Ethical Labor and Consumption

I am interested in discussing the part of Moon and the Mars during 1859 when Theo finds out that Ciaran and other members of her Irish family are working for businesses that fund and support slavery. Ciaran said he had been working for the Spanish company, but it was actually the Portuguese company— and he had known and kept it secret that their business was in slavery. Cathleen and Aileen had been sewing clothes that would be worn by slaves, but quit their jobs once they discovered the purpose of the business. Theo spends some time away from her Irish family, but eventually goes back to them after learning of their regret and remorse. 

This made me think of that buzz-phrase you hear all over the internet lately: “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.” No matter what you choose to consume, you are still living in an exploitative system that relies on paying workers less than the value of their labor in order to make a profit. I have also heard a similar rhetoric applied when it comes to jobs, as students discuss their potential career paths and how to discern what type of work to do. You can “sell out” your morals and make more money, or you can choose a more “ethical” job that will likely pay less but contribute more positively to your community. There are many discussions about whether it is each individual’s responsibility to choose not to work for an immoral company, or if the agency lies on those in charge of the company’s intentions and policies.

To bring it back to the novel, Cathleen and Aileen face the struggle of living in poverty, and the higher paying jobs are ones that actively support the illegal slave trade. For them, the choice is clear as soon as they realize what type of work they are doing, and they quit. But Ciaran knows for much longer, and continues to do the job because of the money. He only quits because he is forced to by the rest of his family, although he does show signs of shame over his decision. I am curious what the decision of Cathleen and Aileen would be if they didn’t have Theo in their family, and if she didn’t stop seeing them because of it. Would their morals have led them to quit, or would they continue the job because they need the money?

One Reply to “Ethical Labor and Consumption”

  1. I find this post particularly interesting in conjunction with today’s discussion in class, because I believe you can apply the notion of “selling out” when considering how the Irish became white. As discussed in class, one way the Irish became white is by turning on the people facing the same injustices they faced. I do not think it is a stretch to say that to turn from slave to slave master is to sell out, and I also do not think it is a stretch to say it is not ethical.

    In response to your question about Cathleen and Aileen, I do not believe they would have quit without Theo. I often find that people have to be personally affected/someone they love has to be personally affected before they make sacrifices, and I believe this is especially prevalent when money is involved.

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