At The Quintessential Centrist, we believe its important to be balanced and prudent. Sometimes, that involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies.
In New York City, the competition amongst nail salons is fierce. There are often two competing salons on the same square block. The welcoming signs and smiling faces mask a painful reality; this a business model partially underpinned by human trafficking and other blatant civil rights violations. While human rights abuses in the sex-trade and related industries are well documented, similar violations in the nail salon industry are rarely mentioned in the press. Here is one exception.
A disproportionate number of nail salon employees are undocumented immigrants. Hence, this is a particularly vulnerable demographic for a myriad of reasons. Their remuneration is often below minimum wage, including tips. And those are the more fortunate ones. Others are not compensated at all while many are subjected to mistreatment at the hands of their employers. The working conditions can be abysmal. Young women are often exposed to toxic chemicals without proper protective gear. As their wages are so low, these vulnerable employees have little choice but to "live" in overcrowded one-room dwellings, many of which lack basic safety features. These homes are often as unhygienic as the salon's where they work 12-14 hours a day in, tending to the hands and feet of "exhausted" patrons.
There exists an irony regarding the human rights violations in the nail salon business: some of the same people who chastise customers of massage parlors who offer "happy endings” or gentleman's clubs with dancers who do "extras," – because they are potentially staffed by women trafficked against their will - are some of the very same people who patronize nail salons. It is hypocritical for clients of an industry riddled with employees working against their free will to condemn another industry and its customers with similar issues.
The inequities go beyond simply how customers of nail salons might view customers of the sex-trade industry. At least a “masseuse” who pleasures a client is compensated for their labor, often in excess of $100. Strippers can be tipped multiples of that amount. A manicurist who touches fungus laden feet for 12-14 hours a day is paid a fraction of those wages. In fact, a backache from leaning over all day and respiratory problems from ingesting toxic fumes are often all they own when work is over.
The Quintessential Centrist is not making a moral argument for (or against) manicures or for (or against) "massages" or "gentleman's clubs." TQC’s objective is to highlight a hypocrisy that exists in our society. Most people who deride somebody for visiting a “massage” parlor because those establishments could be staffed with illegally trafficked workers, are some of the same people who email their friends, text on their cell phones and chat casually with their colleagues while getting their hands and feet rubbed by undocumented workers, many trafficked against their free will, who are mistreated and not compensated appropriately for their labor.
It is possible that some of the patrons of nail salons are not aware of the conditions to which many manicurists are subjected. If that is the case, then we hope this commentary spurs them to action. The view at TQC is that nobody should frequent any business whose employees are not working at their own free will.