One step forward, two steps back

<p>As I was preparing to write this, my first post at ATR, I received a fascinating email from the good folks at <a href="http://www.ospop.com/"><em>ospop</em>.</a>, a <a href="http://www.coolhunting.com/archives/2007/09/ospop_exclusive.php">buzzworthy</a> new business that sells re-engineered versions of native Chinese sneakers.<br />
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<a href="http://www.ospop.com"><em>Ospop.</em></a> has the hallmarks of what you'd expect from company that has made social responsibility the core of its marketing message: a commitment to authentic local traditions; a portion of the profits dedicated to charity; even a cool name that embodies the company's dedication to fostering <a href="http://thediscerningbrute.wordpress.com/2008/01/24/the-semiotics-of-ospop/">one small point</a> of working-class pride.&nbsp; Yet as I read&nbsp;the <a href="http://uncivilsociety.org/ospop.pdf">press release</a>&nbsp;a single phrase kept coming back to mind:</p>
<blockquote>&quot;Chinese labor shoes&quot;</blockquote>
<p>There is, after all, but a small semantic leap from &quot;labor shoes&quot; to &quot;labor camps,&quot; an equally storied tradition that continues to <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/china.humanrights">attract attention</a> as we draw closer to the Beijing Olympic Games. In this regard the <a href="www.ospop.com"><em>ospop.</em></a> sneakers don't just represent working-class values; they are <a href="http://www.ospop.com/">part</a> of a <a href="http://tinyurl.com/6bnsyt">broader history</a> in which the celebration of the proletariat served as a rationale for subjecting millions of people to forced labor and inhumane working conditions.<br />
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I don't say this to criticize <a href="www.ospop.com"><em>ospop.</em></a>, which judging from its products and promotion really is committed to making a positive difference. Rather, the moral complexity of an object as simple as a pair of sneakers highlights the complex reality facing everyone who sets out to be a social entrepreneur. Contrary to what one may think judging from glib references to &quot;doing well by doing good&quot; and &quot;it's easy being green,&quot; there are precious few socially responsible businesses that don't face some sort of <a href="http://tinyurl.com/698bp7">tragic choice</a>.&nbsp; In fact, some would say that social enterprise itself serves to&nbsp;justify <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Supercapitalism-Transformation-Business-Democracy-...">a capitalist&nbsp;ideology</a> as&nbsp;authoritarian and soul-crushing as anything inspired by the works of Chairman Mao.<br />
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I'm <a href="http://uncivilsociety.org">Jeff Trexler</a>, Wilson Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Pace University, where I study law and personal identity. It's good to be here at <a href="justmeans.com">JustMeans</a>.</p>