Globalisation - the human cost

We sell 600,000 shirts a year. Every shirt costs £50, but the shirts cost only £5 to make in Asia. -- Doug Hall, chairman Newcastle United FC

We get 11p an hour for an 11-hour day, six or seven days a week. -- Melanie, Filipino worker

If they knew I was in a trade union I'd be sacked, maybe beaten up. -- Hasina, Bangladeshi worker

We have a factory in China where we have 250 people. We own them; its our factory. We pay them $40 a month and they work 28 days a month. They work from 7-00am to 11-00pm with two breaks for lunch and dinner. They all sleep together, 16 people to a room, stacked on four bunks to a corner. Generally, they're young girls that come from the hills. -- Irwan Gordon, President AvaLine

Clothes sold in Britain by some of fashion's biggest names are made in in sweatshops where female workers are tricked into bonded labour and banned from becoming pregnant. Some have been forced to have abortions if they do. -- Fran Abrams

For optimum profits, invest in Export Processing Zones in Bangladesh ... Bangladesh offers the most inexpensive and productive labour force. Law forbids formation of trade unions in the zones and strikes are illegal. -- Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority

Mexican workers, including children, have become world class competitors by sacrificing their health, lives and futures to subsidize the profits of investors. -- David C Korten

Child labour is only one facet of the use of violence used to destroy local economies in order to build global markets. -- Jacob Raj, PREPARE, India

We have 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. -- George Kennan, US Cold War Planner, 1948

Everyone has the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection for himself and his family ... -- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

The fashion business in the UK is dominated by seven companies who account for 40% of the market - Arcadia Group, C&A, Next, Storehouse, Sears, River Island, M&S. M&S alone accounts for 15% of the UK retail clothes trade. With the emphasis on mindless consumption, whereas the average woman owned 2 blouses in the 1940s she is now likely to own at least 16. Shoppers spend £23 billion a year on clothes, slightly more than on cars. The fashion sportswear market is worth an estimated £1.6 billion a year. An increasing volumes of these clothes is coming from the Third World, usually from Third World workers working in appalling conditions for pitiless wages.

Hasina, a textile worker in Bangladesh works normal hours 0800 to 1700, then continues on until 2100 or 2200, occasionally she has to work all night. Headaches, exhaustion, needles through fingers are some of the health hazards. Her end of month take home pay is £19.

Members of Bangladeshi Independent Garment Workers Union Federation were called to a meeting with the management at World Fashion, on arrival they were beaten senseless. Minara Begum was attacked by two thugs employed by the factory owner following her talks with CAFOD. She suffered deep razor cuts to her neck face and hands.

Wal-Mart 'Made in America' blouses have been made in Asia with child labour. In Guatemala, when Flor de Maria Salguedo, a union organiser, arranged for women manufacturing clothes for Wal-Mart and other major retailers to talk to an investigative reporter, she was badly beaten and raped, and told 'This is what you get for messing about with foreigners.' Her husband was killed for union activities in Guatemala City.

In 1998, Multinational Monitor rated Wal-Mart as one of the Ten Worst Corporations of the Year.

The Pacific island of Saipan produces clothes for Gap, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Finger, that are sold under a 'Made in America' label. Tommy Finger shirts that retail in the UK for £40 have a factory gate price of £3. Young girls from the Chinese mainland are tricked into working on Saipan. They end up as bonded labourers, working a 14-hour day, 6-7 days a week, in cramped, hot, unsafe working conditions, living in vermin-infested barracks, lacking adequate supplies of clean, running water for washing or drinking. Most of their pittance of a wage goes to the people who recruited them as 'recruitment fees'.

M&S with plummeting share price and irate shareholders had to do something. It could have listened to its customers, it could have improved its deteriorating customer service and poor quality overpriced clothes, instead it chose to ditch clothing supply firms based in the UK that had been loyal suppliers for many years. Just before Christmas 1999, when everyone else was looking forward to celebrating the New Millennium, M&S put several thousand clothing workers, mainly women, out on the streets. The contracts are to be placed in Indonesia. Like GAP (the sweat-shop shop), M&S have discovered the latest High Street fashion of underpaid child labour.

The way Western companies treat their own employees leaves much to be desired. Granada (cheap hotels, grotty burger joints) offered all its staff 'zero hour contracts'. The offer was voluntary, those who declined found they had volunteered for the unemployment office. Those on the 'zero hour contract' are required to report or be available for work, to then find out if there is any work. They may work two hours, then be sent home, on the grounds that there is no more work available that day. NatWest Bank plans to fire 15,000 staff (18,000 if the Royal Bank of Scotland takeover is successful) to increase its profitability and boost its share price.

Not so long ago an enquiry to a company would eventually be routed to someone who knew something about the product or service. Now the call is routed to a call centre, staffed by temporary, short-term personnel who have little if any interest in the company, product or customer, and few, if any, employment rights. Call centres are the white-collar equivalent of sweatshops. The conditions were described by Dougie Rafferty (ex-Excell call centre worker): 'You feel like you are on a galley boat being watched, answering calls every 30 seconds, monitored and told off if there are mistakes.' Operators are expected to be on the phone for 97% of the time, answer the phone twice a minute for over seven hours a day, ask the manager for a drink of water, and make up lost time at the end of a shift if they spend too much time in the toilet, all the time be closely monitored. BT telephone operators and Customer Service Advisers are monitored and timed for the amount of calls taken in a shift. If employees do not meet Call Handling Time targets of one call every 180 seconds, then they are disciplined, refused overtime, and in some cases sacked. Calls are routinely recorded and listened to from a remote call centre in Coventry, if an employee is caught swearing or hanging up they are immediately sacked and escorted from the building. Manpower are the largest employer of call centre staff in the UK - 25,000. Manpower have an office in every BT call centre in the country, and recycle staff on a weekly basis. Every week there is a new batch of automated voice robots for BT's telephone networks. One ex-Manpower employee said: I've seen Manpower staff thrown out of the building for arriving at work five minutes late, accidentally cutting a customer off, or phoning in sick.' Massive staff turnover enables the operating companies to get away with their Dickensian conditions.

Fashion does not have to imply inferior quality or exploitation. Patagonia is 'cool gear'. Patagonia have been leaders in promoting fair trade and organic cotton.

Sonia, an 11-year old blind girl in India spends her day stitching footballs that bear the phizog of Eric Cantona. It takes her a day to stitch two balls for which she gets the equivalent of 2p. In 1997, Eric Cantona was paid £19,000 a week, excluding any money he received from advertising, sponsorship deals etc. Sonia has never known the pleasures of running around and playing as a little girl.

In the period 1995-6, Britain imported £8 million of sports goods from the sweatshops of India.

Doug Hall, the foul-mouthed, widely despised chairman of Newcastle United FC, ridiculed the stupidity of Newcastle fans who were paying out more than £50 for team shirts that cost less than £5 to make in Asia.

Disney likes to cultivate its friendly family image. An image that is more than a little tarnished when one looks at the conditions of workers in the Third World producing Disney goods. In Haiti workers for Disney live in appalling condition in shanty towns. Their working conditions are little better, hot dusty and poorly lit, respiratory and eye problems are commonplace, as is maltreatment and sexual harassment. Workers produce 50 Pocahantas t-shirts a day, for which they receive 4 cents. The t-shirts retail in the States at $10-97 each. Failure to meet production targets is dismissal. Comparative costs to Disney are 0.7% wages, 99.7% other costs and profits. The nearest the Haitian workers get to Mickey Mouse is their Mickey Mouse wages.

The conditions in Vietnam are no better. As a film promotion, Disney toys are given away free with McDonald's Happy Meals (and they say there is not such thing as a free lunch). The toys are manufactured in Vietnam by Keyhinge Toys. Workers earn less than 8 cents an hour (subsistence wage is 32 cents an hour) for 9 to 10 hour shifts (overtime is mandatory), 7 days a week, in a highly toxic environment with poor ventilation.

In China, with excessive working hours, the conditions are little better than slave labour. Workers sewing garments have worked 112 hours a week. Workers are forbidden from drinking or going to the toilet. Foreman carry electric shock batons.

Disney World, Florida is the paedophile's wet dream. Young visitors are sexually assaulted, not by other visitors but by Disney's own staff. For the paedophile, working for Disney gives an undreamt of opportunity for fondling young bodies with little if any risk of being caught. Disney are aware of the problem, but prefer to cover it up, being more concerned with protecting their yucky saccharine family image than offering protection to their young visitors.

Disney have destroyed valuable ecosystems. Animal Kingdom, a 500-acre addition to Disney World, Florida was built on natural wetland, many of the animals, caught in the wild, have died.

Further criticism of Disney include the promotion by Nestlé of infant feeding areas at Euro Disney. Chief Roy Crazy Horse, Native American Powhatan Nation, has criticised Disney for Pocahontas which 'distorts history beyond recognition'.

PETA has called for a boycott of Animal World, the National Labour Committee has called for a worldwide boycott of Disney until it implements its code of conduct worldwide and enables independent monitoring of compliance.

The Japanese see Vietnam as an economic zone of exploitation as it was under French colonial rule and had intended to be under the Americans.

In a village in the Mekong delta in Vietnam a woman and her twelve-year old daughter sit all day in the shade from five in the morning until five in the evening making straw beach mats. For their labour they receive $1 a day. Ten years ago the village had a co-operative that supported a primary school. This is the price of progress as dictated by Western development agencies, the price of re-integration into the world economy.

Nike employs 35,000 mostly female workers in Vietnam. For an eight-hour day they are paid on average $1-60. The shoes they make can retail for up to $165 in the States.

Nike also operate in Indonesia. The wages are not quite as low as Vietnam, though below subsistence levels, but should the workforce prove troublesome, the brutal regime can always be guaranteed to send in the army. But in spite of the repressive conditions, the young workforce, mainly young girls and women, had the courage to walk out twice in 1997.

In Vietnam at least, exploited workers are starting to fight back. Daewoo (one of the biggest exploiters in Vietnam) planned a £93 million golf course near Hanoi. Displaced villages were to be offered a paltry £125 per family. Barricades have been set up and the villagers refuse to budge. A Taiwanese subcontractor as punishment for wearing the wrong shoes forced women to run round in the hot midday sun. Several women collapsed and had to be taken to hospital. The next day local people attacked the factory.

Nike is widely regarded as the worst exploiter of workers. In China workers at Wellco Factory making shoes for Nike are paid 16 cents/hour (living wage for a small family about 87 cents), 11-12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, 77-84 hour week, workers fined if overtime refused (overtime rate not paid), code of conduct not heard of. In Vietnam, verbal and sexual abuse not uncommon, collapse due to heat exhaustion, fumes and malnutrition, women at one factory forced to run around in hot sun for a minor misdemeanour, several collapsed and had to be hospitalised. According to the Financial Times (7 July 1997) workers paid 12p an hour for shoes retailing at £100. Justice!, Do it Nike, and Vietnam Labor Watch are calling for a boycott of Nike for its treatment of workers in Vietnam.

Nike uses bags of sulphur hexafluoride in its trainers as cushions (SF6 has 35,000 times the global warming potential of CO2).

Other sportswear companies trail not far behind Nike. Adidas-Salomon footballs have been sewn by dissidents in Chinese prisons. Adidas shoes are produced in a Chinese factory by workers paid 19 cents/hour (living wage for a small family around 87 cents), 60-84 hour week, fined if overtime refused, overtime rate not paid, noise pollution and fumes in factories, workers not heard of code of conduct. Adidas, Puma, Reebok and Umbro source garments from a Bulgarian factory that pays 50% of subsistence wage and requires workers to work excessive overtime. Shoes for Reebok are made in a Chinese factory where code of conduct is not honoured, pregnant workers are dismissed, health problems from poor working conditions. At an Indonesian factory producing shoes for Reebok, 23 toilets for 4,5000 workers, workers fined for using toilets more than twice a day, no protective equipment. In North India, children hand stitching footballs for Mitre receive 14 pence/ball (retail £14.99). Children in Pakistan working 12-14 hours/day, receive 30 cents per hand-stitched ball destined for Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Mitre and Umbro.

A code of conduct has been published for sweatshop factories:

All the major brand names pay lip service to the code, then ignore it on the ground. Workers who attempt to disseminate the code or find out more information are victimised. Minimum wages or what is local custom and practice are paid, not living wages. There is no independent monitoring.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. It is responsible for cultural and environmental destruction, displacement of people as well as exploitation of those who work within the industry. All performed with a plastic smile to give pampered Westerners the impression that everyone is having a good time. The globalisation of the Disney theme park. Nowhere is this more so than in the global sex industry of the Far East, South America and Eastern Europe. In many of these countries children are forced to work as prostitutes in brothels. In Sri Lanka, 68% of children have their first sexual experience with a foreign tourist, the majority between the ages of 12 and 13.

Agricultural workers fare no better than their exploited industrial and white-collar counterparts. Agricultural labourers, often sustenance farmers forced off their own land, are hired to grow cash crops for export. Toxic chemicals, banned in the West, are liberally applied, the workers wear no protective clothing, are not trained in the hazards of the chemicals they are using.

Chiquita is the world's largest banana company. Chiquita uses aerial spaying to spray the bananas and the workers out in the field, workers are denied basic trade union rights, producers is set against producer, country against country. In Guatemala when trade unionists tried to obtain decent working conditions, the army was sent in, union leaders arrested. Through various front companies Chiquita controls dozens of supposedly independent banana producers in Central America. Chiquita are major contributors to party funds, have easy access to the Clinton White House, which may explain why the Justice Department continues to turn a blind eye.

There are exceptions. Cafédirect was established to promote fair trade. In the UK it has become a very popular coffee brand, in Safeways it is the third best selling coffee brand. Starbucks have been forced by consumer pressure, and to avoid being labelled the Nike of coffee, to sell fair traded coffee. The coffee is sourced from family farms and small co-operatives rather than from large plantations.

Several UK High Street chains have an ethical trading policy, but with rare exceptions these are fine words on paper to make their shareholders feel good, whereas on the ground nothing has changed. Some, like JJB Sports, the policy amounts to little more than 'we buy from reputable companies', otherwise known as 'passing the buck'. JJB Sports could be a major force for change. By its own claim it controls a large sector of the UK sportswear market. It could use its buying power to dictate minimum condition - non-compliance means no shelf space (cf supermarkets who once they got their act together were able to dictate to suppliers and very quickly remove GM foods from their shelves). Too often the route and attitude is that taken by M&S. Long time clothing contracts in the UK were terminated and alternative supplies sought in the Third World. The attitude of an M&S director was that the customer doesn't give a damn (the customer was never asked).

The Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, NGOs and trade unions, has drawn up a code of conduct for UK companies:

Tropical shrimp farming is the latest get-rich-quick scam to hit the Third World. People suffer, communities are devastated, ecosystems destroyed.

Shallow coastal waters are important ecosystems, especially mangrove swamps. Mangrove swamps act as a buffer for large waves, the impact of cyclones on the coastal regions of Bangladesh has been devastated following the large scale destruction of mangrove swamps.

Tropical fish farming is non-sustainable. The life cycle of the farms is a maximum of two to five years, the ponds are then abandoned leaving behind toxic waste, destroyed ecosystems and displaced communities.

Local communities are being forcibly removed to make way for the shrimp farms. In Andra Pradesh, India, 48,000 people have been forcibly removed, millions displaced. At Chilika Lake, India, the largest brackish water in Asia, four protesters have been killed and thirteen injured by rampaging police. In Thailand, one shrimp company forcibly displaced 4,000 rice paddy farmers. In Bangladesh armed guards are stationed to protect the ponds from local people, more than 100 people have been killed resisting shrimp farms, bombings, kidnappings, rape and assault are common place. In Nellore, India, local people have lost their paddy fields and buffaloes. The local water is so contaminated that any one who comes into contact with it gets skin diseases, drinking water and land is contaminated. A typical Indian paddy field employs 50 people, a shrimp farm occupying the same land employs five. Children suffer the most, often being forced to stand for up to 16 hours a day in salt water to collect the shrimp fry.

A typical Indian paddy field employs 50 people, a shrimp farm occupying the same land employs five. Indian activist, Vandana Shiva, has estimated that for every shrimp farm created:

Free Trade Zones are areas of a country where a sovereign state gives up its sovereignty for commercial exploitation. These are areas of low tax, non-existent environmental and social regulation, trade unions are usually banned. If tax havens give bolt-holes for capital to hide, FTZs give territory for it to be invested. For Big Business they are areas of land that can be easily united into one big global operation with minimum external interference.

The best known of the FTZs are the maquiladoras on the Mexico-US border. Goods are sent from the US to be assembled by cheap Mexican labour, then re-exported back to the US. In one plant workers are handling highly toxic PCBs. The workforce is mainly young single Mexican girls on less than $1 a day. The workforce turnover is 180% per annum. The area is characterised by poor working, living and health conditions. The area is heavily contaminated with toxic waste.

Export Processing Zones are similar to FTZs. Materials, components are brought in tax free, to be manufactured, assembled, then re-exported tax free. Non-unionised, poorly paid workers carry out the work in poor working conditions.

Noida Export Processing Zone lies in an industrial-cum-residential suburb of New Delhi. Surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, NEPZ is hot, dirty and dangerous. Security is tight, body searches are routine. The predominantly young, female workforce work long hours (12-hour day not atypical, overtime is compulsory) for below the minimum wage. For many, landless, illiterate and unskilled, there is no choice, work at NEPZ or starve. Trade union activity and strikes are illegal. Women who marry, or become pregnant, are fired. Prior to recruitment, women have to take a compulsory pregnancy test, if found to be pregnant they are not hired. Established in 1985, NEPZ is one of six EPZs in India. NEPZ benefits from corporate tax holidays, duty-free imports, exemption from excise duty and several other levies. Not surprisingly, NEPZ has managed to file record profits.

Big Business not only exploits workers in the Third World, it also exploits consumers with practices and products not acceptable in the West. Tobacco manufacturers are heavily peddling their products to make up for lost sales in the West. Nestlé continues to promote its powder milk formula using some very dubious practices. The milk powder is no substitute for the real thing, mothers will often scrimp to pay for the powder, then water it down to make it go further, unclean water is used in unsterile feeding containers. The net result is an increase in malnutrition and infant mortality. Nestlé is is currently under investigation by the European Parliament for its dubious trading practices.

Exploitation of Third World workers is one of the symptoms of globalisation and the growing power of transnational corporations. Low skill jobs are being exported out of the West. The very threat of job relocation is leading to a rapid worsening of job security, working conditions, wages and environmental degradation. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) was to have led to a net creation of 200,000 jobs in the US in its first year, instead it led to a net loss of at least 400,000 jobs. A knock-on effect is that real wages have declined. Tony Blair touts around the world the benefits of a low wage deregulated UK workforce. It is not only low skill jobs that are being exported, many white collar jobs in the service sector have been exported to India.

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Gaia index ~ tourism ~ global corporations
(c) Keith Parkins 2000-2001 -- March 2001 rev 7