A few years back, Dick Cavett made the following observation about the misuse of the phrase “presumption of innocence“:
Cast your mind back about a dozen years to Tonya Harding. For the newly born, she was the young skater who hired a goon acquaintance to lurch out of the shadows and whack rival skater Nancy Kerrigan in the leg. The attack effectively put Nancy out of commission and delivered to sportsmanship a black eye the size of Cleveland.
Despite all this, gritty Tonya’s fanatical admirers remained loyal. On the TV news one of these ardent supporters — in this case an adenoidal female teen — gushed into a newslady’s mike something like, “It’s rilly awful. The papers and like everybody are rilly forgetteen about like Tonya’s Constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. It’s the, like, cornerstone of our democracy.” (I have omitted a few “likes.”)
In New York’s most recent case of law officers pumping a half gross of lead into an unarmed citizen, a prosecutor, of all people who should know better, urged press and public to remind themselves of the presumption of innocence “that governs us all.”
…The P. of I. has nothing whatever to do with you and me. We can talk, write, broadcast and even put up a billboard (if so foolish) stating that the accused is the one who did it. It has to do with our system. If you find yourself accused of a crime, you do not have to prove your innocence. The burden is on the other side. The prosecution has to prove your guilt. That’s about it. And it is not even a rule of law. It is a rule of evidence, relevant only to the judge and the jury.
I once heard an exasperated Dan Abrams, the MSNBC legal correspondent, state it simply and best: “I’ve had to say it before and I say it again. The presumption of innocence has no relevance outside the courtroom.”
Point being, what is a legal form does not mean that it is also an ethical standard. Often, as many lawyers would be the first to admit, far from it.
So, when I wrote yesterday’s post about IKEA’s poor U.S. labor practices, I had a hunch I would get responses defending IKEA.
I’ve received tweets, emails and comments arguing that it’s not IKEA’s fault, it’s due to the absence of significant worker protections. That’s true (and I’ve argued for those before, as well as in that post), but that’s not the whole story. IKEA is paying far less to U.S. workers than they do their own, even though they are making a profit (and have received U.S tax dollars to boot). Why? Because they can.
Unfortunately, that is legal. And you’ll note, I didn’t write, “Sic the Labor Department on them because they’re breaking the law*.” Instead, I asked readers to use their ethical sensibilities and decide that, until IKEA raises wages at its Danville plant to those of the surrounding area (and which, by the way, would still be lower than those in Sweden), not to buy their products.
That, too, is legal. And I would argue ethical as well.
Because, as I’ve written many times before, personal responsibility is not the sole purview of poor single minority women.
And as for the apologist who argued that the Swedish home company didn’t know what was happening in U.S. Well, even if you believe that (because a multinational corporation would never lie. Ever), a boycott would be a great way to convince IKEA Sweden to exercise more oversight of its U.S. operations. Because somehow eight dollars an hour is happening. Once they fix the
unfortunate oversight crappy labor practices, shop away!
Until then, do the right thing. It’s legal.
*Unless, of course, IKEA is found guilty of racial discrimination. On that count, I’ll presume they’re innocent until proven guilty….