Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Howard's End: Tears Not Included

As the New Zealand Government pushes for even more free-trade deals and you watch your kids and grand-kids open their Christmas presents later this month, spare a thought for the millions of people around the world, including stateless refugees without papers, who might have made those presents you so lovingly chose. Maree Howard.

It's time to remind New Zealanders, the pro-free-trade media and political free-trade policy wonks, that many nations we import goods from still have abysmal factory conditions like the kind we abolished early last century.

"The workers still live in unhealthy and overcrowded dormitories and only have a bed where they can store their meagre belongings," says a recent report about China issued by the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Centre.

Worse, the report says many of the factories are owned by Government companies subcontracting to Western firms.

The Centre said its operatives interviewed employees - mostly women aged 17-25 - in dozens of Chinese factories, mostly in the Guangdong province, home to 6,000 factories that employ millions of workers.

Most of the toys for the West are produced there, the report says.

China enjoys preferential trade status with the U.S. and has recently become a member of the World Trade Organisation. (WTO)

Workers are required to put in 16 hour days for six, sometimes seven, days a week and are being paid the equivalent of $NZD100 a month.

The Centre's report said after the women, "leave their village, they can only continue to live in the city because of the contract with their employer who, at times, confiscates their papers to prevent them from leaving. As soon as they reach age 25, they are considered too old to work and are discarded. They often turn to prostitution so as not to return to their birthplace, where they are no longer respected."

Due to preferential trade treatment and free-trade agreements between countries, including New Zealand, the abuse is set to continue unabated.

The political lowering of trade barriers, without human rights abuses being addressed, has seen an explosion of low-cost manufacturing centres in Asia and Latin America meaning cheap goods wield much more influence with politicians, voters and policymakers than the rights and conditions of workers half a world away.

Some international labour experts are not surprised by the lack of interest or concern by Western politicians over the abusive treatment of workers.

"With the globalisation of the international economy, many multinational corporations have chosen to shift their manufacturing base to countries which, like China, offer low wages, weak labour laws and suppression of human rights and conditions," says an analysis by the International Labour Rights Fund.

"Working two or three hours overtime on a normal workday, with only two days off every month is not uncommon," says sociologist Anita Chan, who has conducted research in footwear factories in China and who also documented practices of bonded labour, corporal punishment and hazardous health and safety conditions.

The abuse of Chinese workers is further detailed in a new book, "China's Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labour in a Globalising Economy," published by Asia Monitor Resource Centre.

The authors debunk, "the conventional wisdom that workers are thriving because the economy is thriving."

Despite an appalling record of working conditions and human rights abuses where workers have no voice in the political system, China was still admitted to the WTO.

"Multinational corporations are likely to shift even more production there, which in turn will lead other developing nations to weaken their worker-protection laws to avoid losing market-share to China," warned AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a statement on 15 November 2001.

At its meeting at Qatar last month, the 142 nation WTO, "rejected extremely reasonable and moderate proposals to cooperate with the International Labour Organisation in a substantive dialogue on workers' rights," Sweeney said.

Poor working conditions in global factories, and a lack of human rights, are not new. Many other groups have documented worker abuse and working conditions long considered appalling by the West.

Despite repeated documentation of poor working conditions throughout Asia and Latin America, and one could add Japan and Europe, policymakers and Parliaments are still pushing for more free trade of the kind which would allow even more companies to set up shop in human rights abusing countries thus enlarging trade deficits and doing little to protect the rights of abused workers.

President Bush said earlier this year "Open trade is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative." But morals have got nothing to do with it because for too many years the words of politicians rarely match the deeds.

And if the Kyoto Protocol on climate change takes hold in the developed world more Western companies, including American who have discarded Kyoto, are still likely to make the move to countries like China, India and Mexico who are not subjected to the regulations regime and also offer the cheap labour.

If New Zealand politicians were genuine and serious about factory human rights abuses across the globe, then it would be a simple matter to implement controls at our border which would insist on a declaration about country of origin and that each imported product was fairly produced.

As millions of children in the West prepare to open billions of dollars worth of Christmas presents later this month, somewhere else, another tear will fall.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...
More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>