Posts Tagged ‘sweatshop labor

08
Jan
11

Corporations To Boycott (Part II)

As in my last post, this is by no means a complete list, and any and all suggestions (or criticisms) are welcome.

GAP:

GAP (called “The Gap” by people who just don’t know better) is perhaps one of the most successful clothing stores in the US. GAP is also notorious for its use of sweatshops and child-labor (resulting in a tragic-yet-hilarious video by satirical publication “The Onion”, which I’ve linked for you here). Some of GAP’s more prominent crimes include:

  • Operating sweatshops and abusing workers in Saipan (a pacific island administrated over by the United States).
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in Jordan.
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in India.

GAP also owns and operates other clothing outlets, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Despite it’s size, boycotting GAP (and it’s subsidiaries) is fairly easy due to the prevalence of thrift stores.

Nike:

As with GAP, Nike is infamous for it’s use of child labor, sweatshop labor, assorted violations of worker’s rights, and general exploitative practices, such as:

  • Repeated and widespread use of sweatshops across the third-world, including such countries as Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, and other countries.
  • Exposure of workers in Thai factories to toxic chemicals.
  • Repeated use of various music pieces (such as the Beatle’s “Revolution”) without permission from the artists.
  • Capitalization of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred”. Perhaps some explanation is needed here. Hughes was a major black writer during the 1930s, and his classic poem “A Dream Deferred” describes Hughes’ frustration and anger at the oppression of African-Americans. Nike used “A Dream Deferred” In a 2008 commercial advertising their shoes, (commercial linked here). The images and message of the advertisement have nothing in common with the meaning of the poem, and yet the poem is used for promotion of Nike’s product. There’s something very, very wrong about usurping a powerful work about racial segregation and degradation and using it to hawk footwear.

As with GAP, while Nike is a large company with a wide variety of brands and products, boycotting is fairly easy with the wide number of alternatives to buying $300 shoes made in sweatshops.

Wal-Mart:

While you’re probably already familiar with the ocean of criticisms of Wal-Mart, it’s still worth listing a few of the more heinous acts and policies for the few who might not be aware:

  • Wal-Mart is known for underpaying and overworking it’s employees. Allegations of sexism and racism have also been made.
  • Wal-Mart is viciously anti-union, attempting to “inform” workers as to the dangers of unionization, firing workers for both joining/starting unions and discussion joining/starting unions. Wal-Mart has (based on the statements of a former executive, Tom Coughlin) even gone so far as to bribe union employees in order to single-out Wal-Mart employees who had signed union cards.
  • Wal-Mart operates a number of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh.
  • Wal-Mart’s use of sweatshop labor allow it to sell products cheaply in the US, undermining small and locally-owned competitors who are forced out of business.
  • Wal-Mart, during the mid 90s, made a practice of taking out life-insurance policies on it’s employees, allowing the corporation to benefit from their deaths. Wal-Mart had named this practice “Dead Peasant” insurance.
  • Wal-Mart sells furniture made from trees grown in protected habitats in Russia (the trees were illegally cut down). The corporation has stated it will not stop selling the furniture until 2013.

Now boycotting Wal-Mart is substantially more difficult than boycotting other corporations because of the relatively low prices of most Wal-Mart products. More often than not, Wal-Mart is the more economic choice, instead of the ethical. Nevertheless, buying from local stores (dollar stores make a decent alternative) is well worth it.

Caterpillar Inc.:

While I’m guessing most of you don’t buy heavy-duty construction and demolition equipment, it’s still worth adding Caterpillar on to the list- if nothing else it might help shake their public image a bit. The primary criticism of Caterpillar is:

  • Caterpillar bulldozers (and other demolition machines) are bought and used by Israeli army to destroy Palestinian buildings.
  • In 2003, activist Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine when a Caterpillar bulldozer was driven into her.

As before, chances are you won’t be buying Caterpillar equipment in the future, but it’s still worth pointing out.

16
Nov
10

The Point Of It All

I’m not feeling so great. I’ve been up since six this morning with no real sleep for the past two days. My stomach is aching from a combination of stress and oily, fatty college cafeteria food. I’ve spent the past three hours having my brain clubbed into a gooey pulp by a statistics test, and I’ll be having to write up a major presentation and memorize it by tomorrow evening.

 

I have it easy.

 

There are millions of people out there who would sell their own children to be in my place. Thousands of people have sold their own children to have a chance at being where I am. There are millions of people who, no matter how hard they work or how long or how well, will never be where I am.

 

That’s just a little something to put things in perspective.

 

I’m sitting here, eyes-bloodshot, stomach churning, neck-aching and I’m wondering why? Why am I putting myself through this everyday (sure it’s nothing compared to other people’s hardships, but let’s stay focused here)?

 

Why do people go to college? Well, some people are in college because they want to party for four years before the responsibilities of life and the universe hit them. Some people are here (at my college especially) to find someone to marry, but in general, the overwhelming number of us are in college to get degrees so they can get jobs.

 

Not sure, you don’t need a college degree to get a job. You don’t need to know how to find a t statistic for related samples or the definition of a theodicy to get a career in a textile mill or as a janitor. Only problem for those who try going down this road is that in the West, the vast majority of jobs you would be able to get without a degree can be done infinitely cheaper by a twelve-year old in Indonesia or an illegal immigrant. Sure there are still jobs out there for the degree-less, but it’s hard to support yourself, let alone any sort of family, working the grill at McDonalds or mowing lawns. There’s always the army, but considering the pay isn’t much better and the work is slightly more than hazardous, it’s a bit of a gamble.

 

So that’s where degrees come in. You want to have a decent-paying job at some point, you’ll need a degree. I’m at college to get a degree and chances are that you were/are/will be at college to get a degree. But is that really enough? I can’t help think back to a Peter Kreeft book where the resurrected philosopher Socrates approaches a college student to figure out why he’s attending college. I’ll paraphrase it briefly:

Socrates: Why are you here?

Student: To get a degree so I can get a job.

Soc: Why?

Stu: To make a lot of money so I can have a family and send my children to college.

Soc: Why will you send them to college?

Stu: So they can get degrees and get jobs.

 

It goes on like that.

 

Now this is really what I’m seeing here at my college. Students come in from generally the middle-class/upper-class to get degrees, get jobs, and return to being part of the middle-class/upper-class. People will take jobs on the basis of pay, whether said jobs are fulfilling or not, and spend the next forty years or so grinding away at their jobs. Why? To do what they really want to do. To go fishing, to take care of a garden, to spend time with family, to paint, to read, to tinker with cars, to cook, to write, and so on. It’s seems to me to be awful rate of exchange if we’re working sixty-plus years at jobs we don’t care about (or even hate) to spend our old age desperately trying to do the things we we wanted to do from the beginning (indeed, the things we were born to do). I don’t want to work on the machine that going to sap me of my life, rewarding me with the chance to do what I love doing when I’m too old to do it! I don’t want to have wealth, I want to have purpose.

 

That, I think, is the point of it all.

The only question we’re left with is “what purpose”?

 

19
Oct
10

A More Perfect Union

We have a complicated relationship with labor unions in the West. We have the timeless image of decent, simple, blue-collar men (and women) who work hard to put food on their family’s tables, until the company they work for decides to cut wages, leaving the worker’s no choice other than to form a union, strike, and eventually victor over the soulless corporate fat-cats in a heartwarming, straight-to-television kind of way. Balancing this image is that of the corrupt, surly, indolent teamsters, siphoning off cash from both the company and the workers, and bullying any opposition into submission.

 

Now there’s a bit of truth to both sides. On the one hand, unions were once (and in many parts of the world, still are) violently persecuted and harassed by companies and corporations who had men, women, and children working long hours for low pay in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Unions were, for the working class, their sole means of getting a fair wage or better conditions. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that there is corruption within many unions- just look at the news stories of unions hiring non-union workers to picket for them (linked here).

 

Now as you can probably guess, Communists side unilaterally with unions. Indeed, Communists were among the first to push for worker’s rights and unionization, and continue to do so to this day. However, what is the Marxist response to the problem of unions becoming parasitic organizations that exploit both employees and employers?

 

The problem of union corruption arises from an attempt to fight for worker rights within the Capitalist system, rather than recognizing Capitalism as the source of exploitation. Imagine that you lead a union of textile workers. You’ve just got the company you work for to agree to good wages, safe working conditions, good benefits (healthcare and whatnot)- where do you go from there? If you dissolve the union, there’s the high likelihood that the company will simply begin to exploit the workers again. If you continue to fight for higher wages and more benefits, then you might damage the company by draining it of its profits (demanding $100 hourly-wages in a lemonade stand that has a weekly profit of $5- extreme example, but you get the idea). And since we live in a society based entirely on acquiring the most cash possible, the best option for you is to line your pockets with money from both sides- higher wages from the company and union dues from the workers. This is the problem- if nothing is done about the Capitalist system that caused the exploitation in the first place, unions can be just as bad as the company.

 

So what’s the solution?

A change of priorities.

 

Communists, both in this country and around the world are working both with and in unions to fight for worker’s rights, but in a very different way than their Capitalist counterparts. Instead of working towards the end goal of more money, the Communist solution is for unions to work towards more control. Instead of continuing to work for the corporations, unions are to work for greater control over their places of work, be it a textile factory, a automobile assembly line, or a fast-food chain. Ultimately, all workers would have a fair and equal wage, and an equal share in the company. Essentially, the textile factory would be owned and run by those working there. With an equal share of the company, profit becomes secondary to the well-being of the workers and the quality and quantity of the  product being made. Exploitation would be impossible, and there would be no dichotomy between the will of the workers and the will of the company. This is the kind of union worth fighting for.

15
Jun
10

[In]tolerable Evil

The myth that Capitalism is a great and fair system is becoming rapidly dispelled. Such disasters as the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the BP oil spills, the Minamata bay dumpings,  the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the general level of corruption, ecological devastation, poverty, and exploitation brought on by our current economic structure have brought many to an understanding that Capitalism is in fact an inherently evil system that benefits a lucky few. Even so, the contemporary attitudes toward towards Capitalism are tolerant. In spite of the repeated evils brought on by this system, the simple fact is people don’t care!

People are angry at BP, sure, but not angry enough to illicit action. We’ll scream our heads off after an hour in traffic, but what do we do when we hear about a sweatshop in Indonesia? We’ll tear apart a stadium during a football riot but do we riot when we hear about waste being dumped in the ocean? We’ll get into fistfights when the neighbor’s playing music too loud but do we so much as lift a finger when a man dies because he’s too poor to afford insurance or pay for medical bills?

Why? Because we’re the ones benefiting from Capitalism? Because the evils of Capitalism aren’t oppressing us? What makes me different than a coltan miner in the Congo, or a child slave in Bangladesh? If it weren’t for pure and simple dumb luck– I’d be the one working fourteen hours a day for pennies. I am not where I am today because I worked hard. I am not where I am today because I was smart or because I took advantage of the opportunities offered to me. I am where I am because I was simply born. Others are simply born into poverty, slavery, and starvation and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle they never advance. Is Capitalism a tolerable evil to them?

One of the greatest ills of Capitalism that affects not merely the proletariat but the middle and upper class as well is the concept of individuality- a flimsy facade for the uglier terms selfishness and egocentricity. We are led to imagine that we are rich because of our own hard work. We’re responsible only for ourselves. It is because of this concept that shrug and walk away from tragedies, be it a mugging or a multinational corporation paying 12 cents a day for designer jeans to be made. And we continue to hold this egomaniacal point of view because we are terrified of what it would mean if we were responsible for each other. If an old woman gets mugged, it’s not just the fault of the old woman for being more careful or the fault of the mugger for choosing to rob her- it our fault for doing nothing to stop it. If a manufacturing plant in Peru has children working for little or no pay, we’re just as much to blame for doing nothing to resist!

And for those who insist upon tolerating the evils of Capitalism and the suffering of others, I can only offer you these words written with greater urgency and eloquence than I could ever hope to have:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-F.G.E. Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984

06
Jun
10

[Not] Free to Choose

Despite a growing dissatisfaction with Capitalism, there are many who refuse the concept of doing away with the system altogether. Such individuals tend to advocate “happy mediums” between free market Capitalism and state regulation. For example, the 2009 documentary Food, Inc. attempted to expose issues within the American food industry. While the film was highly critical of the some major food corporations in the US and the general way the industry is set up, the film advocated not the abolition of the Capitalist system that has allowed the situation to come to be, but rather the idea that through selective consumption, the food industry will be forced to alter its practices and products. For example, in this new system, one would choose to buy only “green” products, showing corporations that (1) the consumers will no longer buy ecologically harmful products and (2) there’s a profit to be made by selling eco-friendly merchandise.

It’s a painfully flawed system.

First, we must recognize the central role profits play. A product that is eco-friendly, made well, and made by laborers who are being paid decent wages is going to be substantially more expensive than a product that is made with no regard to the environment, the health/well-being of the consumer, and made by sweatshop workers. Products that have the qualities of the former are either too expensive to be profitable (enough) for the corporations producing them or too expensive to be purchasable by the majority of consumers. While there is some degree of public choice involved, overwhelmingly other factors such as the poverty of the consumers make this system impossible to realize.

Second, we must understand that Capitalism is in no way, shape, or form a democratic system. A while back, I had a conversation about Capitalism’s displacement (and to a degree, eradication) of local cultures. The person arguing with me made that claim that if the people of a country didn’t want McDonalds springing up across their nation, they would have only to stop eating there and the McDonalds, seeing no profit, would withdraw. The issue with this is that even if 95% of a population is against there being a product sold, if the remaining 5% buys enough to allow the company to make a profit, they will keep selling.

To recap the situation, product A is bad but cheap, product B is good but expensive, you will probably only be able to afford product A, and even if you manage to purchase product B, your ability to purchase other good products like B will be reduced because B is still expensive. But if you were somehow to rally the public and declare a boycott of product A, the fact that you’ve managed to get 75% of the populace to stop buying A doesn’t mean that A will cease to be a source of revenue. Short of getting a universal ban on product A, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Now don’t misunderstand this post- I’m not arguing that because you don’t have much choice, you should capitulate to unethical business practices. On the contrary, out of principal, when it is your choice, you ought to spend money on the eco-friendly, fair-trade products rather than harmful or slave-labor products. I’m merely showing that Capitalism cannot be controlled by popular choice. Capitalism cannot be moderated so long as it remains based entirely on the acquisition of capital– and any change to this- the most fundamental aspect of Capitalism- would be an abolition of the Capitalist system altogether.

If you’re not free to choose within Capitalism, maybe you ought to considering choosing something other than Capitalism.