The Socialist Unity Network
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Change in your hands

Salman Shaheen


 

“Instruments of a market tyranny that is extending its reach across the planet like a cancer… feeding on life in an insatiable quest for money” – so reads David Korten’s damning indictment of transnational corporations in his bestselling book ‘When Corporations Rule the World.’ Emotive though this less than favourable account of big business’ globalising impact may be, it nonetheless points to a common denominator to a wide range of pressing issues concerning global poverty. Of these, perhaps none provides such a unique insight into the seemingly callous machinations behind global capital’s inexorable march across the globe, nor is any so abhorrent to the activists standing opposed to it, as the problem of sweatshop labour.

            Where a single pair of Nike trainers is sold in Britain for more than the average monthly wage of the workers in the developing world who made it, it is not hard to see why the organisation ‘No Sweat’ describes sweatshop labour as “modern, global capitalism stripped bare.” Beneath the household names we see that child labour, poverty wages, forced overtime, dangerous working conditions, intimidation, human rights abuses, and sexual harassment of a predominantly female workforce are well documented phenomena.

Former Honduran sweatshop worker, Lydda Eli Gonzalez, writes “We produced more than a thousand of those shirts a day, and just one shirt would pay more than my wage for a week!” But why are such injustices permitted to continue? The truth is that Third World governments welcome the economic investment of corporations such as Nike, Gap, Disney and Wal-Mart who seek to exploit the cheap and expendable pool of labour in these countries. The workers themselves have little choice; the alternative is often unemployment and starvation.

Sweatshop labour is one of the most unjust and deliberate issues of global poverty in existence. As such, however, its discontinuation is also amongst the most attainable of goals. Here we can look to international youth activism.

Whether through music, poetry, art or demonstration, young voices should be outspoken in raising awareness to the campaign to end sweatshop labour, whilst supporting organisations such as ‘No Sweat’ to build solidarity with, unionise and empower the sweatshop workers themselves. In an increasingly globalised world, the movement for change must also be international.

We must use our power as consumers to promote companies with high ethical standards and greater transparency, and publicly pressure those lacking these to change their practices. If sufficient numbers of young people, one of the main groups targeted by mass-marketed sweatshop produce, were to publicly boycott these products by writing to companies, explicitly raising their concerns, corporations would take notice.

Martin Luther King once said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” We must not be silent. We must speak out, we must educate and we must promote empathy and understanding so that together, a global youth can be united to end sweatshop labour. The change is in our hands!

 

 

September 2004

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