Business Insider: ‘WIKILEAKS: U.S. Fought To Lower Minimum Wage In Haiti So Hanes And Levis Would Stay Cheap’

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Business Insider

 

Robert Johnson | Jun. 3, 2011

A Wikileaks post published on The Nation shows that the Obama Administration fought to keep Haitian wages at 31 cents an hour.

(This article was taken down by The Nation due to an embargo, but it was excerpted at Columbia Journalism Review.)

It started when Haiti passed a law two years ago raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. According to an embassy cable:

This infuriated American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss that pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes. They said they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, and they got the State Department involved. The U.S. ambassador put pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies (the U.S. minimum wage, which itself is very low, works out to $58 a day).

Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers. If you paid each of them $2 a day more, it would cost their employers $50,000 per working day, or about $12.5 million a year … As of last year Hanes had 3,200 Haitians making t-shirts for it. Paying each of them two bucks a day more would cost it about $1.6 million a year. Hanesbrands Incorporated made $211 million on $4.3 billion in sales last year.

Thanks to U.S. intervention, the minimum was raised only to 31 cents.

These papers have come to light thanks to Haiti Libertea small Haitian newspaper with offices in Port-au-Prince and New York City.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/wikileaks-haiti-minimum-wage-the-nation-2011-6#ixzz1PPAl40Wn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NYT: ‘As China’s Workers Get a Raise, Companies Fret’

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times

By KEITH BRADSHER

Published: May 31, 2011

HONG KONG — Wages are surging this year inChina and among its main low-wage Asian rivals, benefiting workers across the region. But the increases confront trading companies and Western retailers with cost increases and are making higher prices likely for American and European consumers.

Bruce Rockowitz, the chief executive of Li & Fung, the largest trading company supplying Chinese consumer goods to American retail chains, said in a speech here on Tuesday that the company’s average costs for goods rose 15 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year. Executives at other consumer goods companies have encountered similar or larger increases.

Airline flights to Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other low-wage Asian countries are packed these days with executives looking for alternatives to double-digit wage increases in China. But wages are rising as fast or faster in many of these countries, following China’s example, while commodity prices have surged around the world, leaving buyers with few places to turn.

Bangladesh raised its minimum wage by 87 percent late last year, yet apparel factories there are still struggling to find enough workers to complete ever-rising numbers of orders. “Everywhere you see signs saying ‘people wanted,’ “ said Annisul Huq, the chairman of the Mohammadi Group, a large Bangladesh garment manufacturer.

The Gap surprised financial markets on May 19 by announcing that a 20 percent jump in costs from suppliers by the second half of this year would depress its profits, prompting a 17.5 percent plunge of its shares the next day. Coach, the luxury handbag company, announced in January that it would try to reduce its reliance on China to less than half of its products within four years, from 80 percent now, by moving production to Vietnam and India.

Yet wages in Vietnam have been rising as fast as Chinese wages, or faster, while India has posed many problems for large-scale manufacturers. Mr. Rockowitz said that India’s infrastructure — roads and ports — was “really poor,” while labor issues, including government regulations, make it hard to build Chinese-style factories for tens of thousands of workers.

With costs rising in China and few alternatives elsewhere, “you have the perfect storm for raising prices,” said Bennett Model, the chief executive of Cassin, a Manhattan-based line of designer clothing. The company’s costs have risen 25 to 35 percent in the last year for cotton and fur garments alike.

Cassin has begun experimenting with garment production in Guatemala with some success, Mr. Model said, adding that many garment companies were still leery of buying from anywhere except China. “Everybody’s scared of the quality — you spend so many years training a factory” to meet detailed specifications, he said.

Yet with 14 million people, Guatemala has the population of only a single large Chinese metropolitan area like Shenzhen or Guangzhou.

Workers in developing countries all over the world are becoming more aware of pay elsewhere through the Internet and the use of social media like Facebook, increasing the pressure for higher wages, Mr. Rockowitz said.

Li & Fung handles about 4 percent of American retailers’ imports from China of virtually all kinds of consumer goods, according to investment analysts. The exception is electronics, which tend to be imported directly to the United States by other companies like Apple.

Mr. Rockowitz and other executives predict that the extremely high concentration of factories in southeastern China near Hong Kong will give way to a dispersal across the country in the next five years. Workers are becoming much more reluctant to spend up to three days on buses and trains from the interior to reach coastal factories, particularly when the growth of domestic spending in China is creating more jobs in the interior.

Even the recent opening of high-speed rail routes that cut travel times up to 80 percent has not been enough to revive the flow of migrants. “They don’t have to take a 1,000-mile trip to the coast — there’s a shortage of people, unbelievable,” said Douglas Hsu, the chairman and chief executive of the Far Eastern Group, a big Taiwanese multinational with extensive investments in mainland China.

And wages in China’s interior have been rising even faster in percentage terms than in coastal provinces, steadily narrowing what was once a pattern of much higher wages in coastal export zones.

Many companies have another reason for staying in China these days: that is where their sales are growing fastest. “If the market is in China, which in many cases it now is, there’s much less incentive to move,” said Charles Oliver, the senior partner of GCiS China, a market research company in Shanghai.

China has become the world’s largest market for a long list of products, like cars and steel. Producing and selling in China protects companies from later facing “Buy Chinese” policies, antidumping cases or other Chinese import restrictions.

Manufacturing in China allows companies to incur costs in renminbi, the same currency as a growing part of their sales. That insulates them from one kind of currency volatility even as the renminbifluctuates more against the dollar and euro.

Rising wages and strengthening currencies in Asia are making it less attractive to move higher-value industries like auto manufacturing out of the West. But little mentioned by almost anyone making or trading consumer goods in Asia these days is the possibility of moving these relatively labor-intensive manufacturing industries back to the United States or Europe.

Mr. Rockowitz was dismissive of the idea in his remarks on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

“The Western world does not have the work force to do this kind of business,” he said. “For ‘made in Italy,’ the workers are old now and there are no new workers coming in.”

The Quran on those who Exploit

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure: those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full – but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead [and called to account] on an awesome Day – the Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds? “(Quran 83: 1-6)

I have been thinking a lot about these verses, and wondering about production around the world. There is an expectation that when we buy commodities in North America, we pay the full price – no bargaining, no compromise. Companies make billions off of this. But how do they reward those who make their goods? They pay them meager wages, barely enough to live on. They often don’t even pay their North American workers enough or give them benefits (think Walmart). During the market crisis, heads of corporations paid themselves millions in bonuses, while the common citizen paid the price of their company bailouts.   God in the Quran addresses these sorts of people by the use of the word ‘wail’ ( وَيْلٌ), the definition meaning ‘woe unto you’ or ‘destruction, ruin, or doom unto you’ and they are later in the same chapter promised Hellfire. Exploitation, even on a small scale, is a very serious offense in the Quran. Are we a part of this? Do we even care?

I remember a few years ago MSA National was giving a scholarship to Muslim students from Chevron-Texaco. I wrote them a long letter explaining that it makes no sense for those who believe in Islam and its truth to accept money from a company that has raped (I didn’t use that word exactly) parts of Nigeria (along with other places in the world, but I used Nigeria as an example) and has put almost nothing back. How can we as Muslims be a part of that? The outer forms of worship (prayer, fasting, etc.) mean nothing when we’re accepting money stained with the blood of those who were exploited for oil.

I never received a response. This may be overly cynical to say, but I don’t think many Muslims care about exploitation as long as they don’t see it, don’t hear it, and don’t think about it. Looking Muslim and acting Muslim as well at following religious ritual is enough. This example was of a group simply accepting money from a major oil company, but many are directly involved in these dealings. Even on a small scale, cheating on business deals is a norm among many I’ve observed.

God curses those who exploit others, and those who are unfair in their business transactions. Ritual is not enough, if we do not make sure our actions are fair and just, we’ll be answerable to Him for what we’ve done to others.

The City of Sao Paulo

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Featured in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the city of Sao Paulo has accomplished what we may deem an impossible task: it rid its public spaces of all advertising. Now that’s a place I’d like to see for myself!

Here is an excerpt of an article on the removal of publics ads in Sao Paulo from Bloomberg Businessweek:

São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising

The “Clean City” law passed last year by the populist mayor, Gilberto Kassab, stripped the Brazilian city of all advertising. 

by Patrick Burgoyne

A city stripped of advertising. No Posters. No flyers. No ads on buses. No ads on trains. No Adshels, no 48-sheets, no nothing.

It sounds like an Adbusters editorial: an activist’s dream. But in São Paulo, Brazil, the dream has become a reality.

In September last year, the city’s populist right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the so-called Clean City laws. Fed up with the “visual pollution” caused by the city’s 8,000 billboard sites, many of them erected illegally, Kassab proposed a law banning all outdoor advertising. The skyscraper-sized hoardings that lined the city’s streets would be wiped away at a stroke. And it was not just billboards that attracted his wrath: all forms of outdoor advertising were to be prohibited, including ads on taxis, on buses—even shopfronts were to be restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage. “It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn’t legal,” reasoned Kassab, “so we have decided to go all the way.”

The law was hailed by writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo as “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash& For once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

See Morgan Spurlock’s New Documentary

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

_______

Just saw this a week and a half ago at the Hot Docs Film Festival. For anyone interested in product placement and the infiltration of advertising in all aspects of our existence, this is the documentary to see. What I thought the movie highlighted well is how inescapable advertising is (unless you live in a remote area) in North America and how much it has become part our normal landscape. I now come to expect odd insertions of lines advertising products in movies and tv shows and almost don’t notice them anymore. It was a good reminder of how much our minds are jammed and polluted by all of this stuff.

CTV: UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus

May 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

 Congrats to UBC for leading the way. Hope to see this on other campuses across Canada!!

UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus
CTV

By: Kendall Walters, ctvbc.ca

Date: Thursday May. 5, 2011 5:07 PM PT

There’s something different about the way the University of British Columbia wakes up and smells the coffee in the morning – the steaming caffeine poured into warm mugs across campus is fair trade.

UBC just became the first Fair Trade Campus in Canada. The Fair Trade Canada designation follows Vancouver’s recognition as a Fair Trade City this time last year.

Coffee, tea and chocolate bars sold at UBC and student society AMS-run eateries are ethically purchased and provide equitable compensation to farmers for their product.

The commitment does not include campus franchises – Starbucks, Tim Hortons and White Spot.

Kaan Williams is the director of fair trade with the UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He was instrumental in pushing the designation initiative forward.

“It’s not just a recognition of past activity at UBC,” he said. “It’s also a commitment to retain the momentum that UBC has.”

The campus had already put into effect many policies fitting with Fair Trade Canada’s designation requirements. UBC has offered fair trade coffee for the past decade; the campus sold nearly 1.5 million cups of fair trade coffee in the last year alone.

“All the reactions I’ve heard so far were enthusiastic and excited,” Williams said. “People are excited to see some recognition for what’s going on here at UBC.”

Only a few extra steps had to be put in place to meet designation restrictions.

The campus dedicated itself to using fair trade products whenever possible, Williams said. That’s why it’s gone beyond the minimum requirements of the designation.

Fair Trade Canada asks that Fair Trade Campuses sell only fair trade coffee and offer at least three fair trade teas and one fair trade chocolate bar option.

Nearly all of the teas offered at UBC are fair trade and campus eateries are also selling fair trade tropical fruit such as bananas.

“We’re always looking for new things to use as well,” Williams said.

The designation has already fueled action by local businesses.

Vancouver-based coffee companies Milano and Ethical Bean have jumped on board. Milano produced its first fair-trade certified blend of coffee for UBC.

And there’s buzz in the air of fair trade designation hopes at several other Canadian universities. Williams has already been contacted by other institutions interested in following UBC’s example.

Andrew Parr is the managing director of UBC student housing and hospitality services. He was closely involved in the designation.

He said the campus wasn’t aiming to be the first fair-trade certified in Canada, but he said he thinks it’s a nice message to other institutions.

“This is something that is feasible and doable and worth doing,” Parr said.

The initiative is a matter of educating students on something more than the subject matter they study in the classroom, Parr said, adding he hopes the move can help UBC students become more socially-conscious citizens.

Williams agreed.

“That’s a nice way that we as an institution are able to make an influence in a broader community,” he said.

UBC joins 100 global universities that have already made the commitment.

T Magazine: ‘A Diamond in the Roughage’

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times Style Magazine:

On being fashionable, ethically, by Lynn Yaeger

Sometimes it’s wonderfully easy, sometimes not so very. Deciding to throw that dirty makeup towel on the floor of the hotel bathroom, despite the card detailing the environmental consequences of your wanton gesture in three languages? An ethical conundrum that can sully a whole day (or at least a morning). But slathering your visage with the wholesome-est creams, bedecking yourself in the finest ancient gems and even brooking controversy by maybe daring to don a few vintage pelts, all in service of saving, celebrating — even worshiping — the earth? Simple.

It’s already the second decade of the new century, and we are dealing with style questions, ethical and otherwise, that would have bedeviled our chic ancestors. We may pay lip service to sustainability and strive for a toddler-size carbon footprint, but who among us is considering the environment when our cupboards are stuffed with nonbiodegradable synthetic Marc Jacobs fetish frocks, shiny plastic Balenciaga houndstooth-check spring coats and truckloads of industrial-strength Spanx made of who knows what mysterious chemical compound? Not to mention the sheer quantities of merchandise that languish in our armoires, living as we do in a time when 30 pairs of shoes don’t raise an eyebrow, instead of the measly two (or maybe three or four, if they were really prosperous) that our forebears made do with.

Back then, life was so much easier. You didn’t need to worry about the ecological correctness of your cosmetics because they were made of good things like arsenic, which — fun fact! — some women in the 19th century used to drink in a vain (pun intended) attempt to look like the fair maidens of the Caucasus. Or — second fun fact — you could visit an “enameler” on lower Broadway who encased your face and neck with a lead-based coating; but bear in mind that if the enamel was applied with slightly too heavy a hand, the merest movement would cause hideous spooky cracks.

How delightfully times have changed! This morning, I doused myself with gluten-free vegan shower gel (odd when you think about it, since I didn’t plan to eat it); rolled on a deodorant made, at least partially, from chamomile and rice (though I didn’t intend to consume this either); and attempted to eradicate my under-eye circles with a soy/rice peptide (a third meal?). I lightened my coffee (yes, caffeine — I don’t want to hear it) with organic low-fat “happy” milk, which the bottle claims comes from a cheerful cow who has a name.

Want to know how much I care about a cow’s name? On the other hand, I do like to know the names of the people who once wore my jewelry. Of all the ways of keeping green, of embarking on the road that will make a responsible, socially aware person out of the gross, wasteful slob you fear you remain deep inside, wearing old jewelry is perhaps the most seductive path. I am actually thrilled to look inside a cameo ring and find it inscribed “For Darling Desdemona, Christmas 1887.” I even have a soft spot for the semirevolting subgroup of antique bibelots known as mourning jewelry, a Victorian conceit that employs human hair — the ultimate green material — woven in clever ways, and that is invariably decorated with the name and death date of the luckless soul commemorated. (Added bonus: If you fling a hair brooch into the trash by mistake, it will decompose delightfully in the nearest fetid landfill, unlike those big plastic and resin necklaces they’re selling all over town with four-figure price tags.)

So go ahead! Learn the name of that bovine whose teats were squeezed particularly for your delectation, coat your face with enamel, stick an 18th-century diamond tiara on your head, and sally forth confident in the knowledge that no aspect of our glorious planet was harmed in the process of making you so gorgeous.

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