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Worldwide trend in Sweatshops hits New Zealand

FAIR New Zealand, a group involved with consumerism, human rights and sustainability, is concerned about the recent sweatshop incident in West Auckland. FAIR makes the connection between cheap consumer goods, overt marketing to increase demand, and the rise of sweatshops in countries like New Zealand.

FAIR spokesperson Stuart Sontier says “it is apparent that tariff reductions and other policies which have caused a flood of cheaply produced foreign items from countries with low wages and poor environmental laws, are causing a flow on effect, transferring those unacceptable conditions to New Zealand.”

We are confused and concerned that when the first reports of the West Auckland sweatshop case came to light a month ago, the Department of Labour were quick to announce that this was not wide spread in New Zealand. At the time, FAIR expressed bemusement that they would even know the extent of NZ sweatshops, and wondered why they would be so quick to minimise what seems to be a larger problem.

For some years FAIR has been aware of a rise in sweatshops in developing countries and more recently has heard of their reappearance in developed countries.

Examples in developing countries of unfair and unliveable wages, docking of pay, unsafe workplaces, virtual enslavement and worse have become frequent news items in human rights organisation reports. These have risen, or at least become more apparent now that much manufacturing of western goods is done in countries such as Indonesia, China, Pakistan and Vietnam.

It is just as concerning that the lowering of wages gained by moving to cheap labour countries seems to be creating a ‘race to the bottom’ of wage rates in Western countries, as was predicted by opponents of the religion of free trade.

We are aware of many examples of US sweatshops. Many of these are in the apparel industry, but recent stories indicate that illegal low paid US workers are used in the boomtown of Silicon Valley, to produce high tech electronics for the computer industry.

Another recent story outlined illegal outworker operations in Australia with workers earning less than $2 per hour.

Now we have a clear example of a similar practice in New Zealand, and the indication that there are many more of a similar nature.

The government in its headlong, unconsidered dive into tariff reduction and free trade was warned about sweatshops. The race to the bottom in both wages and environment standards as a consequence of competing with low wage countries was also predicted.

It seems that now we are seeing who was right in those predictions, and despairingly, it is people already marginalised who are suffering.


FAIR, as part of its interest in waste, consumerism and sustainability organises International Buy Nothing Day in Auckland. Buy Nothing Day is on the last Friday of November this year the 26th.

FAIR CONTACT:
Stuart Sontier ph (09) 620 6018
Email: stu@ihug.co.nz

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