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What's worse than outsourcing, Twitter, and Facebook combined?
Whatever comes out of Web Summit, possibly
As adidas, we told thousands of techies, and then dozens of journalists, that instead of paying our “outsourced” workers the actual money we owe them, we'd reward them with a purely virtual “adiVerse” so they can “enjoy life in a full way, like all of us.”
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We expected it to all end very badly. We even looked up how Portuguese law defines fraud, and made plans to get everyone out.
Yet the thousand-strong audience simply applauded the talk — which was illustrated by depictions of concentration-camp labor in WWII and — to accompany a fake DJ Marshmello’s new song about outsourcing — by Hieronymus Bosch-like animations of the “adiVerse.”
Even when we amped up the lingo yet further at the press conference, no journalist asked any hard questions. One even called it "revolutionary."
Web Summit posted our talk later that day and sent us the file, which we promptly re-posted with thanks. Despite oodles of extremely obvious clues that our talk couldn't be real — all noted by the Portuguese media — it wasn't until late the next day that Web Summit realized their mistake… and only because a journalist asked them about it.
How scary is it that our presentation went right over everyone's heads, and at Web Summit of all places? Very.
This wasn't the first time we Yes Men had promoted the horrible ideas or results of neoliberalism (see below) for audiences of supposed adults, only to find they didn't notice. It wasn't the second or sixth or eleventh or fifteenth time either. We even made three feature movies about the phenomenon.
But this was by far the scariest of our experiences, because of what's at stake at tech conferences like Web Summit.
Here at the cutting edge of capitalism, among people pushing technologies like AI and machine learning and so on, is anyone really thinking about how all this could go? Apparently not, as the non-reaction to our presentation demonstrates.
What if "the next big idea" is, like neoliberalism and outsourcing (see below), hugely convenient for those who stand to make money, while being truly terrible for many others? What if it's even worse?
Given how powerful these new technologies are, and given the corporate track record with once-new technologies like social media, we should probably be pretty nervous right now — and, more importantly, determined not let the future be determined yet again by corporate money. The well-being of billions depends on it.
NEOLIBERALISM /ˌniːəʊˈlɪbərəlɪzəm/ is the idea that corporate (and shareholder) profit should trump human, environmental, or other costs, and that governments shouldn't interfere with those profits.
That idea, about which we made a reasonably popular movie in 2009, first germinated at the end of WWII, and finally gained traction among national leaders three decades later.
Neoliberalism has in the last few years been thoroughly discredited, and many recognize that not only has it caused massive misery, it is largely responsible for the breakdown of ecosystems and the rise of fascism or its kin from Hungary to the U.S. to Argentina.
Yet outsourcing, a system spawned by neoliberalism, is plowing ahead like a juggernaut and squashing millions unfortunate enough to be born without enough privilege.
OUTSOURCING /ˈaʊtsɔːsɪŋ/ exists so that companies can make oodles of money without much accountability at all, by sending their shit to be made where "wages are lowest, or even lower than that," as are protections for workers.
The "contracts, subcontracts, and sub-subcontracts" that we described to the techies let companies like adidas avoid responsibility for the system that makes them and their shareholders rich.
We lamented, both in the talk and even more whinily during the press conference, that even though "it breaks our hearts open, there's nothing we [adidas] can do to stop" our abuses — so we might as well give workers a 3-D illusion to live in.
It's true that corporations don't directly control the system they so lavishly benefit from, and they certainly can't oversee it, or guarantee any sort of humaneness within it, despite adidas's protestations to the contrary. The only way they could control it would be to pay higher prices and accept lower profits, for which they would surely be sued by their shareholders.
In other words, it's "by design," as we noted more than once.
To enforce humane conditions for the workers who make what we wear, we would need binding agreements between companies and unions, and national and multinational legislation holding companies accountable for their supply chains, as well as agencies to enforce that legislation.
One thing we can do now, though, is pressure adidas to sign the Pay Your Workers agreement. This is a proposed binding agreement under which adidas would commit to pay the wages workers in its supply chain are still owed since the pandemic, as well as guarantee their right to severance if a factory closes. Moreover, it would contain binding mechanisms to hold adidas, and any other company that would sign it, to account to ensure workers are paid (in real money!) and ensure that workers in their supply chain have the right to organize. Only if workers have the freedom to stand up for their own rights can they assert themselves in this system and fight for higher wages, better working conditions and the "full lives" the adiVerse offered them, but in the real world.
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