Video | Agriculture | Confidence | Economy | Energy | Employment | Finance | Media | Property | RBNZ | Science | SOEs | Tax | Technology | Telecoms | Tourism | Transport | Search

 

Free Trade Shame


Free Trade Shame

“I am ashamed any one in the world has to work under these conditions,” says Christian World Service (CWS) Projects Coordinator Elizabeth Mackie, returning from a visit to the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka where thousands of young women are trapped into exploitative, unsafe and poorly paid work.

As New Zealand enters talks with China over a new Free Trade agreement, CWS is calling for the government to look at the ‘facts on the ground’ in free trade zones in Asia. Such zones are havens for exploitation and human rights abuses of the world’s poor. “If we enter these agreements knowing how bad the situation is for workers, we are paying too high a price for our cheap imports,” says Elizabeth Mackie. “We cannot just ignore the plight of the poor forced to work in such awful conditions”.

In Sri Lanka’s free trade zone, some factories have been forced to improve working conditions in response to pressure from European Union markets and international calls to allow unions and workers rights. They have been surprised to find they can look after their workers and still make a profit.

For the majority of the Free Trade Zone workers around Colombo, however, appalling living and working conditions remain the norm. Elizabeth Mackie heard first hand accounts of the horrors young Sri Lankan women endure as they try to earn a basic living and extra support for their families. “Women are often working 10 hour shifts, six days a week and still remain below the international poverty line. They earn less than $1US a day.”

It is not just the poor pay that is a problem. “The factories think they have total control of the workers’ pay. In one case, the factory management wanted to dock the women’s wages to pay for the company’s electricity bill,” she says. Women can lose one seventh of their monthly pay for missing part of a day’s work and two sevenths of a month’s pay for making a production error. “These women have to borrow money for their food and accommodation. At the end of the month, if their pay has been docked they can’t pay their debts. They become trapped in a poverty cycle”. The workers are often given no explanation for the deductions in their pay and it can be dangerous to ask questions. “One woman was dismissed after a spotless record of 17 years with the factory. When she went to ask why, she was beaten by security guards and had to be hospitalised.”

Sexual violence and harassment, intimidation, long hours, workplace injuries, unfair dismissals, refusal to allow medical treatment, illegal bans on unions, and compulsory unpaid overtime are usual practice as young women are exploited to earn handsome profits for the transnational companies given tax breaks and other incentives to set up shop in Sri Lanka.

CWS is supporting the workers in the free trade zones in their efforts to improve their working and living conditions and is campaigning for fairer international trade rules that ensure everyone has food, water, health, education and a safe, fair livelihood.

Christian World Service is the Development, Justice and Aid Agency of the
Conference of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 


Commerce Commission: Appeals Record $2.25m Fine In Vodafone FibreX Case

The Commerce Commission has filed an appeal in the High Court against a record $2.25 million fine imposed on Vodafone NZ Limited (Vodafone) for its offending under the Fair Trading Act during its FibreX advertising campaign. While the sentence imposed in the Auckland District Court on April 14 was the largest-ever fine under the Fair Trading Act, the Commission will argue that it is manifestly inadequate... More>>



All District Health Boards: Historic Pay Equity Settlement

An historic agreement has been ratified that addresses a long-standing undervaluation of a workforce that is critical to the smooth running of our hospitals and the delivery of healthcare... More>>


MPI: Dry Autumn In Waikato And South Auckland Leads To Drought Classification Drought conditions affecting the primary sector in the Waikato and South Auckland were today classified as a medium-scale adverse event, enabling a package of support for farmers and growers... More>>


Barfoot & Thompson: Rents Up By Around 3% In Most Areas

The average weekly rent paid for homes in most areas of Auckland has risen by around 3 percent year-on-year. The figures for end March from more than 16,000 properties... More>>


DoC: Smeagol The ‘Gravel Maggot’ Leaves Its Rare Mark On The Remote West Coast
An extremely rare species of sea slug or ‘gravel maggot’ has been detected for the first time on a remote beach in South Westland... More>>



Immigration: Annual Net Migration Loss Of 7,300

The provisional net loss of 7,300 people in the year ended March 2022 was the lowest net migration for a March year since 2012, Stats NZ said today... More>>