going to teach English so that locals can find better jobs!”). We rarely consider the impact of our choices on anyone beyond ourselves, and but Factory Girls clearly shows us that we need to be much more responsible not just with our attitudes, but also our behaviors.