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“Do you consider the Anti-Globalization movement to be justified in its critique of contemporary business practices?”
This essay will be considering wheather the anti-globalization movement is justified in criticizing current business practises such as the use of sweatshop labour. The essay will start by describing what the anti-globalization movement is, what issues it advocates and its historical origins. The essay will then consider the use of sweatshop labour by Multi National Corporations (MNCs) with regard to working practices, wages and use of child labour. The essay will then put forward the strongest argument for each practise mentioned above with evidence backing it. The essay will also make suggestions on what can be done to improve unjustified practises. The conclusion will give a general overview of the use of sweatshop labour.
The anti-globalization movement is defined as ‘a single social movement or an umbrella term that encompasses a number of separate social movements’ (Wikipedia 2007a). Some of the well known anti-globalization movements’ include Greenpeace, Friends of The Earth International, Oxfam and the International Forum on Globalization. The anti-globalization movement constituents “trade unionists, environmentalists, anarchists, land rights and indigenous rights activists, organizations promoting human rights and sustainable development, opponents of privatization, and anti-sweatshop campaigners. These groups charge that the policies of corporate globalization have exacerbated global poverty and increased inequality” (Share The World's Resources 2007).
Each movement has its own agenda which it promotes or seeks to highlight. The agendas’ of the different movements differ vastly ranging from feminism to environmentalism and from human rights to food safety. The different anti-globalization movements see globalization as a common threat and this is what unites them in the attempt to create a single unified movement against globalization.
The anti-globalization movement gained significant momentum after an ad-hoc coalition protest on the 50th anniversary of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which was celebrated in Madrid in October 1994. Protesters gathered outside the venue and protested under the banner “50 Years is Enough” showing their opposition against the two institutions’, which, according to the protesters, promote pro-globalization policies. The second protest was on an international scale. This saw protests organised in many cities simultaneously on June 18 1999 and became known as “J18”. The protest coincided with the 25th G8 summit at Göln, Germany. The protesters wanted to show unity against the Group of 8 Nations, which seeks to set international policies. The third major mobilization of the movement was against the World Trade Organization in Seattle on November 301999. The protest was well organised with preparations being made in advance. The protest delayed and disrupted the opening ceremony and also led to disturbances and riots. These protests set the benchmark in how to protest and campaign for the anti-globalization movement and in this way gave birth to the idea of holding large protests at the venue of international meetings.
Sweatshops can be defined as ‘a workplace that violates two or more of the most basic labour laws such as child labour, minimum wage, overtime, and fire and safety’ (Feminist Against Sweatshops 2003). MNCs such as New Balance (Shoemaker) and Gap Inc (Clothing Retailer) have changed their policies towards the use of sweatshop labour due to pressure from Campus Anti-Sweatshop groups (Wikipedia 2007a).
However, in a recent investigation by the Observer newspaper (Observer 2007) GAP Inc was identified as using child labour in India to manufacture its clothes even though in 2004 it introduced a ‘no child labour policy’. Other large MNCs that use sweatshop labour include Nike, Wal-Mart, and Walt Disney. Nike has capitulated to some of the demands of the anti-globalisation movement in recent times, although Wal-Mart and Walt Disney still continue to ignore these demands.
The first aspect with regards to sweatshop labour that I would like to comment on is the working conditions of those employed in sweetshops. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) magazine in December 2005 featured ‘Disney’s Children Books made in blood, sweat and tears.’ This directly referred to the working conditions in Walt Disney’s sweatshops’ in China. CCL refers to the fact that men and women are being forced to work 10 to 13 hours a day, six and seven days a week, working 60 to 90 hours a week producing Disney’s children books. In some factories women are even denied their legal maternity leave. Many workers are housed in sub- standard accommodation.
Naomi Klein’s book ‘no logo’ makes mention of the way workers employed by sweatshops are treated. According to Klein, young women aged between roughly 14-24 have to choose between their work or their sexuality. Meaning that these young women are denied maternity leave and other rights associated with the conception and birth of a child. This is an awful choice to make but a choice which these young women have to make all the same. According to Klein, these young women most times initiate procedures to terminate the child so as to maintain their employment.
A recent newsletter by Sweat Watch (Sweatshop Watch 2007) sought to highlight the working conditions in sweatshops. This newsletter states ‘Over 150 garment workers in Bangladesh have died and hundreds more were injured in factory disasters since 2005 that involved fires, blocked exists, and building collapses’. These poor working conditions are not acceptable and in many countries these practises are illegal. The MNCs have a responsibility to these workers even though they do not employ them directly. It is very disturbing to know that even though many of these MNCs know of such practises they ignore what happens. If these MNCs had the same working conditions mentioned above in western factories, then the local population would be would be outraged and most likely, it would adversely affect the image of MNCs. As this problem is not closer to home the MNCs conduct is not subject to closer scrutiny.
In the case of working conditions, the criticism is well deserved and the anti-globalist movement is justified in criticising it. The MNCs need to disclose the locations of their sub-contractors and implement internal/external monitoring systems. MNCs should also implement their codes of conduct in these sweatshops or even implement a corporate social responsibility approach to their business practises.
The second aspect, which I would like to consider is the wages sweatshop workers receive. Many of today’s MNCs are setting up businesses where the cost of operation is low. This enables them to maximise profits. Due to MNCs profit maximization strategy, which is designed to keep costs as low as possible MNCs are paying workers in the developing world as little as possible. These MNCs pay little to the workforce but make huge profits from the items that the workforce has produced. This has lead to a huge inequality of wealth between the two hemispheres as most of the profits go to the northern hemisphere where the MNCs are based.
An investigation by the Guardian (2007) found that workers in Bangalore who supply Matalan and Mothercare ‘were paid as little as 13p an hour for a 48-hour week, wages so low they sometimes had to rely on a government food parcel’. It is claimed by the Guardian (2007) investigation that these two MNCs are failing to accept the need for overseas garment workers to be paid a "living wage" by their suppliers. That has meant that many sweatshop workers remain in a perpetual state of poverty. Noreena Hertz suggests in her book The Silent Take Over (2002) that the “rich are getting richer whilst the poor are getting poorer”. This may be because MNCs are paying workers in sweatshops just enough to survive but not enough to escape from a poverty stricken lifestyle.
The criticism towards the low wages is justified to a certain extent. In the example given in the Guardian (2007) investigation it was justified. Hilton and Gibbons (2002) has suggested that some sweatshops jobs are highly paid compared to rural agriculture jobs, which exist in many developing countries. The MNCs need to make sure that the level of pay at minimum meets the countries minimum wage level. The MNCs need also to allow workers to form unions so that employees can take their problems to the union.
The last aspect, which I would like to look at, is the use of child labour in sweatshops. The International Labour Organization (Sweatshop Alert 2005) estimates that every one out of six children in the world today is involved in child labour. MNCs sub-contract firms use child labour children as they have small hands and eyesight undamaged by years of labour, making them more desirable than adults for certain kind of work. Children are also more obedient and cheaper then adult workers (Canadian Labour Congress 2007). The CLC also said ‘On July 2005, 12 activists conducted a raid to free children in a carpet loom in northern India. These young children had been lured or forcibly taken from their home villages to weave rugs for long gruelling hours each day’. This kind of practise by MNC sub-contractors is unreasonable and needs to stop immediately. If these MNCs see that employing children in the western countries is wrong, they should not use a double policy standard towards the developing world. A study by ILO (Canadian Labour Congress 2007) has shown that the economic benefits of eliminating child labour will be nearly seven times greater than the costs. However, it is still a well-known fact that the wealth of many MNCs is strengthened by exploiting the rights of children in poor countries.
The anti-globalist movement is justified in criticising the use of child labour in sweatshops it needs to stop, but it is not as simple as this. This practise intertwines with the low wages MNCs pay to adult workers this means the adults send their children to work to supplement their the families earnings. Adult’s workers need to be paid more so instead of making their children work they can send them to school.
In conclusion one could mention various points to look at. Firstly, why do western companies outsource to developing countries? Secondly, do these companies impose punitive working conditions on their employees? And thirdly, would the absence of western owned sweatshops be detrimental to the local economy or prospects of the local inhabitants?
The reason western companies outsource to third world countries is because costs and wages are lower. Also labour law may be more relaxed and more in favour of the employer rather that the employee. The second question regarding whether MNCs impose punitive working conditions on their workers merits some consideration. As research has shown these countries (where MNCs outsource to) have a near non existent labour policy and this allows MNCs to pay their workers very low wages and also means that working conditions are very dangerous and a very real hazard to health and safety. The final question of whether the absence of western owned sweatshops would be detrimental to the local economy or prospects of the local inhabitants is very difficult to answer. The truth is that the MNCs do create opportunities for the local people and do in a septic fashion further the local economy. The cost to human life and the quality of that existence is irrelevant to the MNCs.
After considering all the arguments produced for and against sweatshops in regards to working condition, wages and child labour the conclusion has been reached that most of the criticism toward the use of sweatshops in current conditions is justified. Practises such a making a young women chose between having a child or keeping her job is not civilised, paying workers disgustingly low wages is not civilised, it is not civilised preventing workers from forming unions. Yet this is the reality and the daily experience of those employed in sweatshops.
Changes and improvements in working conditions can be introduced through the suggestion made through the essay. If these suggestions are applied they should lead to improved wages for the workers, better working conditions and more rights for employees. It is morally indefensible that western owned MNCs allow working conditions in eastern sweatshops which would be illegal in most western countries. The MNC thus promote the idea (whether indirectly or directly is debatable) that the citizens of the west are more important than the citizens of countries where sweatshops are based.
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