Leo W. Gerard, the president of the United Steelworkers International has a piece on the HuffPo:
In this struggle, it is crucial to understand that so-called free trade isn’t some lofty capitalist ideal. The U.S. engages in “free trade” with the Chinese because they hold $1 trillion in debt over our heads, an obligation they know we can’t pay. We shrink in fear of them. They’re world class bullies. They can do whatever they please. And they do. They violate international trade laws by which we abide. That’s why their stuff is so cheap. The one factor on which the price difference always is blamed — labor costs — is only the tiniest fraction of it.
Labor violations are part of the cheating. The National Labor Committee and others, including reporters from the New York Times, have documented exploitation of Chinese workers that can only be described as modern slavery. We stand in solidarity with these workers and condemn these atrocities that include very young teenagers kept in locked buildings with caged windows where they are forced to labor 14-hour shifts under grueling conditions, but find it impossible to make money or to amass the “exit fee” required to leave. They include children, women, and occasionally men kidnapped and forced to work in brick kilns, coal mines, and sweatshops in the Chinese hinterlands, with no payment other than gruel and a sleeping mat. When Chinese companies treat humans this way, they realize a competitive advantage over American firms that routinely obey humanitarian laws.
China is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to work and live because corporations fail to provide safety equipment for workers, such as dust control devices, and refuse to protect the environment with pollution control equipment. Both practices are profitable for Chinese corporations, particularly when competing with U.S. firms, which must abide by environmental and worker health and safety regulations.
Much more significant, however, are other deliberate Chinese interventions in the market, such as the undervaluation of its currency, subsidization of its manufacturing, counterfeiting, forced transfer of American technology, and refusal to give American companies access to Chinese markets with licensing restrictions, complex regulations and local content rules.
China gives breaks to manufacturers on land, rent, energy and water. Manufacturers may receive bank “loans” they know they’re not required to repay. China also exempts certain industries from income taxes and gives tax rebates on exports.
China’s deliberate currency undervaluation works as a subsidy as well. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission explains it this way: “China’s undervalued currency encourages undervalued Chinese exports to the U.S. and discourages U.S. exports because U.S. exports are artificially overvalued. As a result, undervalued Chinese exports have been highly disruptive to the U.S.”
China cheats. Free trade is a myth. The American worker doesn’t need special treatment. We’re the most productive in the world. We just seek fair competition. We want fair trade. The USW wants trade rules enforced.
“I promise I’m not trying to make everyone feel guilty about everything they buy, but i think it’s important to know the origins of the products we consume,” a blogger by the name of Constance writes apologetically in her blog after receiving an e-mail from Not for Sale.
The e-mail read, in part:
Did you know…. 70% of the world’s chocolate is produced in West Africa, where an estimated 12,000 children are currently in slavery. That’s right, over two-thirds of all of the chocolate we consume every day. Without a screening process that ensures child and/or forced labor was not used, we have no guarantee that the chocolate we buy is not promoting modern slavery. So, what can you do?
With Valentine’s day around the corner, this is a good opportunity to discuss options:
Equal Exchange offers tea, coffee, chocolate and other snacks.
Theo offers chocolate, confections, coffee–with vegan options.
For the hardcore dark chocolate lovers, TCHO offers a variety of Valentine-focused gifts and samplers of their painstakingly made fair-trade chocolate.
Last but not least, Made by Survivors is a store run by The Emancipation Network that sells products made by survivors of slavery, the proceeds of which go to helping the organization continue to free those who still live in slavery.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Buy Fair.
Cassandra Clifford at the Foreign Policy blogs has a post about fair trade candy alternatives for this Halloween!
The Cocoa industry often traffics children to work as slaves, according to UNICEF (The United Nation’s Children’s Fund), 200,000 children in West Africa alone, are living in conditions of forced labor and slavery on cocoa farms. By supporting companies who do not profit from labor servitude you not only ensure that you are purchasing free and fair goods, but are one step closer to helping to end modern slavery. Fair Trade Trick or Treating will allow you to not only do the ‘right thing’, but also give you an opportunity to educate others, especially children, about human rights issues, such as child labor and modern slavery.
She also mentions the Global Exchange’s reverse Trick-or-Treating campaign, an effort where kids go door to door to give out fair trade candies. Go to their site for more information about how to get the free treats for distribution.
Marketwatch reports that a group of 215 Pepperdine University students have come together to raise public awareness and funds for victims of modern day slavery through the Life Mission Fashion Show and Concert to be held Sunday, November 2, 2008, at 2:00 PM at Pepperdine’s Alumni Park in Malibu, California.
The event will feature a fashion show showcasing fair trade clothing and items and will feature speakers on the topic. Among them will be Andy Stern, Lt. Mayor of Malibu, Isaac Amol, a survivor of the conflict in Southern Sudan, and a representative from The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. Following the fashion show, recording artist Matt Wertz will perform.
The Life Mission Fashion Show and Concert is the brainchild of Pepperdine Seaver College student Sara Ward. Support for this event comes from non-profit organizations dedicated to helping those impacted by slavery including: Invisible Children, Love146, UNICEF, Night Lights, Life Bread Org., Made by Survivors and World Vision. All monies raised will be donated to the aforementioned organizations.
Tickets, priced at $25 for the general public and $20 for non-Pepperdine students, are available online at Ticketmaster.com or by calling the Smothers Theatre box office at (310) 506-4522. Visit their site for more information, or contact Molly Drobnick at (310) 506-6586.
Posted in action!
Tagged fair trade