Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Burn Rubber

Little did Lance Armstrong know, when he first donned his yellow rubber “live strong” bracelet, that he was giving birth to a fad that would sweep the world. Now similar bracelets are everywhere, supporting every cause under the sun. I was at a grocery store the other day where they were selling wristbands in support of three different causes. Essentially these bracelets are a way of telling the world that you care. You care about cancer research or tsunami victims. You care about this or that missing child or person in need of a heart transplant. A buck a pop is a small price to pay for a little moral superiority.

Apparently there’s a white wristband out there that proclaims the wearer's desire to end poverty. The irony, however, is that these wristbands are manufactured in dreadful sweatshop-like conditions:

FASHIONABLE wristbands worn by pop stars, actors, top athletes and celebrities to publicise the Make Poverty History campaign are produced in appalling "slave labour" conditions, damning evidence has revealed.

Chinese factory workers producing the white rubber bracelets are forced to toil in conditions that violate Chinese law and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) set up to establish international standards for working conditions . . .

According to a report on the Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, dated 12 April 2005, the company uses "forced labour" by accepting "financial deposits" from new workers - against both Chinese law and the ETI.

The report also revealed a category of weaknesses including inadequate health and safety provision, lengthy hours, seven-day weeks, employees cheated of their pay, inadequate insurance, no annual holidays and no right to freedom of association.

Another audit at the Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company in Fujian province found workers were paid at below the local minimum hourly wage of 2.39 yuan (under 16p) and some as little as 1.39 yuan (9p).

An “anti-poverty activist” wearing one of these bands is the equivalent of a member of PETA who beats a fur coat wearer with a live mink, or an environmental crusader who drives around in a huge Lincoln and flys everywhere in a private jet (Arianna Huffington, cough, cough, nudge, nudge). The hypocrisy here is of the rankest variety.

Now, personally, I think the folks on the left are a little too hard on so-called sweatshops. The only thing the Third World (or, to use the politically correct term, “developing shithole”) has going for it in the competitive economic arena is the fact that its inhabitants are willing to work for less than the rest of us. If they didn’t have lousy low paying jobs they wouldn’t have any jobs at all. Even by my relatively lax standards however, “slave labor,” cheating employees on pay and denying them the right to freedom of association all seem to go waaay over the line. Tim Blair appears to be onto something when he asks, “how bad must working conditions be if they violate Chinese law?”

No comments: