Money, Money, Money

17 04 2008

Since starting this blog I feel that I have become more of an ‘activist’ as such, due to the fact that I have tried in numerous ways to try and highlight how we, as a Western society, affect those working in sweatshops in exploitative conditions; the ways in which we can change this.

One way in which I have been helping those affected is by using the search engine EveryClick – a search engine with a difference.

Even though I have already discussed EveryClick in a previous blog post, I just feel that it is vital to highlight to all of you the immense amount of good that the programme has done so far.

If any of you need a small reminder what EveryClick is, then here one is! EveryClick is simply a search engine just like any other out there – Google, Yahoo etc: – however what makes its different is that through using it you can raise money for many different charities.

The revenue for EveryClick is generated by advertisers who pay for sponsored listings within the search results and banner advertising. Therefore the more people that use EveryClick, the more the advertisers’ listings are clicked and the more money is raised for charity. Over one half of all the revenue EveryClick generates each month is given to charity.

(Copyright: EveryClick)

To this day, EveryClick has raised £428,906.94 through 111,811 different people; £123.54 has been raised for ActionAid and£439.33 for War On Want.

This may not seem like a great deal of money, however one must consider that in fact it is, since it all has been generated merely through searching the Internet, which is quite an easy and hassle-free task!

Yet, we can all do more to help raise these values, as the more money these charities gain, the more resources they can create and distribute, to ultimately make a difference.

As EveryClick works the same way as normal search engines, then why don’t you make EveryClick your default search engine?

If I have tempted you to sign up, and I hope that I have, then click here.


“We Are A Rock Revolving…

13 04 2008

Around a golden sun
We are a billion children
Rolled into one”

Saltwater – Julian Lennon

Last week in my sociology lecture I started to learn about the process of globalisation and how we are all one entity, yet all experience different degrees of inequality. After I came across a definition made by a sociologist, I began to realise how the issues relating to sweatshops are a direct consequence of such a phenomenon.

“Globalisation is the process of understanding interconnectedness between societies, such that events in one part of the world have effects on peoples and societies far away.”
Smith (1997)

This definition certainly can relate to sweatshops, since the removal of barriers in time and space combined with new technology, such as the Internet, has helped to make it easier for transnational corporations (TNCs) to produce and transport goods almost anywhere in the world.

War On Want’s Globalisation in the Garment Sector is particularly good at highlighting how globalisation has had an impact on companies producing goods in sweatshops, since even though the definition made by Smith can be interpreted to mean that the events made by Western companies can affect those in Eastern countries, it can also be seen in another way – Western companies can affect those living and working in Western countries, such as England, too!

I know that throughout this blog I have mainly focused on how the exploitation of workers in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) occurs, however in light of globalisation and its impact on the entire world, it is only right to also mention how exploitation in More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs) occurs too.

For one, one must consider that United Kingdom garment sector wages are not high, due to the fact that they are 28% lower for men and 14% lower for women, in terms of the national average wage for United Kingdom manufacturing industries.

Moreover, there seems to be a growth in sweatshops in the United Kingdom. Evidence for this can be seen by a BBC Watchdog programme from April 2000 which explored the lives of women working in a factory producing Olympia garments in Leicester. The programme spoke to a woman who said she had been locked in the factory until she finished her order, and received £2.75 per hour, compared to the £3.70 average. Once the woman confronted her employer she was fired; from this it is right to think that if exploitation in United Kingdom is occurring, then the amount of exploitation that is occurring in other parts of the world is surely greater.

Globalisation – Is its impact positive or negative?
(Copyright: Arabesques)

However is all bad with globalisation? Even though many corporations have re-located from the United Kingdom and other Western countries, the growth of the garment industry has transformed the lives of workers in the developing world. Even though the wages that these people gain may look poor compared to our own, they have certainly represented radical news ways of living, especially for women. Lipi, a Bangladeshi garment worker, has managed to escape rural poverty, has been able to earn her very own wage as well as make independent decisions relating to her everyday life. Regarding this matter she stated: “Before joining the factory I was very timid but now I have some confidence. I’m working in the city and at night I can go out. I even participate in demonstrations sometimes.”

However is it really that simple? Of course it isn’t! Even though garment workers may have a new lease of life, this is only made possible through working very long hours below subistence wages and in conditions which endanger their health.

Another negative impact relating to globalisation can be seen with the process called ‘the race to the bottom.’ Before, corporations could not move around from country-to-country to find the cheapest labour available, due to the fact that this would mean the corporation would have to buy and sell all of their properties, i.e. factories, the machinery, as well as having responsibility to re-locate all of the workers from the factories.

Tin Shacks – The only form of shelter that many Bangladeshi garment workers can actually afford
(Copyright: War On Want)

Through globalisation however, corporations have begun to increasingly use sub-contracts. These contracts are short term and enable the corporations to ask local factory owners to supply the company with only a certain amount of goods. At the end of the contract, the corporation can either create another one, or if cheaper labour can be found elsewhere, then the corporation will ultimately move on and use another factory instead. Using this method certainly means that the corporation does not have to improve the working or living conditions of the employees or raise the wages that are paid to them, due to the fact that they are not fixed to one residence; this is certainly exploitation and unjust!

To put this into context, a typical chain might be the following: a United Kingdom retailer contracts a buyer in Hong Kong to supply an order. The buyer then makes a contract with a South Korean-owned factory in Bangladesh to make the clothes, while the cloth itself comes from Malaysia. This complex chain means that the retailer will never see the factories in which the goods are made.

An inequality in wealth can be seen as another negative side of globalisation. The Garment Workers’ Project has claimed that in the last 25 years alone, the total number of jobs in the United Kingdom clothing and textile industry has fallen from 1,000,000 to around 300,000. The main reason for this can be explained through outsourcing and the massive disparity in wage levels worldwide. In industrialised countries, labour costs may form 75 per cent of the total costs of a garment, while in Bangladesh, the figure is as low as five per cent; the graph below conveys the difference in wages:

(Copyright: War On Want)

Export-Processing Zones can also be regarded as a negative consequence of globalisation. Export-Processing Zones are also named as Free Trade Areas and are used by countries to tempt transnational corporations to source there, all through incentives. For example, the Bangladeshi Export-Processing Zone offers zero taxes, 100 per cent repatriation of profits and exemption from many national laws, such as the freedom to organise trade unions. While these incentives may woo the transnational corporations, they ultimately have a knock-on effect on the actual workers themselves, so what can we do as consumers?

Well, the first thing we can do is to write letters to our local newspapers. The more people that we get to read about this issue, then the greater opportunity for other people to get active and to help out. This can also be the case with writing articles and creating webpages, such as this one!

Secondly, putting pressure onto your local politician can help out a lot. You may think that local politicians may have little effect on international labour standards, however the more constituents that write to them regarding this issue, the greater the chance that they will bring it up in parliamentary meetings, due to it being a ‘hot topic’ issue amount the constituents.

Lastly, put pressure onto the actual transnational corporations themselves! Link up with campaign groups on the Internet, such as War On Want’s campaign, since unified action against the transnational corporations can and will make a difference!

Sweat, Sweat, Sweat

5 04 2008

Going on holiday frequently appears to be the norm for many, however instead of sunning in Spain it seems that cruises have become more commonplace, due to Lloyds Register World Fleet Statistics reporting an increase of over 700 Per Cent from 1980-2001.

The image of a cruise holiday is sold to people under the guise of being fun, magic, romantic and luxurious; this is also accompanied by the comfort of knowing that every whim will be met by willing crew members. Yet, such a picture-perfect view of cruises is also given to the employees, since many are often excited by the thought of working for world-famous cruise ships, such as Disney or Carnival, which will allow them to ‘see the world’ and earn money at the same time. However is this picture really the reality?

From reading War On Want and the International Transport Workers Federation’s report entitled Sweatships, I would definitely have to say that it isn’t, since in a nut shell, the following is happening behind-the-scenes of your cruise holiday:

* Extremely long working hours,
* Inadequate training, especially in the sphere of health and safety,
* Insecure, short-term contracts which leaves the employees without a stable job and living prospects, since they can be sacked at any time,
* Hostile employers that forbid collective solidarity of the workers. This, in reality, is illegal, since every worker has the right to belong or form a Trade Union,
* Low wages and high costs that leaves the employees in continuous poverty. This, combined with the illegal agents’ fees to get the people the actual jobs traps the employees into poverty even more.

If any of the above has not shocked you, then do read on, since it seems like this is just the tip of the iceberg!

“A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it’s a piece of cake… It’s a sweatshop at sea.”
(Paul Chapman, founder of the Centre for Seafarers’ Rights in New York, May 2000)

The picture-perfect vision of a cruise holiday
(Copyright: CruiseVacations4U)

For one, there seems to be an apparent segregated labour force, with the division occurring not only by country-to-country and nationality, but also by the colour of one’s skin. The investigation found that by-and-large higher status employees come from industrialised countries and are able to enjoy more benefits, such as having a cabin above water-line, sharing with no more than two people, being able to eat at the restaurants that they work at and having access to passenger facilities, such as Internet Cafes.

Even though this done sound reasonably good, a high proportion of employees never get to see this, as they are forced to work below decks and face disciplinary action if they go above water-line. Many of these workers are from Eastern European countries and are made to eat leftover food. The majority of them also have small cabins that are shared by dozens of other workers, which is hardly fair compared to the lifestyle of the other workers.

This trend can be illustrated by a Carnival cruise ship manifest from 2000, due to the following segregation employment patterns:

* Engine Room: 39 men, mostly from Peru, Uruguay, Philippines and Romania.
* Cabin stewards: 46 men from Asia and Central America.
* Master/Marine Officers/Engineers: Mainly from Italy.
* Managers/Directors/Supervisors: Mainly from America.

Further discrimination is also present on cruise ships, however this time in terms of gender; this is highlighted particularly well by a Lithuanian worker that worked in Reception on the Ocean Glory. She told the investigation how the Purser’s cabins door was tellingly left open during their work-related meetings and how he put pressure onto her to sleep with him or “he couldn’t guarantee what might happen.”

The cruise ship in question – the Ocean Glory
(Copyright: SimplonPC)

Working hours also seem to be similar to those who ‘work’ in sweatshops, due to bar waiters, for example, being forced to work up to 15 hours per day. If this does not seem a lot to you, then imagine being forced to work overtime, for free, for hours and hours doing menial tasks after a 15 hour long shift. You certainly would be exhausted considering that you would be working weeks at a time without no breaks. Wouldn’t you be prone to exhaustion and fatigue? I imagine that you would!

Yet the poor treatment of cruise ship employees does not stop there, and is present through Cherie’s story. Cherie Scrivener, 19 years old, from Australia, worked as a beauty therapist on one of Carnival’s large ships entitled Triumph. It set sail from Miami, yet after just three weeks Cherie’s life was turned upside down.

Cherie Scrivener
(Copyright: War On Want/ITF – Sweatships)

A door closed on her foot and severed her Achilles tendon. Instead of being helped by members of staff from the cruise ship, Cherie was bundled off the ship with only one change of clothes, $300 and a scrap piece of paper with information on about the nearest hospital. She’d been sacked.

You may think that this may just have been one isolated incident, however it is happening right now all over the world. So, what can we do to prevent such incidents from happening? Well…

1) Read more about sweatships by clicking here.

2) If you are going on a cruise, then make sure the company you go with recognises trade union organisations. Do this by writing to them.

3) If you are going on a cruise and see any injustices, take action!

4) Put pressure on cruise ship companies by writing to them. A downloadable letter can be printed off at the GlobalWorkplace website.

Every Click Helps!

24 03 2008

I realise that with many of my previous blog posts I have mentioned how we, as consumers, can do our part to reduce the exploitation in sweatshops that occurs all around the world, however in reality this may not be enough and instead of changing your shoppng habits it will merely be food for thought.

Even though I hope that many of you have started to atleast think about the ways in which your shopping routines can have consequences for others, I would also like to make you all aware of ways, that are free, in which you can help with this cause, simply at a click of a mouse; the website which allows you to do this is EveryClick.

(Copyright: EveryClick)

EveryClick is simply a search engine just like any other out there – Google, Yahoo etc: – however what makes its different is that through using it you can raise money for many different charities.

For those of you who have alarm bells ringing with the word ‘free,’ do not fret! Revenue is generated by advertisers who pay for sponsored listings within EveryClick’s search results and banner advertising, therefore the more people who use EveryClick, the more the advertisers’ listings are clicked and the more money is raised for charity.

Half of EveryClick’s revenue is allocated to charity each month.

You can even select the charities that you would like to raise money for, such as the ones I have already mentioned: ActionAid and War On Want.

If you would like to do your part, just like I have started doing, then sign-up by clicking here.

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.

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.