World Issues Scrapbook
Taziah Fioze-Booker

Corporate Exploitation
Companies exploiting their workers and the environment in the name of profits


Two Cheers For Sweatshops

This article takes a surprising stance on sweatshops. A quote from the article states: "The simplest way to help the poorest Asians would be to buy more from sweatshops, not less." The authors state that we, from a Western point of view, see sweatshops very differently from the employees working there. Although these working environments are often very unpleasant, according to the authors of this article who spoke with sweatshops labourers firsthand, the workers are grateful for these jobs. For them it could mean the difference between having a roof over their head and living on the streets. This article is definitely not condoning sweatshops, it is simply encouraging us to see them from a different point of view. The authors also believe that sweatshops could be good for a country, saying that countries like South Korea, who accepted sweatshops, are more modernized, have lower infant mortality rates, higher levels of education and overall, are better off than countries like India who tried to resist foreign companies from building sweatshops. "Partly because of these tens of thousands of sweatshops, China's economy has become one of the hottest in the world."

Pennies an Hour, and No Way Up
This article is countering the argument made by some that "sweatshops are simply a step up a ladder toward the next generation's success". The author says that the workers earnings are so small that they will never be able to rise up the ladder. For example, in Bangladesh, women receive 5 cents for each $17.99 Disney t-shirt they make.

Corporate Crime Wave
This article describes some of the crimes committed by corporations. "Corporations tried to evade laws and regulations if they stood in the way of profits. They dumped toxic waste illegally. Evaded taxes. Exposed their workers to dangerous substances and deadly working conditions. Gave bribes. Spewed poisons into the air and water."

The author of this article believes that instead of trying to shut down sweatshops or trying to buy from sweatshop-free companies, both of which can put the impoverished sweatshop workers out of a job, we need to focus on improving the safety and wages for the workers. We can do this by putting pressure on the companies we buy from to change the industry as a whole.

Companies Who Care?
This article is about corporate responsibily which the author defines as "the continuing commitment by businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large". The author says that many companies are not nearly as "corporately responsible" as they claim to be.

Slaves to Chocolate
Thousands of children in Africa, particularly Côte d'Ivoire, work in the production of cocoa for major chocolate companies under hazardous conditions. Although their parents would rather send them to school to have an education and a better future, they do not have a choice because they are living in poverty.

The World's Worst Environmental Disasters Caused by Companies
This article is a list of some of history's worst corporate environmental disasters.

The Twelve Least Ethical Companies in the World
Every year a Swiss research firm called Covalance ranks the ethical of large multinational companies. This article lists the twelve companies that ranked the lowest in 2010 and explains why. The three corporations that ranked the lowest are Halliburton, Chevron and finally Monsanto was ranked the world's most unethical company.

Corporate Crime
This article is about the unethical business practices of many large corporations. When these companies do something wrong, they get fined. If a company gets fined a million dollars, it would seem like a large fine, but really thats nothing to a company that's making billions. In the end the companies just pay the fine and continue doing whatever it is they're doing.

This article describes the terrible working conditions of iPod/iPad/iPhone factories in China. These factories are owned by a company called Foxconn. Workers earn very low wages while Foxconn makes $79.1 billion a year. Foxconn has over a million employees in China alone. Many workers live in company provided dormitories because they cannot afford a place to stay. These dormitories are almost like prisons; food, sleep and washing are all scheduled, "workers live with strangers, are not allowed to cook, and cannot receive friends or family overnight". There are actually guards posted in the dormitories and factories. Last year, eighteen young workers between the ages of 17 and 25 attempted suicide. Fourteen of them died, while four survived with critical injuries. Because of the suicides and suicide attempts, Foxconn has installed nets around the factories and dormitories to prevent employees from jumping. The author of this article believes that the Western consumers of this electronics need to become advocates for these workers' rights.

This article describes how blue dye from producing jeans floats down the river in Xintang, China. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is creating a system to score garment companies on their environmentally friendliness. Every stage of production is rated, including cotton growers, dye suppliers, packagers, shippers based on criteria such as water usage, waste and greenhouse gases. The SAC wants it to become mandatory that every company must include a "green score" on all garment labels. This would put power in the hands of the consumer.

Jonah Peretti and Nike
This article contains an email conversation between a man named Jonah Peretti and Nike customer service. On Nike's website a customer has the option to customize their own shoes by stitching a message on the shoe under the swoosh logo. They call it "Nike iD". After Jonah Peretti had his request to have the word "sweatshop" stitched on his shoes, he emailed Nike, asking why. Nike's response was that his request contained "inappropriate slang" and could not be produced. When Nike still refused after several more emails, Peretti responded "Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request. I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?". There was no response form Nike after that. This article is proof of the great lengths corporations go to to hide the fact that their products are produced in sweatshops. A pair of Nike shoes with the word "sweatshop" on them would definitely tarnish the company's image.

Why is this a world issue?
This is a world issue because it effects many people in many countries, worldwide. Companies in first-world countries will have their products produced in different countries, and many times these are third-world countries. Because the people in these countries are desperate for jobs, the companies can pay them very low wages. If a worker were to disagree with the low wages, the long hours or the dangerous work environment, there are many other people also desperate for jobs who will not complain. Very often these workers are not allowed to form a union, and therefore their rights in the workplace are next to none. The main problem is that many companies put profits before anything else. In the process, both people and the environment are threatened. The low wages in sweatshops keep people in poverty. The unsafe working conditions often cost people their lives. In addition, the business practices of these corporations are taking their toll on the environment. For example, many factories end up dumping waste in nearby rivers or lakes, severely damaging the environment. This, in turn, also effects the people living nearby for it contaminates their water supply. Because this happens in so many countries, all over the world, corporate exploitation is definitely a world issue.

How has this issue evolved over time?

During the time-frame of this scrapbook, this situation has seen little improvement. Most major corporations are still acting the same way they were ten years ago. But there is perhaps a small amount of change in that some smaller companies have emerged that focus on being "fair trade" or environmentally aware".

What sides are involved in the issue? What are their viewpoints?

Viewpoints on Sweatshops

There are many opposing views regarding sweatshops.

On one side there are those who oppose sweatshops because they are unsafe, pay small wages, and exploit their workers. These people are absolutely opposed to sweatshops.
The then there are those who say that although sweatshops are not ideal, workers are better off with some income than they would be without it, therefore, in a way, sweatshops can be helpful.

There are also those who do not care where or how something was produced, as long as they can purchase it cheaply. This tends to be the stance that many large corporations take; they put their own personal gain ahead of ethics.

Viewpoints on The Environment

When is comes to environmental policies, companies tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other. There are companies that take pride in being environmentally friendly, even if it sometimes costs more. And then there are companies that are driven purely by profits and show little regard for the planet.


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This is first and foremost an ecomonic issue with social and environmental consequences.

Can sweatshops actually help build a country's economy? Are they a step in the ladder towards development? The author of Two Cheers for Sweatshops, an article from The New York Times, believes so. "The campagin against sweatshops risks harming the very people it is intended to help. For beneath their grime, sweatshops are a sure sign of the industrial revolution that is beginning to reshape Asia. The simplest way to help the poorest Asians would be to buy more from sweatshops, not less. The truth is, those grim factories in Doungguan and the rest of Southern China contributed to a remarkable explosion of wealth. In the years since our last visit there, we've returned many times to Doungguan and the surrounding towns and seen the transformation. Wages have risen from about $50 a month to $250 a month or more today. Factory conditions have improved as businesses have scrambled to attract and keep the best labourers. A private housing market has emerged, and video arcades and computer schools have opened to cater to workers with rising incomes. A hint of a middle class has appeared."

Or do they just keep the poor people poor? The article Pennies an Hour and No Way Up says, "Some argue that sweatshops are simply a step up a ladder toward the next generation's success: the garment worker at her loom is carrying out some objective law of development, or the young girl making toys for our children is breaking out of male-dominated feudalism. In Bangladesh, women receive 5 cents for each $17.99 Disney shirt they sew. Wages like these are not enough to climb the ladder with."
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This issue also has a very large social impact. First of all, the workers are effected. The low wages, long shifts and dangerous working environments all have negative effect on the workers. The conditions in sweatshops are often so terrible that they cause death, for example the 14 workers who committed suicide in the Chinese Foxconn iPad factory. When young workers are involved, like the child cocoa producers in Côte d'Ivoire, it means that they cannot get a proper education and because of this they will probably be working in jobs like this for the rest of their lives. The workers' families are also effected because the wages cannot support the family.
But you do not have to work for one of these companies to be effected by it. People in the nearby area of these factories suffer from environmental problems. For example, one of the terrible tragedies described in the article The World's Worst Environmental Disasters Caused by Companies is the Union Carbide pesticide factory accident that happened in Bhopal, India in 1984. Toxic gases were released from the factory, killing over 5000 residents. An estimated 500,000 residents continue to suffer from birth defects, blindness, early menopause, and an assortment of other conditions. This is both an environmental and social disaster.
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These factories can reek havoc in the surrounding area, as described above, harming both people and the environment. Environmental damage is direct effect of corporate exploitation. There are many, many other instances of companies damaging the environment, for example, the dye floating down the river in China from the production of jeans, as described in the article How Green Are You're Jeans?. When these companies are caught damaging the environment they are given a fine but, like the article Corporate Crime explains, these fines are not nearly large enough to encourage the comapny to clean up their act. To quote the article, "It’s very little sanction and no deterrent really, whatsoever."
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