Lessons in Sustainability: Crime & Accessibility to Resources and Socially Constructed Realities

The Oscar winning South Korean movie ‘Parasite’ shows how Ki-Woo’s fantasy for high economic class leads her family to leach off the host family and also commit heinous crimes.

Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger shows a similar theme of a boy, born in perpetual poverty, who dreams of prosperity. After getting a big-break as a driver for a wealthy man, his life turns around. He observes the many ills of the ‘rich’ life. He also notices the meager pay he receives in comparison to the vastness of his master’s wealth. He perceives his master’s kindness as a mere facade of generosity and realizes early on, that trickery is the way to reach to the economic high class.

Is it poverty or is it inequality? While both are connected, the latter refers to a state of ‘relative deprivation’ because of a lack of resources to do what’s the status quo for that socio-economic group.

And that’s a reason why basic necessities of life should public sponsored, namely education, health. And that’s because disparity is not that pronounced when:

  1. Children of all classes attend the same school with access to similar opportunities. India is probably the only place where Majority of ‘xx’ Public Schools are in fact, actually private. Today, with the exit of the rich from government schools, the market forces have dictated its verdict.
  2. Patients visit the same hospital, receiving the same treatment.
  3. Public libraries ensure that a poor chap can read the same books as the one who orders from Amazon.

While, the jury is still out on the debate between the reason for crime- poverty or inequality, it is certain that disparity in access has alienated a huge segment of our population. Michael J. Sandel says in his book ‘The Moral Limits to Market’, “Without ever deciding to do so, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society”. The latter being a way of life, one that has become so ingrained that we have rationalized the inaccessibility of the basic amenities to the poor, amenities that they have equal rights over.

We got to know that the employees, MCA grads, working at our computer lab are paid much less than what we would have expected given the job role and expertise required. What was more shocking was that even the cleaning personnel was paid at par. And that raised two important questions:

  1. What’s the role of education then?
  2. How is it even possible? What about the basic minimum pay and all that jazz?

As for second, turns out that those employees joined our institute via an outsourcing company who play on cost by providing cheap labor in return of some commission. These employees, as opposed to a typical college employee on a permanent basis, receive no social security, no medical leaves, no fringe benefits, nothing. Just a minimal pay and a job that can be replaced anytime for the college is not answerable.

I never could have imagined! How our unknowing, unthinking eyes perceive the world and how different it really is.

Who should be accountable for these employees? The college or the company outsourcing them?

What’s the first thought that comes to us when we think about reasons for child labor?

  1. The parents force their children to earn, so that more hands on deck could translate to more money.
  2. The children are too debt ridden because of parents’ vices that there’s no way out now.

Is it really so?
The fact of the matter is that majority of the parents of these children actually do want their children to break the shackles of viciousness and study, go to a school but several structural issues inhibit them:

  1. A major segment of children involved in child labour belong to the migrant families. These migrants keep on moving in search of work. With no documented proof of residence, admission in schools becomes difficult.
  2. Schools are sometimes located far away from the place of work of their parents making it physically inaccessible.
  3. At times, children are the only earning members of the family.
  4. Or worse still, they may not have a family.
  5. Yet, another category of child labour are school going children who work in the part time to finance their education.

In the above, scenarios a blanket policy response of banning child labour can have far reaching, counter-productive consequences. With no side job to fund their education, a child may resort to crimes, or begging. Sometimes what’s legal may not be ethical.

How do companies tackle such issues? What can individuals do to help?

And with those questions, in the next blog we shall talk about how organizations tackle such deeply trenched systemic issues of society with the case of Ikea.

The blog is the part of series ‘Lessons in Sustainability’ and comprises of class discussions and key insights from readings, at IIML. The next one is going to be a blog on the case of Ikea addressing child labour at its supplier factories and stakeholder management.

Sources and Credits:

  1. BSEM Elective class discussions led by Prof Sushil
  2. Is Poverty the Mother of Crime?

I believe in the sustainable way of living and giving back to the nature. Constantly on the lookout to reduce, replace and refurbish.