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US Embargo Against NZ Sweatshops

Import News from the Importers Institute

29 July 2000 - US Embargo Against NZ Sweatshops

American universities have begun boycotting imports from sweatshop countries - including New Zealand. No kidding.

You can just imagine the scene: The young, fervent idealists arrive in the hall at dusk, after a hard day's work on campus. The co-leader leads them in a rousing rendition of the Internationale then, suitably energised with sympathy for the oppressed workers of the world, they get straight down to business.

Sophie "Che" Smith leads: "Comrades, the motion is that American colleges stop importing baseball caps from sweatshop countries, including Bangladesh, New Zealand and Ecuador. All those in favour raise a clenched fist."

"Point of order, Madam co-chair," Budd "Engels" Brown interjects. "New Zealand? Are you quite sure that is a sweatshop country? Dad took me on a skiing trip to Queenstown last year and it sure didn't look that way to me!"

"Ah, appearances can be quite deceptive" Sophie replies. "According to our comrades in the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, their labour laws do not comply with the relevant protocols of the International Labour Organisation. So we must boycott goods made in New Zealand factories to show our solidarity."

And so they did. I swear I am not making this up - well, perhaps I have used a bit of literary licence. However, in April this year, the University of Notre Dame banned the manufacture of its goods under licence in sweatshop countries, including New Zealand, and the campaign is spreading to other American universities (see http://www.reason.com/0007/co.wo.look.html).

Needless to say, not every American is convinced. According to the author of the article, New Zealand's labour laws are neither to the left nor the right of American laws. "Kiwi employers are less constrained than American ones in some respects, more so in many others," he writes. "For example, official tribunals can order New Zealand employers to reinstate fired workers, a system without exact parallel here."

So rare are sweatshops in New Zealand, he says, that the discovery of just one caused an outpouring of national angst.

"The case caused a sensation in the Kiwi press in part because it fed into ongoing anguish about the country's perceived Americanization: You think this sort of thing goes on only in Los Angeles, and now it has come here! And indeed, The American Prospect tells us that L.A. alone has more than 160,000 sweatshop workers."

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