Child labor in Bangladesh sweatshops

This iconic photo is from a sweatshop worker’s strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh in June 2010. Police used tear gas, truncheons, & water cannons against mostly women & child workers demanding back pay & an immediate increase in monthly wages. At that time, garment workers had no minimum wage standard & were paid below the World Bank poverty standard of $1.25 a day–when they were paid. In US dollars they received $21.45 a month; in Bangladesh taka that is 1662.50 & in Euros about €17. No matter which currency you use it all comes out to chump change.

There had been labor conflict for several weeks prior to this strike but on this day workers erected barricades, pelted cops with rocks, & attacked cars. Police described the fighting as the worst yet seen & may explain why riot cops now show up at labor protests with rubber bullets. They might want to brace themselves for the labor tsunami erupting among sweatshop workers in Bangladesh & elsewhere.

This photo is posted for those apologists who want to let the Bangladesh government off the hook for it’s culpability protecting sweatshop manufacturing. May the struggles of sweatshop workers around the world inspire us in the historic task of socially transforming labor & ridding this beautiful planet of all exploitation. May these child workers of Dhaka lead the way in ending the abomination of child labor.

(Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweatshop workers commemorate first anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh

This is the face of sweatshop capitalism. This woman is grieving today on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh which killed 1,138 garment workers & injured 2,515, including dismemberment & permanent disability (though not the severe psychological trauma). The over 300 bodies that could not be identified were simply dumped in mass graves by the government & are no longer even mentioned in crime statistics.

The building collapse, coming amidst a wave of garment factory fires which killed hundreds of workers, set off massive labor protests in Bangladesh. Some of these were attacked by riot cops using rubber bullets.

In many retrospectives on the disaster, commentators eschew political analysis & resort to homiletics saying the factory owners, retailers, & Bangladesh government can’t be held to account because the real culprit is consumer demand for cheap clothing. Such commentators should abandon political journalism & join the ministry; this kind of pathetic analysis does nothing but alibi sweatshop capitalism. There is no moral culpability whatsoever in wanting affordable clothes but there is every culpability in hiring children & young women at chicken-feed wages to work in hazardous conditions to pump out clothes at breakneck speed for retailers raking in estimated annual revenues of between $500 million & $2 trillion.

After an initial PR flurry of retailer concern, all US retailers & most other international brands completely turned their backs on families who had lost family members (often the only breadwinners for extended families), on those now permanently disabled & unable to work, & on those still unable to claim the remains of their deceased family members. Meetings were called, safety agreements were flaunted for the media, promises for compensation were made, human rights groups stood chiding in a chorus. Nothing was done.

At one point, a $40 million compensation fund was announced to aid the hundreds of families now financially adrift. This was proclaimed a landmark in terms of the amount to be paid families & the sophistication of the arrangements. The problem is retailers refuse to contribute to the fund so it still falls far short of $40 million. The figure floated for compensation to each family is $25,000. To make this appear largesse rather than a slap in the face, media reports are quick to point out that per capita income in Bangladesh is $1,900 a year. They omit to mention that for garment workers, per capita income is less than $500 a year. As for those sophisticated arrangements, it means families will be paid in installments “to ensure families will have a steady source of income for years to come.” Are they too stupid to handle their own money? Is $25,000 the value of human life in Bangladesh? Because no matter how you shake that compensation out, it’s all a slap in the face to those who lost their beloved & isn’t enough to pull a single family out of poverty.

To date, one year after the criminal catastrophe, almost no compensation has been paid out, not a single retailer has been charged with a crime, working conditions have not improved for garment workers, & the sweatshop industry is on a media PR blitz to recover its reputation. But sweatshop workers in Bangladesh & Cambodia are leading the campaign against sweatshop manufacturing & we must do everything in our power to render solidarity & support for their campaigns. This grieving woman is among thousands of people affected by the Rana collapse protesting today, some attired in funeral shrouds, at the site of the now-infamous Rana Plaza factory complex.

We offer our deepest sympathies to those who lost their beloved in Rana Plaza & in all the other factory fires & pledge to do our utmost to support them by exposing & putting pressure on retailers. No human life is worth a paltry $25,000 bucks; there is no amount worthy but only achieving justice & the end of sweatshop manufacturing.

(Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

Filipino antiwar movement protests Obama’s visit & US plans to militarize the Philippines

Obama is touring Asian countries this week as part of military negotiations over what US politicians & media call a US “pivot” toward Asia. This so-called pivot is a strategic military shift involving a massive build-up in the region with land troops, air bases, & ship docking facilities. Obama will be visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia on this trip but Australia & other countries are also implicated in this pivot to a more bellicose stance in the region. He isn’t scheduled to arrive in Manila, Philippines until next Monday to negotiate an agreement allowing extensive access for US troops, ships, & planes but the Filipino antiwar movement wanted to give him an early bum’s rush.

A rally today at the US embassy in Manila by the Filipino antiwar movement is making headlines as part of several protests against Obama’s visit & against US military presence in their country. Media reports try to downplay the importance of these protests by saying it was only about 100 left-wing activists. That doesn’t explain why riot cops showed up full force with truncheons, shields, & water hoses to back down a mere 100 people–that is, if they count left-wingers as people.

Many in the US claim there is no antiwar movement here. Certainly compared to previous wars, it is a weak & paltry one; that can’t be argued. But that is no reason to sit on our asses, rueing the failure of people to mobilize against the war. There are small actions all over the country by committed activists who stand their ground even if it’s with just a handful of others. Stop the rueing, grab a placard, & join them. Bellyaching doesn’t change the world; action does.

We laud our Filipino counterparts & express our deepest respect & solidarity. And hats off to their wonderful placards demanding no US military presence in their country.

(Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP)

Earth Day 2014 looks more like Armageddon

Earth Day 2014 is looking more like Armageddon. This scene in Gauhati, India is repeated in every country around the world where tons & entire mountains of dead animals, decaying food, animal & human poop, rotting unmentionables like diapers & sanitary napkins, & heavens knows what else, is dumped in the vicinity of slums. Not only are residents expected to pick through this crap for recyclables to sell but they are subject to all sorts of respiratory, infectious, & dermatological diseases. It’s called neoliberal waste management. For those who like to call a spade a spade, it’s called barbarism.

The Greater Adjutant Stork flying overhead & competing with the woman scavenging for recyclables was once common all over Asia but is now endangered. Some speculate that’s due to greater sanitation since they favor dead things & excreta. That’s the least likely explanation since they could well be the mascots of neoliberal waste management. Unless we do something quick to rid this planet of plunder, these storks are likely to outlive the human race.

(Photo by Anupam Nath/AP)

The Girl Effect & the eugenics movement

In the abortion rights movement of the 1960s & 1970s, feminists needed to disassociate from population control organizations with a eugenics agenda. This issue was particularly important because forced sterilization of Black, Latino, & Native American women was so rampant a problem & included population control programs in US colonies & other countries. As an example, it was determined at that time that over 30% of Puerto Rican women had been sterilized without their knowledge or consent. The original demand put forward by the feminist movement was for abortion rights & an end to forced sterilization–a demand which cleaved any possible entente cordiale between feminists & eugenics proponents.

The women’s movement was soon corraled into the Democratic Party by leaders like Betty Friedan & Gloria Steinem but the well-financed population control/eugenics groups continued to thrive without the pedagogical & political impediments of women’s rights. These groups, however, learned something from their accidental association with feminism & that is to mask their racist, ethnic cleansing agenda in the political rhetoric of feminism–in the same way the US masks its colonial wars of plunder in the rhetoric of Islamophobia & feminism.

One of the best examples of this fraudulent political posturing is the group called The Girl Effect, an organization that has roped in many under the guise of championing the political interests of young women. The Girl Effect is funded primarily by the Nike Foundation, NoVo Foundation (Warren Buffett’s family foundation), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Rescue Committee (Kissinger’s foundation), & all of the major organizational players in the eugenics movement. The financial & political forces behind The Girl Effect are a regular “Who’s Who” in eugenics today.

Nike, the chief promoter of The Girl Effect, is also one of the oldest operators in sweatshop capitalism, leading the way in exploiting female & child labor. It would not be over the top to state that the foundation is funded by the super-exploitation of young girls & children & that their vested interest in getting them sterilized is to have a more controllable workforce not requiring pregnancy leaves.

Those who support reproductive rights but oppose racist ethnic cleansing need to vet the groups that promote racist eugenics under the guise of feminism & disassociate from their nefarious & repugnant agenda.

(Photo is logo of The Girl Effect)