BY: DUSTIN BATTY
There are many benefits to global trade, such as boosted economies, cheaper products, and availability of more goods—like fruits and vegetables that are out of season. However, despite these benefits, the cons of global trade seem to outweigh the pros. A couple of the better-known detriments of global capitalism are the outsourcing of production to countries with few labour laws, allowing for terrible work conditions and very little pay, and the encouragement of child labour and forced labour (read: slavery) in developing countries. A lesser-known but equally impactful product of global trade is the surprisingly high number of deaths that are caused by pollution from factories.
The numbers are staggering. In 2007, the year during which the data for a recent study was collected, “3.45 million premature deaths” around the world were deemed caused by pollution. And though factories would certainly still exist without global trade, outsourcing encourages the production of many more factories in countries with relatively lax environmental and health regulations, which produce more deadly pollutants than those that would be created in the developed countries where the goods are actually purchased. Indeed, the study found that more than 22 per cent of the deaths caused by pollution around the world “were associated with goods and services produced in one region for consumption in another.”
Steven Davis, one of the authors of the study, explained the results: “The way manufacturing and commerce are structured in the world today means that air pollution mortality is being felt disproportionately by people living in or near producing regions, often far from where goods are consumed.”
Not only do the people who are most affected by the pollution not see the products for which their lives are being shortened; often they don’t even live in the countries where the goods are produced. For example, factories in China, many of which were producing goods for American consumption, were associated with the deaths of over 30,000 people in Japan and South Korea.
This dissociation between the consumption of the goods and the deaths caused by pollution is part of the reason that this problem is not very well known. As Davis said, “air pollution can travel great distances and cause harm far from emitting factories,” and the harm is ignored by those who buy the products because they don’t know about it. “Our research shows that trade extends the distance between cause and effect by separating consumers in one region and people who suffer adverse health impacts, who are often on the other side of the world.” This distance prevents consumers from realizing the true extent of the harm their consumption is causing.
People need to become aware of the health hazards that arise from global trade and outsourcing to countries with few health regulations. We need to recognize the price people are paying with their lives so that we can have access to cheap products, and give more attention to the goods we purchase and the conditions in which they are produced. Maybe, with a bit of effort, we can encourage stricter regulations that could save millions of lives a year.