Question of the Day: Who Laced the Shoes I Just Purchased?

I recently purchased a pair of shoes at Walmart that were PRE-LACED.

And here’s my question: WHO LACED THEM?

It used to be, when purchasing a pair of shoes, that they were not laced, and you would lace them yourself (or they would be laced by a shoe store attendant).

I’m not sure when this shift from the sale of unlaced shoes to pre-laced shoes became widespread, but this is the first day that I’ve ever thought about it.

The added value and convenience of a pre-laced pair of shoes is nice, but I’m troubled—for what if a machine is not lacing them, but a person?

In other words, are there profoundly impoverished adults (or even children) in Honduras or India or China putting in long, repetitive, mind-numbing hours (for perhaps 30-50 cents an hour) lacing the shoes that I purchase?

And does this make me morally culpable in their exploitation?

A few years back there was controversy over the fact that soccer balls being sold at Walmart were being laced by child labor in Pakistan.

So why couldn’t it be the case that repetitive and ill-paid human labor—and even child labor—is behind the lacing of the shoes sold at Walmart?

Does anyone know anything about how shoes have come to be pre-laced, and how it is done (by machine or human labor)?

And has this been going on for just the past few years, or is this a phenomenon that has been around for 20 years? I simply never consciously registered the shift in convenience when it actually occurred, but now that I think about it, it is not pleasant to think of the lives of those who might be providing this “added value” to my shoe purchases.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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