Being a conservative who’s interested in pop culture must be discouraging, with megastars like Beyoncé espousing views that are often diametrically opposed to your own. Finally, however, free-market right-wingers have found common ground with the reigning champion of our cultural moment in their shared support for treacherous, low-paying sweatshops.
This month, The Sun published an expose on the grueling conditions at garment factories in Sri Lanka where Beyoncé’s Ivy Park line of clothing is manufactured. One sewing machine operator told the newspaper that she works nine hours a day with a single 30-minute break for pay that comes out to $127.50 per month, plus overtime. “All we do is work, sleep, work, sleep,” she said, speaking at the 100-person boarding house where she lives.
Ivy Park is by no means unique among fashion brands in its exploitation of the near-slave wages offered to laborers in counties like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but its public association with a huge celebrity, and one whose public support for lefty political causes would seem to include a concern for working people, meant that the story garnered lots of news coverage in outlets like Broadly and CBS News.
The minor media firestorm almost certainly won’t do anything to change working conditions for those who toil for pennies per hour to produce hundred-dollar sweatpants, but there is one oppressed group that emerged from the news cycle with an unexpected victory: bowtie-wearing editorial writers who are desperate for a seat with the cool kids. After Beyoncé’s Black Panther-nodding Super Bowl performance and unabashedly pro-black, pro-woman new album sent them into conniptions (not to mention the time Bill O’Reilly nearly fainted on-air over an image of her butt in a thong), they had an issue where they could side with the queen.
“Why it’s a smear to say Beyoncé is running sweatshops,” was the New York Post’s take; “Beyoncé’s ‘Sweatshops’ Do More For The World’s Poor Than You Ever Will” echoed the Federalist. Even the Heritage Foundation got in on the action:
These pieces noted that MAS Holdings, the Sri Lankan factory that manufactures Ivy Park, pays better wages than most employers in Sri Lanka, presenting the fact that those wages come out to about 66 cents an hour as a pragmatic fact of life. Offhandedly, they acknowledged that life in the factories is probably quite bad, while vaguely holding out hope that the market will somehow eventually fix the problem itself.
They also basked in the obvious truth that had momentarily been revealed: Yes, Beyoncé is a powerful black woman, an outspoken feminist, an electric performer who’s unafraid of offending the cast of Fox & Friends with her politics, but she’s also a brazen capitalist, just like them. For at least one news cycle, the Republicans have a star on their side.