War On Want

24 03 2008

As promised, here is the second instalment of my blog that profiles charities and companies that have been created, in order to combat many of the issues mentioned in my previous blog posts.The organisation that I will be focusing on this time is one that I have already spoken about, War On Want.

What Is War On Want?

War On Want is an organisation whose main aim is to fight global poverty. They define poverty in many different ways and emphasise that being poor does not mean that one just doesn’t lack having money. They also define poverty as:

* Having a lack of access to land, food, water, healthcare and education
* Having your security, dignity, choice and freedom constantly undermined.
* Having a lack of control over your life.

When Was War On Want Set Up And Why?

In February 1951 Victor Gollancz sent a letter to The Guardian newspaper calling for the end to the Korean war. He also suggested that an international fund should be created, in order “to turn swords into ploughshares.”

In order to see how many people were in support of his idea, he asked those who agreed to send a postcard to him with the word ‘Yes’ on – Gollancz received 5,000 replies!

Following this, The Association for World Peace was formed in March 1951. In May 1951 the organisation invited Harold Wilson to chair a committee and write a pamphlet entitled War on Want – a Plan for World Development. The pamphlet was published on June 09, 1952 and saw the creation of War On Want!

(Copyright: War On Want)

What Does War On Want Do?

War On Want campaign on a national and international level, in order to expose the politics behind poverty.

Wherever possible they involve the people affected by such politics in their campaigns and this can be seen in many ways, especially through the information packs that they release that I have used for some of the posts on this blog. They believe that through voicing the views of the people affected those who have the power to implement change at a national and international level will have no excuse not too.

Lastly, War On Want do not provide things – they don’t dig wells, build dams or give out inoculations. They believe that the best way to fight poverty is for ordinary people to become capable of defining their own rights and interests. This may sound harsh, however War On Want establish long-term partnerships with others who are fighting to combat poverty, in order to allow people to define their own rights and interests.

What Do War On Want Believe In?

Like The Ethical Trading Initiative, War On Want believe in key principles which shape the way in which the work and act. These principles include:

* The greed of a powerful minority not only keeps people poor, but also makes people poor too.
* Natural disasters shouldn’t lead to misery.
* There are more than enough resources in the world for everyone to live reasonably comfortably.
* Poverty can be ended and must be as soon as possible.
* We all have a duty to speak out against these injustices and stand alongside those who suffer as a result of it.

How Can I Find Out Additional Information?

To find out more about War On Want simply visit their website by clicking here.


Who Pays?

17 03 2008

Well you would think that it would be us, the consumers, however in reality it is actually Chaturi Salaman, a Sri Lankan garment worker, and other Sri Lankans like her.

ActionAid’s investigation entitled Who Pays: The Real Cost of School Uniforms is particularly striking in illustrating the damaging effects that purchasing cheap school uniforms can have for other fellow-human beings in Sri Lanka.

According to figures by the Joint Apparel Association Forum, more than £50 million worth of clothing is exported to the United Kingdom every year, while women make up 80% of the workforce. Even though such jobs are of an exploitative nature, many women decide to work in the sector, simply because it is a route into employment.

ActionAid’s investigation involved interviewing 12 workers from one factory producing school uniforms in Sri Lanka and two factory owners in Sri Lanka producing clothes for Marks & Spencers. All of this occurred between July and August of 2007.

The investigation found that there is a lot of pressure on suppliers to deliver large orders of school uniforms quickly and cheaply; this affects the workers by increasing the target numbers that they must reach.

Chaturi Salaman, a 22-year-old garment worker, said: “When it gets really busy many of us are crying at work because we can’t handle the pressure. If we are behind schedule then the workers who do the ironing and packing have to work through the night to get the orders done.”

Yet although the women garment workers stated that the extra overtime to complete extra orders is not compulsory, they felt pressurised into doing the extra work, in order to meet deadlines.

Garment workers in Sri Lanka
(Copyright: War On Want)

Chaturi Salaman also describes the working conditions in which she has to put up with.

“When a big order comes in our supervisors scream at us if we can’t increase targets. We don’t drink water because that would mean having to go to the toilet and often we only have a couple of bites of food at lunchtime because otherwise we won’t finish our work in time.”

Even though this on its own seems shocking enough, the wages that the garment workers receive are also abysmal.

ActionAid’s interview found out that only 2% of the retail price for the £6 school uniform dresses sold at Marks & Spencers outlets across the United Kingdom actually goes to the Sri Lankan garment workers. This, combined with the poor wages, results in many workers remaining in poverty.

In reality, trainees gain £16 a month (3,650 rupees) for their first sixth months of work. If they meet all of their targets then wages are increased by (500 rupees) every six months. Yet for many, this increase is ineffective.

Regarding this issue, Renuka Sulman, a 26-year-old garment worker from Columbo, said: “When I first became a garment worker I thought that in five years I’d be able to save enough to go home and start a family of my own. I’ve been working here for nearly ten years now and every month I am getting poorer.”

Working in the garment industry also has negative impacts for the women, due to the fact that they face discrimination and stigma.

Padmini Weerasuriya, an ex-garment worker, said: “Garment women get called juki badu meaning they are slaves to the sewing machines. There is an assumption because they get worked so hard for so little money that they are worthless.”

Sirin Ankar and her one-year-old child
(Copyright: ActionAid)

So what can we do, in order to reduce the amount of pain and suffering that is going on, simply for the right to gain cheap clothes to wear?

Well, the first step is to recognize that there is actually a problem and hopefully by reading this blog post, you will be a step closer.

Secondly, by joining campaigns such as ActionAid’s Who Pays? campaign, we can all take regular action to make supermarkets play fair in developing countries.

In terms of supermarkets, the second that they publicly acknowledge the harmful impact that they are having on their workers in countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, then steps can be taken in order to address and ultimately prevent it from happening.

I would like to end this blog post with a quotation that I read that has really stuck in my mind. I think that you would agree that it seems like we take much that we have in Western society for granted, especially when other fellow-human beings do not have the same.

Sirin Ankar, a 24-year-old Bangladeshi garment worker making school uniforms for Asda said: “I spend my days making school uniforms for other families, but I can’t afford to give my own children clothes or an education.”

The Month of Madness

16 03 2008

Out of all the months in the year August is undoubtedly the most hectic and mad for parents with school children, since its the last chance to grab those bargains on school uniforms, which can easily run up into their £100’s, especially through the prices nowadays for new school shoes – no wonder why the school uniform market in the United Kingdom is currently worth £450 million!

To make the purchase of new school uniforms more appealing, retailers across the United Kingdom fight to ensure that their prices are the lowest ones possible, effectively reducing their products and prices to the lowest common denomentor. Asda’s George label clearly illustrates this trend, since an entire uniform can now be purchased for as little as £9.96; consists of:

* Polo shirts – 75p
* Trousers – £1.75
* Skirts – £1.75
* Shoes – £4.50

Yet by making these prices possible for us, the consumers, ultimately has a direct consequence on others – the people who actually create the products themselves.

ActionAid’s investigation entitled Who Pays: The Real Cost of School Uniforms is particularly good at highlighting this problem; to view the video clip, simply press the ‘Play’ button below:


Vodpod videos no longer available.

The key points from the video clip, I feel, are as followed: 

* 2 million women work in the clothes-making industry in Bangladesh.

* Standing all day is the norm, while getting told off by supervisors is common through beatings.

* Sick leave is allowed, only if you are willing to not get paid and in many cases get fired from the job.

* 5p an hour is the average wage for garment workers creating school uniforms.

* Long hours and poor wages mean that some workers only see their children twice(!!!) a year.

This certainly is disgraceful, considering how 5p transforms into a selling price in the pounds. It ultimately seems that many retailers are only interested in gaining a profit, not matter who they harm or exploit in the process. Something needs to be done and things need to change…

My next blog post will be a follow-up to this one, however instead of focusing on Bangladesh like the video did, Sri Lanka will be the focus of the study, since the exact same thing is happening there too. I will also try and suggest ways in which we can all help to try and stop this process from happening too.

The Ethical Trading Initiative

9 03 2008

Now and again over the duration of this project, I will try and attempt to bring to light the profiles of companies, organisations and initiatives that have all been formed to try and eradicate the exploitation of workers to some degree or other.

For this blog post, an initiative that has already been mentioned will be studied – The Ethical Trading Initiative.

(Copyright: The Ethical Trading Initiative)

What Is The Ethical Trading Initiative?

The Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of companies, non-governmental organisations and trade union organisations. They have all signed up to the initiative to try and improve the implementation of corporate codes of practice which cover supply chain working conditions.

When Was The Ethical Trading Initiative Set Up And Why?

The Ethical Trading Initiative was set up in 1998 to establish codes of practices for United Kingdom retailers selling food and clothing to consumers to adhere to. This was done, so that the workers who actually produce the goods for the United Kingdom retailers are always adequately covered.

During the 1990’s much pressure from external forces, such as trade unions and consumers, was placed onto the United Kingdom retailers, resulting in the companies adopting codes of practices which set outs limits such as the minimum labour standards.

Yet, with different companies implementing different ideas and many not having much experience in the field, most realised that they needed the backing of relevant civil society organisations, in particular trade union organisations, which had expertise; this formed the Ethical Trading Initiative.

What Is Ethical Trade?

As we have seen with all of the blog posts that I have already created, many hundreds of thousands of people around the world work in hazardous conditions, simply to produce the raw materials needed for products that are mainly sold in Western societies.

Ethical trade involves getting the companies involved in sourcing – the actual brands and retailers – to take responsibility for their workers, by trying to continuously improve their living and working conditions.

What Is The Difference Betweeen Ethical Trade And Fair Trade?

As stated above, ethical trade involves the actual sourcing companies taking responsibility for the living and working conditions of all of its workers.

Fair Trade, on the other hand, aims to ensure that the actual producers of the products in developing countries, get a better deal from their trade.

Fair Trade not to be confused with Ethical Trade
(Copyright: The FairTrade Foundation)

What Does The Ethical Trading Initiative Do?

The Ethical Trading Initiative state that they do the following practices:

1) Identify And Promote Good Practice in the implementation of the codes of labour. They illustrate that this is achieved via:

A) Running experimental projects alongside their partners, to tackle areas of the code that members find particularly challenging.

B) Commission research to identify the working conditions faced by the companies’ employees.

C) Share Learning within their membership and beyond (to people like you and I) to raise people’s awareness.

2) Expand The Corporate Membership of the initiative to other sectors of the United Kingdom retail market, to raise additional awareness.

3) Strengthen Members’ Commitment to the principles set out in the Base Code through measuring and monitoring their performance.

4) Measure Actual Impact of implementing the Base Code, by looking at the lives of the workers and families that are affected.

5) Build Strategic Alliances with other organisations working on ethical trade, in order to promote international labour standards.

What Principles Are Included In The Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code?

The Ethical Trading Initiative has a set of regulations entitled ‘The Base Code’ which forms its fundamental principles. These include:

* No-one should be forced to work.

* Workers should be able to join and form trade unions.

* Working conditions should be safe and healthy.

* Working hours should not be excessive.

* Workers should be treated equally, regardless of their sex, ethnic group, religion or political opinions.

* Workers should not be verbally, physically or sexually abused, or disciplined.

Who Are Members Of The Ethical Trading Initiative?

A of February 2007, members of the Ethical Trading Initiative that are companies include:

* Asda,

* Associated British Foods (Primark),

* Tesco,

* World Flowers.

Members that are non-governmental organisations include:

* Christian Aid,

* Oxfam,

* The Fairtrade Foundation.

Members that are trade unions include:

* International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation,

* International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF)

Do All Ethical Trading Initiative Members Follow This Code?

As you have seen with most of my blog posts, some of the companies that are part of this alliance do not seem to have all of their workers’ rights protected. The Ethical Trading Initiative respond to this by stating even though not all of the company’s workers’ rights may be protected, each member is serious in trying to improve conditions over time – however without a definite time scale placed on this, who knows whether or not the Ethical Trading Initiative will be a complete success. 


What Can We As Consumers Do?

The Ethical Trading Initiative states that we, as consumers, can do a lot, in order to promote ethical trading.

For one, they state that joining a campaign can help. Campaigns in the United Kingdom include: Action Aid, Labour Behind the Label and War On Want. Non-United Kingdom campaigns include: The Clean Clothes campaign (The Netherlands) and the Maquila Solidarity Network (Canada).

They also highlight how consumers can do their part by asking retailers the following questions:

1) Do you have a code of labour practice and does it include all the rights in the Ethical Trading Initiative’s Base Code, including trade union rights?

2) How do you check the progress your suppliers are making towards meeting your code?

3) What practical support do you give to your suppliers to help them improve conditions for their workers?

4) How do you ensure your company’s commercial practices, particularly price negotiations with suppliers, don’t constrain their ability to provide decent working conditions?

5) Are you a member of Ethical Trading Initiative? If not, would you consider joining it?

How Can I Find Out Additional Information?

To find out more about the Ethical Trading Initiative simply visit their website by clicking here.

Flower Power?

9 03 2008

It seems that in this day and age we all use flowers to mark many occasions, ranging from the more traditional ceremonies such as birth and death to the more commercialised days such as St. Valentines Day and Mother’s Day. Yet, by purchasing such an aesthetically-pleasing product from many supermarkets across the United Kingdom can have dire consequences for those in other parts of the world…

War On Want’s report entitled Growing Pains: The human cost of cut flowers in British supermarkets is good at illustrating how we as a Western society are fuelling other fellow human beings to suffer from skin legions, respiratory problems and fainting spells, since the accounts and experiences of over 30 flower workers in countries such as Colombia and Kenya were documented through interviews between January and February 2007 to reveal some very shocking truths.

Yet before we delve into the findings of the report, below is a video clip to visually highlight the issue. To view the video clip, simply press the ‘Play’ button below:

The key points from the video clip, I feel, are as followed:

* Colombia is one of the ideal places to grow flowers, due to it’s climate. It is the second biggest exporter of cut flowers.

* British retailers are among the ‘best’ customers of Colombian cut flowers.

* Many flower workers are conned into thinking that the company they work for has gone into bankruptcy, therefore they do not receive any wages and are expected to work for free. This is apparent with workers for Los Trabajadores de Flores la Sabana, however as they see shipments still coming and going everyday, they realise that it is in fact a lie.

* Many mothers are expected to work long hours most days and in some cases have to leave the children at home alone.

* Repetitive strain injuries are common, however many companies refuse to let their workers see a doctor, which if the worker protests, is sacked.

The SADCTrade Development Programme states that the United Kingdom is the largest importer of cut flowers in the world, along with Germany, and generates a revenue of £2.2 billion each year, but at what price does this come at?

If we look at the composure of a flower, we will come to realise that it’s life-span depends on gaining enough nutrients and water in order to survive, however once a flower is cut then this process stops and the flower starts to decay. In order to slow down this process, pesticides can be used, however these can have serious consequences…

According to the Columbian National Institue of Health, women on flower farms experience higher-than-average rates of miscarriages and premature births, while deformities can also occur too. Workers that are exposed to pesticides can suffer from a range of conditions such as skin legions, allergies, respiratory problems and fainting spells, simply from cutting the flowers for you and me to purchase.

As pesticides can be so lethal to humans, the World Health Organisation stated that 24 hours should be the minimum wait between the time flowers are sprayed and workers re-enter the area, however this rarely occurs; a 2002 study of 8,000 flower workers in Bogotoa found that all of the workers had been exposed to 127(!!) different pesticides, of which 20% are banned in the United States, due to being highly toxic.

Now, with many jobs in the United Kingdom, sick pay and having days off when you are ill are the norm, however this is an entirely different story in Colombia and Kenya. When workers report any accidents that occur or if workers get sick no help is given, since they are immediately sacked. Imagine if your hands were damaged as badly as in the picture below – due to coming into contact with pesticides – and instead of seeking help from your employer you are left to fend for yourself.

A Flower Worker's Hands
(Copyright: The Human Flower Project)

Another reason why incidents at plantations across Colombia are so rarely reported can be explained by the words of a flower worker – “Supervisors scare the workers into not saying anything.”

Having tea and coffee during a work break is commonplace in the United Kingdom – and you know how some people get when they do not have their tea and/or coffee! – however imagine working without the chance to even the basis to these two drinks – clean water.

As flower workers spend much of their time in hot greenhouses, then clean drinking water is ultimately needed. While the farms say that they have treated the water so that it is safe for human consumption, one must consider that this may in fact not be the case, due to one worker stating: “You doubt the water is safe because the administration don’t drink the same water as the workers.”

Job security is also an uncertainty for the flower workers, due to many being placed onto short or seasonal contracts. Being placed onto such a contract means that workers can be dismissed at any time without a valid reason and have little to no access to injury or sickness aid. On African flower farms there is evidence that companies keep workers on temporary contracts that they extend year after year, in order to deny them from benefits such as social security, maternity leave and union membership.

On top of a lack in job security, the payment of wages also seems to be ‘hit and miss.’ Kenyan flower workers often receive as little as £23 a month, which is not enough to cover basic needs such as food, housing, transport, education and medical bills. Many workers are also subjected to not getting paid at all, as illustrated in the videoclip by the workers of the Los Trabajadores de Flores la Sabana plantation.

Being part of a union is essential to all workers no matter where they come from, since unions help to provide workers with the chance to raise any issues of unjust that they feel are present in their workplace. On Colombian flower farms, workers are continuously threatened and harassed by the administration if they attempt to join a union, with one worker noting “They put thousands of obstacles in our way to prevent us from meeting. When they know we have a union meeting scheduled, they’ll make us work overtime.” One Colombian company even pays bribes of 40,000 Colombian pesos (£40) to workers that leave the union that they are with.

So the next time that you are out and about shopping and thinking of purchasing some nice looking flowers, spare a thought of the story behind the flowers. If you are adamant at purchasing a bouquet of flowers, then perhaps try and purchase a FairTrade bunch, since even though flower workers are still subjected to exploitation with this range of flowers, you will be helping them, in terms of allowing them to be paid a higher wage, while the flower farms meet basic environmental and labour standards.

To read the information for yourself, click here. All comments on either the information pack or my own blog post would be much appreciated!

You Shop, We Drop

5 03 2008

While driving around my hometown the other day, I noticed a Tesco truck driving opposite me in the other lane. If you have never seen one of these big, blue Tesco trucks before, then basically it is a large vehicle used for the transportation of goods from one store to the next. Each has the phrase ‘You Shop, We Drop’ on the sides, while a picture of Tesco carrier bags with products that can be purchased at any Tesco store accompany the phrase too.

Normally when I see such a truck I think nothing of them, however from starting this blog, the phrase really stuck with me while I was continuing to drive, since the phrase suddenly had a double connotation that I never realised before. We all know the first meaning of the phrase, since many of you reading this will have ordered products from Tesco online and have had them ‘dropped’ to your homes via home delivery, however the second meaning isn’t so clear. While Tesco are the ones gaining the products to sell to consumers, the people who create them ‘drop’ for other reasons – particularly as a result of long-working hours, poor working and living conditions and wages small enough to not even support an individual let alone an entire family.

War On Want’s Fashion Victims: The true cost of cheap clothes at Primark, Asda and Tesco is a particularly useful resource in looking at Tesco’s involvement in the exploitation of workers, especially when you come to realise that in 2005 alone Tesco made a profit of £2.21 billion.

War On Want’s research occured with 60 workers between August and October 2006 at six factories across Bangladesh. As each factory contained well over 500 workers, then you may be thinking that by simply interviewing 10 workers from each factory doesn’t give a clear representation of the entire population and this would be true. However, in saying this, I personally feel that as the experiences I am going to write about are quite similar, then such a number from each factory is plausable. Moreover, as Factory’s A, D, E and F were the ones which produced products primarily for Tesco – but also for Asda/George and Primark too – then these are going to be the ones discussed for the basis of this post.

Asda, Tesco and Primark have all signed up to the following Code of Conduct, however from some of the case studies War on Want give, it is hard to see why they have in fact signed up to the Code:

Workers shall not on a regular basis be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week and shall be provided with at least one day off every seven day period on average. Overtime shall be voluntary, shall not exceed 12 hours per week, shall not be demanded on a regular basis and shall always be compensated at a premium rate.’

Lina, aged 22, is one of the factory workers that was interviewed and she stated that she had worked in the garment industry since the age of 13, as her family were unable to continue to pay for her education, due to her brother becoming ill . Being able to operate a sewing machine means that Lina is paid £17 per month – the average wage per month is £22 – yet for this amount of money to reach Lina means that she has to work between 60 and 90 hours every week. This is certainly well above the 48 hours that Tesco signed up to adhere too with the Code of Conduct.

As we have seen from the Code of Conduct, the maximum number of overtime hours a worker can complete per week should not exceed 12, equating to 48 hours per month, however these merely seem to be empty words for Tesco, due to Abdul’s story. Abdul, another one of the factory workers interviewed, stated that he worked 60 to 70 hours of overtime every month. Even if this sounds shocking, then consider Ifat who stated that he worked 140 hours of overtime in one month – near enough a total of 6 whole days!

Bangladeshi garment workers
(Copyright: Fernando Moleres/Panos Pictures)

For all of you that are currently working, I imagine that the building you reside in is sturdy and many safety protocols are in place – such as having emergency exits – which in effect makes you feel at ease in case something bad was to occur. However, imagine that you were a factory worker in Bangladesh during February and March 2006, since all would not be the same…

War On Want claim that in February and March 2006 numerous garment factories collapsed, while fires in such factories resulted in over 100 workers dying and many more becoming injured. The workers that were interviewed claimed that many could not escape, due to the fact that the emergency exits were locked and amazingly still are.

In May of that year, the surviving workers protested about their pay and conditions – a freedom of speech that we all seem to take for granted I feel – however War On Want state that this was done in vain, due to clashes with police causing one worker to die and many becoming injured. Such a peaceful protest by the factory workers even caused one of the factories supplying Tesco with their products to drop the rate the workers were paid per piece of clothing; I find all of this unjust.

Now I realise that some of you will be thinking ‘So what is the point to this blog post?’ and I would have to say that there is no ulterior motive except for presenting you the facts to make up your own mind. I realise that for many, this post may have been an eye opener yet nothing will come of it, but even if one person reading this was to change their shopping habits will, in a small way, help to eradicate some of the suffering that is going on at this very second hundreds and thousands of miles away.

To read the information for yourself, click here. All comments on either the information pack or my own blog post would be much appreciated!

On a slightly related note, if any of you are thinking ‘Stefan, why do you keep going on about clothes and exploitation when there are other areas to look at too’ then do not worry, since the next blog post will focus on an area of exploitation that many fuel through consuming merely for aesthetic values.

Words and Pictures

3 03 2008

Words, most of the time, are a great way to inform, explain and describe certain pieces of information to an audience, however sometimes words are not enough. Words like this, no matter how strong the subject matter is, can make people feel like they are merely reading a story; opposed to reading about real-life issues and because of this I feel the need to use a video.

The following video clip is courtesy of War On Want and is entitled Corporate Accountability: The People Who Make Your Clothes. To view the video clip, simply press the ‘Play’ button below: 

The key points from the video clip, I feel, are as followed:

* Even though Bangladesh is the location of the video, similar scenes are happening across the globe.

* 80 hours of work for as little as £6.50 is normal for each worker per week.

* Workers are often locked into the factory and forced to do many hours of unpaid overtime.

* No sick pay or holiday pay is often given to the workers.

* Living conditions are unsanitary, due to the lack of running water or electricity.

This video clip certainly provides visual insight into the lives of all those workers that are being exploited to make clothes for us to wear. I personally feel that from this video clip, one must consider that War On Want is an active organisation that is seeking reform to the way sweatshop workers are treated. They are certainly not afraid of tackling the issue ‘head on’ and this can be seen by them sending a representatives to visit Bangladesh to interview the sweatshop workers to make us, the general public, aware of the problem.