A Human Rights Problem
(© Calvin Voxx)
Alex twirled his glass, the ice cubes swirling round inside, clinking off one another, the lime chasing them like a hungry wolf. They slowed and bumped together. But there was no bloodbath as the lime finally caught the cubes. No tearing of flesh. Just a Bombay and tonic.
Alex took another swig, leaned back in his chair and took in his
surroundings. The private Lear was still climbing to altitude, with the pretty
young stewardess sitting patiently in her seat in the polished wood paneled
galley at the tail of the jet. Alex swiveled his wide-bottomed leather chair to
give him a better view of the opposite window. Los Angeles disappeared out of
sight as the plane banked in a hard turn heading west over the Pacific. Taking
in the setting, Alex wasn't sure whether to view his arrival here with triumph
or contempt. Had he finally achieved the pinnacle of sticking it to the man,
promoting social cause from within the globe-spanning multinational – all while
having a top-shelf drink at the corporation's expense for good measure? Or was he
now The Man, and nothing more than a sell out? Was his enjoyment of the
luxuries of the ultra-rich corporate lifestyle ironic, because he was secretly
sticking it to them, or was it just tragic, yet another former do-gooder who had
sold his values for money?
Alex was genuinely troubled by this moral problem, so much so that it
alternatingly made his gin and tonic all the sweeter, or bitter to the point of
unpleasantness, depending on which way his brain's calculus was shifting. Alex
knew, however, as he always knew, that the proof would be in his actions. If he
pulled his punches because he was afraid of corporate backlash, then he would
reveal himself to be everything he feared. But if he brought the same
aggressiveness to the trip that he had as a young protestor, albeit with a more
mature and professional demeanor now, then maybe he could keep looking at
himself in the mirror. And the private jet and limos and five star hotels were
just perks that, so long as they didn't hurt anyone else, he might as well
enjoy. Golden bracelets were okay, so long as they didn't become golden
Taking another swig, drink in hand as they climbed to 30,000', Alex
promised himself to conduct his inspections and draft his report such that the younger
Alex, the one who had thrown blood on corporate executives to protest their
slave-labor conditions (ox blood, not human blood, of course), would be proud
of him. If he didn't, then he was as guilty as the rest of them, and deserved
to be doused in blood himself.
"Welcome, Mr. Jefferson."
Alex stepped out of the black Land Rover to face a well-dressed and
even better accented Chinese gentleman shaking his hand. There was only a hint
of the Queen's English in his accent, as if he had worked hard to scrub away
the obvious signs of his British schooling and Americanize his speech for his
Impressive. They didn't even go to that length in India. Here, they
were pulling out all the stops. Their Chinese subcontractor clearly knew the
stakes. Which was both good and bad. Perhaps that meant they were running a
tight ship. Or perhaps they simply had cleaned up their act in preparation for
his visit. Either way, Alex knew he was going to have to push hard past
whatever initial façade was shown him.
Alex shook hands, then gave a slight head nod, as was the custom.
"Liu Chang," the man said, introducing himself.
"Alex Jefferson. It's good to meet you, Mr. Liu."
Liu smiled, turned, and off they went.
It was a long drive from the rural airport to the remote mine, and Liu
was not much for small talk. Alex spent it looking out of the window, watching
the beautiful Chinese countryside pass by, simple farmers working in their
fields, women hanging clothes to dry. These were the people, he thought.
These were the people he was here to protect, or at least people like them.
Alex tried to keep them first and foremost in his mind. His employers were
concerned about profit, market share, and public image. When they talked about
things like sustainability they didn't mean the impact of their
operations on the environment or local workers, they meant keeping consumers
happy. The image of an ethical company was what mattered most. And if the way
they got there was actually being ethical, that worked for Alex. That might not
be their default setting, but they were capable of it. And that's what he was
for, he reminded himself. To push them. To change things. To make it better.
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