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.
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.”
April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
The international relief and development organization Islamic Relief has published an in-depth analysis on fair trade according to Islamic principles:
An Islamic Perspective on Fair Trade
The growth of international trade has brought about significant economic benefits and prosperity to many. However, small-scale producers in many poor countries, particularly those whose livelihoods depend upon the farming of a single crop, are unable to compete in a world market controlled by large multinational companies and distorted by the subsidies provided by rich countries to their producers. As a consequence, farmers in poor countries have few options for generating an income and many live in poverty often unable to meet even their most basic needs. Fair trade is a response to these conditions.
European and North American Fairtrade labelling bodies, non-governmental organisations and various faith-based organisations have all been instrumental in promoting fair trade. Indeed, for ethical and moral reasons, many Christian faith-based organisations have adopted a clear and unequivocal position in support of fair trade. Is an Islamic perspective on fair trade also supportive? Do Islamic principles and teachings encourage Muslim organisations to be equally active? And does an Islamic perspective provide additional insights? In order to address these questions, this paper presents an Islamic perspective on fair trade. It does this by outlining the key principles upon which fair trade is based, such as sustainability, fairness, equity, and workers rights, and examines relevant Islamic teachings.
This investigation finds that the principles of Islam are not silent on issues of fair trade and trade justice. Indeed, there is a rich heritage in Islam of high moral standards, ethics, values and norms of behaviour, which govern personal, professional and business life. In the area of business and commerce Islam obliges buyers, sellers and consumers to act honestly, fairly and with integrity in their daily business practices – for business is not something that can be treated separately from all other aspects of social life. Islam also obliges workers to be treated fairly, and with dignity and respect. Since the fair trade movement is primarily concerned with fairness, equity and justice, it seems that the principles of fair trade and the teachings of Islam are entirely congruent. With references from the Qur’an and ahadith this analysis demonstrates that, from an Islamic perspective, there are indeed strong and clear faith-based reasons for supporting fair trade initiatives. Through supporting fair trade, Muslims can ensure that producers receive a fair price that guarantees a living income and decent working conditions with longer-term contracts that provide greater security and ensure more sustainable development.
Read full article: http://www.islamic-relief.com/InDepth/downloads/Islam_and_Fairtrade.pdf
February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the following statement on Feb 1st on recent events in Egypt:
“Following President Mubarak’s announcement today that he will not seek re-election, Canada reiterates its support for the Egyptian people as they transition to new leadership and a promising future.
“Canada supports universal values – including freedom, democracy and justice – and the right to the freedom of assembly, speech and information. As Egypt moves towards new leadership, we encourage all parties to work together to ensure an orderly transition toward a free and vibrant society in which all Egyptians are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms – not a transition that leads to violence, instability and extremism.
“We commend the many groups, such as the Egyptian military, who have worked hard to support freedom of assembly and to minimize violence during recent demonstrations. We stand by the people of Egypt, young Egyptians in particular, for their steadfast support for the fundamental values that Canadians profoundly share with them.
“We also extend our condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured during recent events.
“We urge all parties in Egypt to renounce violence and allow peaceful and meaningful dialogue between the people and government to address political, economic and social concerns. This dialogue should lead to free and fair elections and a government that supports universal values.”
I sent a letter to the PM concerning his statement:
Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper,
While I applaud your support for the demands of the Egyptian people, I am greatly disappointed that the Canadian government has not expressed greater concern for the Egyptian government’s actions against its citizens.
Calling for an end to violence on both sides does not send the right message to Egypt, the world, and concerned Canadians. The Canadian government should be expressing outrage for the Egyptian government’s use of violence used against protesters, the loss of Egyptian lives, the shutting down of the internet, and the control of communication. We stand for the values of freedom of speech and assembly, and support the spread of democracy. We in the West supported these values when it came to the people of Tunisia. But when it comes to the dictator Mubarak, we are weak in sending the same message due to his support of Western interests in the Middle East.
People of the world perceive this hypocrisy in Western governments. Canada should be a leader in speaking up for Egyptian rights, and speaking against the repressive Mubarak regime.
You can email the PM at: email@example.com
November 29, 2010 § 2 Comments
Since I determined in the summer that I would try my best to buy clothing made in Canada, the USA and other countries that have protective labour laws, I’ve avoided buying much. I did end up at H&M because I’d been given gift certificate for my birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about shopping at H&M. Their website has a whole section devoted to corporate responsibility that explains the steps they are taking to make the company more sustainable, as well as their involvement in improving worker conditions using the company’s financial power and influence. I’m still pretty skeptical about H&M’s claims, but I wasn’t going to let the gift certificate go to waste!
Other than that, I’ve avoided buying clothing. One reason for this is the realization that I have way too much stuff already. The other reason is that I was afraid of the commitment I had made. I made the commitment in the first place not only because supporting companies that avoid sweatshop labour (like American Apparel) is important, but for me simply knowing that the clothing on my back was not made by a woman or child who was abused and exploited while working in slave-like conditions is important for my mental and spiritual well-being. My purchasing power may not change the world, but like I’ve written in earlier posts, I do believe that all of this goes back to my responsibility to God, the Judge of all things. However, although I’m not a big shopper, I do love nice clothes and I’ve been afraid of entering the mall only to fall in love with clothes that were off limits to me because of my resolution. Therefore, I’ve simply stayed away. It has been a good thing so far because I’ve saved money I’ve earned and thought a lot more about my consumption.
Then winter hit. I have a winter coat but it’s not warm enough for the dropping temperatures. I couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time for a trip to the mall. I know that God blesses good intentions, so I set my intention to do something good, and put my trust in Him that he would guide me to what I needed. I then laid out a plan in my head: I would only shop at the stores that had items that were made in Canada, and if I couldn’t find anything there, I’d go to H&M as a last resort. I knew three stores, Le Chateau, Tristan, and Jacob, manufacture some items in Canada so that’s where I would start.
I made the mistake of going to the mall on Saturday, the day after Black Friday (the official beginning of Christmas shopping season) and people had come out in droves for the Christmas shopping pilgrimage. I became frustrated within minutes of entering the building, but knew I had to get this coat or freeze this winter. I first went to Le Chateau and was surprised to find that half of their large winter coat selection was made in Canada. I tried things on, but didn’t like anything I tried on. It frustrated me because I couldn’t believe that I would be this superficial as to pass up these coats for the sake of fashion! I decided then to check out the other stores and return later to resolving this internal dilemma if need be. The other stores didn’t in fact have any ‘made in Canada’ coats, and I couldn’t even find anything I liked at H&M. I was ready to (temporarily) give up on my resolution at this point and get a coat from any other store.
But I realized I was being stupid, and that it would be better to go back to Le Chateau and just pick something; my principles are so much more important than fashion! This time a store clerk helped me, and suggested I try a particular coat. He told me he really liked how it looked on me, and then it dawned on me that it was the first coat I’d tried on when I got to the mall. It did look good, I don’t know what had prevented me from seeing that earlier. Before I could change my mind again, I purchased the coat and headed home.
I wondered about this frustrating trip and thought to myself, “If I had just bought a coat at Le Chateau in the first place it would have saved me a lot of trouble.” My experience may seem like no big deal, but it’s important to me because I learned a few things about sticking to my principles. I was also so proud of myself because, while others at the mall lost themselves in the race to buy the latest products that are commonly mistaken as the keys to happiness and fulfillment, I had set myself apart by setting out only to buy something I needed that was manufactured by workers that were fairly paid for the items they made. I also didn’t fail by buying another coat I liked a lot better (I did like other coats a whole lot better than the one I purchased, but they were made in China) resisting my own mental slavery to fashion.
I know that the One sees into my heart and I pray that His witnessing the good I tried to do will lead to my happiness in His happiness with me.
September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment
“Definition of a Sweatshop” from the article “Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman
The term has been around since the 19th century. Definitions vary but essentially refer to workplaces where employees work for poor pay, few or no benefits, in unsafe, unfavorable, harsh, and/or hazardous environments, are treated inhumanely by employers, and are prevented from organizing for redress.
The term itself refers to the technique of “sweating” the maximum profit from each worker, a practice that thrived in the late 19th century.
Webster calls them “A shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions.”
According to the group Sweatshop Watch:
“A sweatshop is a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to:
— extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long hours;
— poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards;
— arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse, or
— fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union.”
It’s mainly a women’s rights issue as 90% of the workforce is female, between the ages of 15 – 25. But it’s also an environmental one as the global economy exacts a huge price through air pollution, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, ocean and fresh water contamination, and an overtaxed ecosystem producing unhealthy, unsafe living conditions globally.
According to the US Department of Labor, a sweatshop is a place of employment that violates two or more federal or state labor laws governing wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation or industry regulation.
To understand the practice, it’s essential to view it in a broader globalization context. In their book titled, “Globalization and Progressive Economic Policy, Dean Baker, Robert Pollin and Gerald Epstein present the opinions of 36 prominent economists, asking:
Does globalization cause inequality? Instability? Unemployment? Environmental degradation? Or is it an engine of prosperity and wealth for the vast majority of people everywhere? They conclude that it can work for good or ill depending on how much control governments, corporations, and individuals exert, but also say:
“….most discussions of globalization hold that the power of nation-states to influence economic activity is eroding as economies become more integrated, while the power of private businesses and market forces is correspondingly rising.”
In other words, the dog that once wagged the tail now is the tail, the result of eroded state sovereignty and powerful private institutions, producing a race to the bottom conducive to exploiting labor – most prominently in poor countries but also in developed ones.
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
|“(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
Article 24 states:
|“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”|
“Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman
September 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
What I really like about Josef Zotter is that he not only created an environmentally friendly, socially conscious fair trade business, but that he also does not desire to advertise (advertising is huge mental pollutant in my opinion) nor does he wish to expand to become global company. Simple is better in his world. Too bad I would have to go to Austria to try his chocolate!
The Zotter factory in Bergyl, Austria, produces more than 200 varieties of organic chocolate.
By ALICE PFEIFFER
Published: September 2, 2010
BERGL, AUSTRIA — In 1996, Josef Zotter’s bakery business in Graz, Austria, was floundering. Facing bankruptcy, he decided to close shop and go back to his roots, a village named Bergl in the Feldbach district of Styria. There, with 2 of his 40 former employees, he set up a tiny chocolate factory in a converted cowshed on the farm where he had grown up.
His plan was to build a microbusiness, buying “fair trade” chocolate beans from smallholder producer cooperatives in Nicaragua and Brazil for the small-scale production of chocolate confectionery using local produce, for local consumption.
Turning out bars with flavors like apricot and sheep’s milk, he built a following among customers who liked the concept of Austrian specialty chocolate made in an environmentally conscious way.
Today, the factory has grown to cover more than 5,500 square meters, or 60,000 square feet, from its original 200 square meters. The company, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, employs 112 people producing as many as 50,000 to 80,000 bars a day in a range of more than 200 classical and exotic flavors.
Among the odder ingredients: Fish; soy; green tea; açaí berry; and ketchup and peanut butter — a tongue-in-cheek celebration of American taste, for President Barack Obama’s election victory.
Sales have grown by word of mouth. “We don’t advertise whatsoever,” Mr. Zotter said in an interview last month.
The company organizes factory tours, however, that bring about 150,000 visitors a year to taste and smell and also to sit on cocoa bean bags in the on-site “Cocoa Cinema,” where they can watch presentations on the brand’s history and ecological principles.
Other attractions include a “Drink Chocolate Online” room where a small cable conveyor system, like a miniature ski-lift, trundles bars of chocolate around the room, waiting for visitors to pick them off and turn them into cocoa drinks at an adjoining hot chocolate bar.
A recent visitor found crowds of children drinking from cocoa fountains at the entrance to the factory while their parents cut chocolate chunks from brimming samplers.
But behind this playful, almost whimsical, presentation lies a strong commitment to sustainable production and equitable trading relations with the company’s suppliers.
The company’s chocolate beans have been certified as “fair trade” products since 2004, meaning that it buys directly from the producers, offering them a higher price by cutting out middlemen. Mr. Zotter said he traveled regularly to Nicaragua and Brazil to meet with the producers, for whom he has financed the purchase of machinery and the construction of storage space.
“I know how much they earn, and how much of their salary such equipment represents,” he said.
Residues from grinding the beans are fed into a biomass converter to produce heat, power and fertilizer. Between the biomass plant and solar panels, 60 percent of the energy required by the factory is produced on the site. “We aim to reach full energy autarchy in the next 10 years,” Mr. Zotter said.
Since 2006, the factory’s output has been certified organic. Mr. Zotter uses dairy products from organic farmers in the mountains of Tyrol and specialty organic products, like seeds, fruit and nuts, from local farms. “I want to use as many local specialties, and specialists, as possible. Steiermark needs the jobs,” Mr. Zotter said, using the German name for Styria.
Mr. Zotter has also established an organic canteen on the factory site for his employees “so they get used to quality,” he said. “Also, I want them to work not just for money, but in a place they feel good in.”
Other environmental gestures include using water from local springs only, which is then recycled for cleaning; and using environmentally friendly packaging, without glossy coatings.
“You can make changes by paying attention to the smallest details of everyday life,” he said.
Applying the same principles to his private life, he says he has driven an electric car for the past 15 years and powers his home with a domestic solar/ biomass generator that produces more energy than he needs.
“My home energy production is really efficient,” he said. “I actually produce too much, so I wind up reselling it.”
In an extension of his fair-trade principles, Mr. Zotter is also involved in several social projects, including one in Colombia that aims to wean coca growers onto cocoa as a substitute crop, and his product line includes fund-raising chocolates, like the Zuki bar, a flavorsome blend of açaí, mango and brazil nuts.
The company says it donates 30 percent of Zuki bar sales to an aid project for Calcutta street children.
Mr. Zotter says he is not interested in developing a global presence or selling through large distribution chains. Franchising has no place in his strategy, and faster growth is not an object.
“I’ve reached my ideal size,” he said. “Plus, I don’t think we need yet another global brand. The world needs a completely new approach to making the economy work. I find it so frustrating to see the same products in every corner of the globe.”
“The world is changing,” he added. “There is a return to simplicity. Greed is over.”
Source: The New York Times
August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
In discussions about sweatshop labour, some of the big names that always come up are sports apparel and equipment companies: Adidas, Puma, Reebok, and of course the big one, Nike. In a conversation the other day, a friend of mine wondered what the alternative could be to supporting these companies, and even lower-end brands, since all sporting goods seem sweatshop produced. I’m sure this is a problem for a lot of conscientious athletes and people who just love athletic wear.
Today I was happy to find the website of a company that is committed to fair trade, green living, and to supporting charities! Fair Trade Sports seems to be a great alternative to supporting the mighty brands. Check them out:
August 30, 2010 § 2 Comments
This is the story of my favourite jeans. I bought the jeans a while ago at a Mexx store, and fell in love with them because they fit me so well and matched with many of my wardrobe items. Tonight I looked at them and wondered about their journey before they got to me, who might have manufactured them and in which country. So I decided to look it up:
I first looked at the label and discovered that they’re made in China, like many many other products out there. Naomi Klein devotes a small section to factory conditions in China entitled “Not Low Enough: Squeezing Wages in China” in her work No Logo. She says:
“[E]veryone’s wages are high compared to China [i.e. other countries that have major manufacturing zones]. But what is truly remarkable about that is that the most egregious wage cheating goes on inside China itself.
“Labor groups agree that a living wage for an assembly-line worker in China would be approximately US87 cents an hour…Yet even with [the] massive savings in labor costs, those who manufacture for the most prominent and richest brands in the world are still refusing to pay workers in China the 87 cents that would cover their cost of living, stave off illness and even allow them to send a little money to their host families. A 1998 study of the brand-name manufacturing in the Chinese special economic zones found that Wal-Mart, Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor, Esprit, Liz Claiborne, Kmart, Nike, Adidas, J.C. Penny and the Limited were only paying a fraction of that miserable 87 cents – some were paying as little as 13 cents an hour.” (212)
I looked up Mexx to see whether its manufacturing practices would be considered similar to these other brands Klein discusses, and found that Mexx is in fact a division of Liz Claiborne. Klein specifically outlines the working conditions for two Liz Claiborne garment factories in China. The figures are from 1998, but they at least give a general idea of the conditions of the sweatshops. The Shanghai Shirt 2d Factory in 1998 paid workers 25 cents per hour, with 66 hour work weeks (12 hours a day, 6 days a week). There was no union and workers were fined if they did not work overtime. The Shanghai Jiang District Silk Fashions factory paid 28 cents an hour, with 60-70 hour work weeks (11.5 hours a day, 6 days a week).
So my jeans may have come from a worker not even paid a dollar and hour for her labour? And how much did I pay??? My being cheated is one thing, but the real crime is how little of that money reaches the worker who actually made the product itself. As a result of this exercise, I don’t really feel much of that love I previously held for those jeans. And the sad truth is that all of my clothes probably have a similar story.