Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Exploitation of workers

It was Karl Marx (1818-1883) who first noted that if a rich minority owned the farmland, factories and other means of production that the majority needed to use in their working for a living, then the rich would tend to increase their own wealth by paying poverty wages to the majority working for them. This worker exploitation poverty has certainly affected some societies.
An additional aspect of worker exploitation poverty also noted by Karl Marx is the exploitation by rich countries of poor countries. So governments and business in Europe and America often pay poverty prices for goods or services produced for them by poor countries in Asia and other regions. This may help reduce poverty in the rich countries, possibly only by increasing poverty in poor countries? http://world-poverty.org/exploitationpoverty.aspx

My presentation examines the exploitation of workers in poor countries by rich countries. The example I have drawn from is the manufacturing of clothes. 60% of clothing is made in developing countries, with China producing 13% of the Global supply.
These clothes could not be produced, distributed and consumed without being part of a bigger interconnected network. It is large companies in Western countries that are contracting factories in these developing countries. They claim that they are not directly culpable for the running of the sweatshops, but they are contributing to exploitative labour practises.

Employees of factories making clothes for George at Asda, Tesco and Primark said their wages were so low that, despite working up to 84-hour weeks, they struggled to provide for their families. There were also reports of physical and verbal abuse by supervisors and of workers being sacked for taking sick leave. All three retailers have signed up to the Ethical Trade Initiative, a voluntary code of conduct which sets out basic rights for employees, including a working week of no more 48 hours, voluntary overtime not exceeding 12 hours a week, and payment of a "living wage". They say they are doing their best to improve workers' rights. However, one factory owner told the Guardian buyers gave him little choice but to keep wages low. He said: "Buyers who come to Bangladesh tell us, 'we are businessmen, we want to make money. If we see cheaper prices in China we will go there'."
Take the case of South Korea and Taiwan as an example, in the 1970’s, these two countries gained new freedom and wages began to rise, so the companies headed to greener pastures and found them in Indonesia, China and most recently Vietnam. Countries were protective laws are poorly enforced and cheap labour is abundant. www.laborrights.org/creating-a-sweatfree-world/walmart-campaign/news/11274

Another example of a company exploiting workers in these factories is Nike, they say they are not responsible for the conditions in the factories or the wages because they are in the business of marketing shoes, not making them, but Nike dictates the terms to the contractor, the design, the materials and the price. Companies like Nike have tried to avoid responsibility for factory conditions by saying they were ‘just the buyer’. The anti-sweatshop movement has made this excuse unacceptable and forced the retailers, who are after all, the ones who make the biggest profit, to take responsibility for the workers who make their product.
They have made attempts to change the situation due to public pressure. In 1999 Nike raised wages for Indonesian factory workers but it was still a far cry from a living wage. Nike still has a long way to go to meet anti-sweatshop movements, there is a call for companies to pay a living wage, allow independent monitoring in all factories and ensure that workers have the right to organize into independent unions.

Countless reports show the overseas workers to be underpaid, malnourished, and often physically and emotionally abused. Although Nike contends that they are paying above Indonesian minimum wage, the $2.36 a day workers earn is not even enough to buy three simple meals, estimated at $2.10. That's not even considering the minimum $6.00 a month rent, clothing, and hygienic products every worker needs. These miserable working conditions and exploitative wages seem especially shocking considering that Nike is one of the richest corporations in the world. http://www.nikewages.org./ http://spot.colorado.edu/shortk/nike.html

Stop Western multinationals and companies exploiting third world countries' workers. War on want is the main organization fighting poverty in developing countries; they campaign for human rights and against the causes of poverty, inequality and injustice.
Every day, Western multinationals and companies relocate to poor countries in Africa and Asia, looking for easy profits, preying on desperate workers and offering them miserly wages.
In the time it takes an unknowing consumer to buy a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (say, an hour), Primark will have paid one of its Bangladeshi workers 5p for an hour of their time to produce these clothes. And that 5p doesn't go very far; most will struggle to afford basic things like food and shelter despite many working 80 hours a week. www.waronwant.org/about-us

On the other hand though, there are many different points to consider when deciding how bad sweatshops really are. In an ideal situation, companies would pay employees a liveable wage and meet the standard regulations in the workplace. My argument is not to abolish sweatshops but change the way in which they’re run and the pay of the employees.

If we raise the cost too much, then we risk driving out sweatshops all together.
Sweatshops give millions the standard of living they could have never had otherwise. They could help economic growth, and bring countries out of poverty. www.help.com/post/sweatshops

So what do we do? Do we boycott these stores and run the risk of abolishing sweatshops, or do we campaign for higher wages and better working conditions in the factories? I suggest we campaign.

Sweatshops create work and they are sometimes a much better option than other jobs available or no job at all. The only thing that angers the anti-sweatshops campaigners and myself is the fact that, these workers are not getting a wage they could live on, work long hard hours, are not treated well verbally and physically and many are not allowed to form a Union, all because a corporation that is worth billions (and can afford to pay higher wages) wants to make more money.

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