by Jeff Ballinger, Director of Press for Change and SDUSA member
The recent soccer ball report by ILRF made me angry – at myself. Some of us have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with groups of workers resisting corporate-dominated globalization and challenging the neo-lib/free trade orthodoxy; sometimes, it must be admitted, we mess up and a promising opportunity goes off the rails. In cases like the soccer ball controversy in Pakistan, the workers may actually have ended up worse off after a well-intentioned intervention; we were too trusting and the unique circumstances of the case made it appear winnable.
Most rich-country consumers have a myopic view of ethical consumption; part of this mindset is that goods produced with child labor are far and away the chief wrong to be avoided. But this classic form of exploitation has only a few manifestations in the modern, globalized production-for-export field. What consumers must tune in to, rather, is the fact that millions of children are working in poor countries because the adults who are making our shoes, toys, apparel and electronics do not earn enough to pay modest school fees or provide a decent standard of living without the kids’ meager earnings from the informal sector – from hawking newspapers, delivering tea, domestic work and the like. The urgent challenge of our young century is to popularize campaigns such as the new effort led by pro-worker groups for an Asia Floor Wage. The most bitter and intense struggle today is in Bangladesh where a new minimum wage is long overdue and the greedy apparel buyers – big brands from the U.S. and Europe – are refusing to support the workers, even rhetorically (what they were shamed into doing in 2006). Cambodian apparel workers, likewise, are trying to get beyond half-way to a living wage while encountering fierce opposition from industry executives and repressive tactics deployed by the Hun Sen regime.