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Getting rich on the sweat of third world workers

14 September, 2004

Getting rich on the sweat of third world workers

Green Party Co-leader, Rod Donald is accusing one of New Zealand's top retail chains of growing rich off the sweat of underpaid Thai clothing workers.

Mr Donald is currently hosting Thai labour organiser and former sweatshop worker, Sripai Nonsee on a speaking tour of New Zealand. During a fact-finding visit to a Rebel Sports store in Christchurch, Ms Nonsee spotted a range of Nike-brand jackets made at the Bangkok sweatshop where she used to work before being sacked for trying to help workers negotiate better wages and conditions.

"Rebel is selling the Nike jacket for $159.99," said Mr Donald, the Green Trade spokesperson. "Workers like Sripai are paid 78 cents an hour for making it. She says this jacket would take less than two hours to make."

"I understand how businesses work and that investors have to make profits but I didn't expect that the profit would be so high," Sripai said, through an interpreter. She calculated that the sweatshop worker who made the Nike jacket for sale at Rebel Sports would have to work for 205 hours in order to buy it.

Sripai understands that Par Garments, her former employer, would have been paid about $46 for producing the jacket, only a fraction of which would have been paid to the workers who made it.

Mr Donald noted that Rebel Sports is part of the Briscoes Group, which made a profit of $23.6 million last year, after tax, while Nike, the world's largest maker of athletic apparel, made an after-tax profit of US$945 million.

"I'm not against shareholders making a profit but I object to them getting rich because third world workers are being exploited.

"I would like to ask Rod Duke, who owns 75 per cent of Briscoes, how comfortable he feels about building his empire on the backs of sweatshop workers like Sripai.

"The other tragedy is that New Zealand's once-vibrant textile, clothing and footwear sector has been sold down the river by successive government's erosion of tariff protection, with the closure of dozens of businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs.

"The free trade agreement with Thailand now under negotiation would not only kill-off more local companies, it will do nothing to ease the misery of Thailand's sweatshop workers. What it will almost certainly do is make more money for the owners of Nike, Briscoes and Par Garments."


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