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
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 Liberte, a small Haitian newspaper with offices in Port-au-Prince and New York City.
June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.
“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.
May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
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.
May 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
(CNN) — When I met George Awudi, a leader of Friends of the Earth Ghana, he was wearing a bright red T-shirt that said “Do Not Incinerate Africa.” We were both attending the World Social Forum, a sprawling gathering of tens of thousands of activists held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal.
Amid that political free-for-all — with mini-protests breaking out against everything from Arab despots to education cuts — I assumed that Awudi’s T-shirt referred to some local environmental struggle I hadn’t heard of, perhaps a dirty incinerator in Ghana.
He set me straight: “No, it’s about climate change.” Specifically, the combative slogan refers to the refusal of industrialized nations to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the hottest and poorest countries on the planet are being hit first and hardest by rising temperatures, that refusal will mean, according to Awudi, that large parts of Africa “will be incinerated.”
He was quick to clarify that he did not think that people from wealthy countries actively want Africa to “burn” — it’s just that they want “to hold on to their interests,” including “interests of profit-making.”
But there is something deeper at play too, Awudi said. “It’s a mentality that they have imported from the colonial days. A mentality of looking down upon people” from Africa. It is that mentality, he argued, that makes it possible to barrel ahead with economic policies that carry growing and glaring risks.
I decided to focus my TED talk on the psychology of reckless risk-taking, because I see that impulse at work behind so many of the catastrophes of recent years: the BP disaster, the invasion of Iraq, the financial sector collapse, and the ongoing refusal to take meaningful action in the face of climate change.
Again and again, policymakers ignore mountains of evidence warning of catastrophe, opting instead to roll the dice and hope for the best.
There are all kinds of explanations for what drives this sort of short-term decision-making, with greed and hubris cited most frequently. Less discussed, but possibly more important, is the phenomenon that Awudi referenced: that the people taking the risks often feel distinctly distant from, if not outright superior to, the people most endangered by their decisions.
Many of our greatest risk-takers are also convinced that they personally will be spared from the worst consequences should things go terribly wrong.
In most cases, this is not an irrational assumption. The U.S. government’s decision to invade Iraq was disastrous for Iraqis, whose country spiraled out of control, but in large parts of the U.S., that war is virtually invisible.
Multinational oil and gas companies are so hypermobile that a disaster in one part of the world just means concentrating on new “energy plays” somewhere else. And then there are the bankers who caused the 2008 collapse. Billions around the world have paid the price for their recklessness, but the financial sector itself has been largely insulated from all but the most token reprimands.
With climate change, the gap between those who created the crisis and those who pay the price is widest of all.
It is the historical emissions from the industrialized world that are responsible for the dangerous accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. Yet in North America and Europe, where we have the infrastructure to deal with extreme weather (just don’t mention New Orleans), many of us feel we have the luxury to debate whether the phenomenon is even happening.
Meanwhile, African nations like Ghana, that contributed least to the crisis, are already facing crippling droughts and devastating floods, without the tools to cope.
All of this has led me to conclude that the central challenge of our time is tackling deep inequality, and changing the stories that we tell ourselves to justify our enormous privilege.
In a deeply divided world like ours, there is simply too much distance between the people with unchecked power to make grave mistakes and those who have to suffer the effects.
Only when we feel that our fates are genuinely intertwined will we understand that a fire that starts in Africa will eventually incinerate us all.
May 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Saturday 30 April 2011
Investigation finds evidence of draconian rules and excessive overtime to meet western demand for iPhones and iPads
An investigation into the conditions of Chinese workers has revealed the shocking human cost of producing the must-have Apple iPhones and iPads that are now ubiquitous in the west.
The research, carried out by two NGOs, has revealed disturbing allegations of excessive working hours and draconian workplace rules at two major plants in southern China. It has also uncovered an “anti-suicide” pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year.
The investigation gives a detailed picture of life for the 500,000 workers at the Shenzhen and Chengdu factories owned by Foxconn, which produces millions of Apple products each year. The report accuses Foxconn of treating workers “inhumanely, like machines”.
Among the allegations made by workers interviewed by the NGOs – the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) – are claims that:
■ Excessive overtime is routine, despite a legal limit of 36 hours a month. One payslip, seen by the Observer, indicated that the worker had performed 98 hours of overtime in a month.
■ Workers attempting to meet the huge demand for the first iPad were sometimes pressured to take only one day off in 13.
■ In some factories badly performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of colleagues.
■ Crowded workers’ dormitories can sleep up to 24 and are subject to strict rules. One worker told the NGO investigators that he was forced to sign a “confession letter” after illicitly using a hairdryer. In the letter he wrote: “It is my fault. I will never blow my hair inside my room. I have done something wrong. I will never do it again.”
■ In the wake of a spate of suicides at Foxconn factories last summer, workers were asked to sign a statement promising not to kill themselves and pledging to “treasure their lives”.
Foxconn produced its first iPad at Chengdu last November and expects to produce 100m a year by 2013. Last year Apple sold more than 15m iPads worldwide and has already sold close to five million this year.
When the allegations were put to Foxconn by the Observer, manager Louis Woo confirmed that workers sometimes worked more than the statutory overtime limit to meet demand from western consumers, but claimed that all the extra hours were voluntary. Workers claim that, if they turn down excessive demands for overtime, they will be forced to rely on their basic wage: workers in Chengdu are paid only 1,350 yuan (£125) a month for a basic 48-hour week, equivalent to about 65p an hour.
Asked about the suicides that have led to anti-suicide netting being fitted beneath the windows of workers’ dormitories, Woo said: “Suicides were not connected to bad working conditions. There was a copy effect. If one commits suicide, then others will follow.”
In a statement, Apple said: “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier code of conduct as a condition of their contracts with us. We drive compliance with the code through a rigorous monitoring programme, including factory audits, corrective action plans and verification measures.”