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The Green Gap
I watched a documentary film last weekend called "Girl Model" at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., where I live.
It tracks an impoverished 13-year-old Siberian girl's dream of becoming a famous model. She's picked in a talent search in Russia from a massive group of young teens.
She signs a contract and is sent to Japan to work.
She becomes part of a vicious, oft repeated cycle, which leaves these girls thousands of dollars in debt because they can't make enough money to live on.
Modeling agencies schedule shoots with these naïve young girls and sell the photos to magazines without telling them.
Many girls are sent home for some obscure clause in their contract, like gaining a centimeter in their waistline, or their work dries up and they can't pay their bills, or they have to borrow heavily to make enough money to get home. They have to find their way in a strange place. It's sad.
It is implied that they sometimes turn to prostitution to make ends meet.
Of course, the agencies don't get sued or in trouble for not paying the girls when they sell their photos.
The movie centers around the 13-year-old and a modeling agent, a beautiful former model who selects which girls will be chosen to travel to Japan to begin their careers.
The agent is a cog in a wheel. She is one person in a loop with a little shaky logic who is able justify her now comfortable position.
The characters in the film are all clichés. It is hard to identify an antagonist.
Maybe it was the agent living comfortably. Maybe it was the agencies who feel they're giving young girls the photos they crave and are fulfilling dreams while getting rich off the pictures.
Maybe it's the parents who think their daughter's career will give them financial freedom. Maybe it's the 13-year-old who wants more than anything to be a model.
There's enough guilt to go around. They're all cogs.
As far as exploitation goes, it's a lot like putting payments from mortgages into bonds and splitting them into tranches and then grading the top tier of the riskiest mortgages triple A and low risk.
Who was guilty in the housing crisis - bond sellers, credit raters, the government or homeowners?
If everybody looks the other way, no one is ultimately to blame. It's like the boards at some public companies who earn a nice "director compensation." Why rock the boat?
Who is responsible for the dearth of American furniture manufacturing? Is it costly U.S. environmental regulations faced by domestic businesses?
Is it low cost providers in socialist Southeast Asian nations that lack transparent environmental reporting?
This is the biggest challenge I still see for a coherent green message from the furniture industry: an environmental reporting gap between the nations where furniture is produced and the United States.
Are we just cogs in an unequal playing field?
As a country now, we mostly look the other way (that's probably a little easier to do during a terrible economic catastrophe like the Great Recession) and don't ask a lot of questions about the factories that produce our goods.
But we wonder why goods we used to manufacture so well are now made overseas.
As consumers, we're kind of like the booking agent for the 13-year-old girl who made a comfy living and is far enough removed from the exploitative side to justify an easy conscience.
It's the same issue that got my head hurting five years ago when I wrote a good bit about green furnishings and it still makes my head hurt.
Why, and how, should we go green if the playing field isn't equal?