At What Cost?
July 7th, 2008 by Sonja

Earlier this year I went on a little road trip with two friends.  We were investigating the possibility of purchasing a quilt shop in a little town not too far from here.  That possibility did not pan out, but on the road trip we discovered a wonderful Mennonite grocery store where they sold sandwiches to order.  The sandwiches were delicious.  Hanging on the wall over the cash register I saw this hand-lettered sign:

“The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.”

That is a profound truth.  The cost of something is not necessarily the price tag that is put there by the merchant from whom the customer purchases an item, but it is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.

So … exactly how much should that bottle of TwoBuckChuck cost? … in light of the following? (ht Christy at DryBonesDance)

Farm Worker Died Connected To Two Buck Chuck

We told you about the tragic death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez who died while laboring in a Stockton area vineyard in 100 plus degree heat. According to a Wednesday AP story, the San Joaquin County Coroner has officially confirmed that Maria died of heat stroke. Maria had been working 8 hours in the blistering heat without shade or sufficient water. The closest water supply was a 10 minute walk away.

Because Maria worked for a labor contractor, she most likely never knew she was part of the production team for Bronco Winery who is better known for Charles Shaw wines–commonly called “Two-Buck Chuck.”  This best selling wine is available exclusively at Trader Joe’s stores.  According to Trader Joe’s web site, “these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine and a great relationship with a valued supplier.”

MariaMaria’s Story

On May 14, the official temperature was 95 degrees; it was even hotter inside the wine grape vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming, east of Stockton, where Maria and her fiancé, Florentino Bautista, worked. Maria had been working for nine hours.

At 3:40 p.m. Maria became dizzy. She didn’t know where she was and didn’t recognize Florentino. Maria passed out.  Florentino helplessly held her in his arms.

There was no water for the workers from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. When water arrived, it was a 10-minute walk from where Maria was working, too far to access. There was no shade or training for foremen and workers about what to do if someone became ill from the heat—as required by law.

After a number of delays Maria was taken to a clinic. On the in Lodi, the foreman called on the driver’s cell phone and spoke to Florentino. “If you take her to a clinic,” the foreman said, “don’t say she was working [for the contractor]. Say she became sick because she was jogging to get exercise. Since she’s underage, it will create big problems for us.”

Maria’s temperature upon arriving at the hospital was 108.6.  After two days and six heart stoppages, she died.

“The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it.”

10 Responses  
  • Lyn writes:
    July 7th, 20089:34 amat

    Very poignant. Sweat shops make me feel so ill. People desperate for money in order to survive are exploited and end up getting a pittance for long hours and then the company go on and sell their produce for a lot of money and make a killing in profits – literally. It’s disgusting. I’m trying to think a lot more carefully about where I shop these days. I try to buy Fairtrade when I can. In terms of clothes I’ve started to wait for the sales and buy things at shops that I know do not exploit workers as these are generally the more expensive shops. I’m also conscious of brands that exploit. I know my shopping habits need to improve more though.

  • Tracy Simmons writes:
    July 7th, 20089:51 amat

    I feel so angry reading this. We also try to buy fair trade, but I have to admit it’s often easier said than done. I’m glad you wrote this–thanks. I’m forwarding on the link to friends.

  • Links : Beyond the 4 walls writes:
    July 7th, 200810:10 amat

    […] felt very challenged by a couple of posts today which are very different. Sonja challenges us at how much things should cost and at what human cost. TallSkinnyKiwi shares about […]

  • Adam G. writes:
    July 7th, 20083:45 pmat

    This was in the United States, right? Not “over there” but right here!

    Disgusting, wherever it happens.

    There’s a Trader Joe’s right next to where I work.

    I hate to throw this in, but if Maria were “Mary” with blonde hair and blue eyes, there would be a massive public outcry. It’s just the plain truth.

  • Erin writes:
    July 7th, 20088:47 pmat

    Sigh. We have a couple bottles of two buck chuck that we use for cooking, but when this happened I decided I wouldn’t buy any more.

  • Sally writes:
    July 9th, 20082:20 pmat

    This is terrible- too often we do not know the true cost of the goods we consume.

  • Nancy writes:
    July 9th, 20089:28 pmat

    coupla things. FIrst of all, this is by NO MEANS as oversimplified as presented here. First we have the illegal immigrant issue. What part of illegal is hard to understand? I have long maintained that the reason that illegal immigration is not fiercely regulated is because of corporate interests rather than liberal unenforcement. This adds to the evidence for it. Second, my kids watch Deadliest Catch constantly so this popped into my mind: does it bother you that whenever you have crab legs that a person or two probably died for your nice meal? Probably not. Because you assume these people did this voluntarily. Yet most of these guys are not college grads, they may have other options, but none so lucrative. The death rate for your crab dinner is probably higher than that for cheapo wine. If she had not been in the country illegally, she would probably still be alive. Someone also pointed out in a discussion forum where this was originally published that she could have brought a jug of water with her, knowing she was pregnant, but we live in a culture of blame so of course, it is someone else’s fault. If illegal immigration was sharply curtailed and people doing menial labor perhaps given permits to work temporarily, then we would know where these people are and could regulate how these employees are treated. But its “mean” to not just let these these people cross the border whenever and however they want. They are hired because American workers would never allow this mistreatment and exploitation. What about the American workers who are displaced because illegals get hired in their stead because they can be exploited? Hmmmm…where is the outcry about THAT?

  • Sonja writes:
    July 9th, 200810:37 pmat

    Nancy, or Liz, or whoever you are … we don’t really know because you so cleverly hide your identity. But I happen to know you’re not in Sandbox Idaho right now … you’re wasting time in an Extended Stay Hotel in Spartanburg, South Carolina. So, either you’re traveling for business or pleasure. In either case I cannot believe you have nothing better to do with your time than throw taunts at me. What a sad boring life. I’ll be praying for you. I’ll also be blocking this ISP as well until you can learn some manners.

  • The Margins » Quotation of the Week: Two for the price of one writes:
    July 13th, 200812:15 amat

    […] Bellah, Habits of the Heart (via Dick Staub) We told you about the tragic death of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez who died while labori…AP story, the San Joaquin County Coroner has officially confirmed that Maria died of heat stroke. […]

  • Israel writes:
    July 24th, 20084:52 pmat

    Wow, Sonja, I’ve pretty must stopped reading an commenting on blogs, but this one caught my eye. Just a stunning quote and a tragic story… indeed… “The cost of something is that amount of life which must be exchanged for it” … perhaps when the ultimate price is paid in pursuit of some products, those products are actually priceless… rather than “priced less”

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