Thursday, August 21, 2008

BBC Panorama: Primark on the Rack

While on the topic of sweatshops, watching this BBC expose on Primark, a British high-street retailer, about a month ago made me so angry I posted it on my facebook profile. Here it is for readers of this blog. Primark claims to make clothes ethically but the excellent Panorama team traced its supply chain to refugee camps in India where children as young as nine make clothes for as little as 1 pence (2 US cents) an item.

And it's not just Primark. I know of online retailers who claim to buy "fair trade" products from "women's cooperatives" in Cambodia and it is just bullshit. These so-called "women's cooperatives" pay piece rate and the women have to work like mad to make a living wage, because there is no base salary. Or you have organisations that pay minimum wage base salaries of USD50 and make the women work overtime piece rate to make up the rest of the wage. It is outrageous that consumers are lied to on a constant basis. These retailers DO NOT CARE how the things are made. I really believe many times they know workers are being exploited but they choose to look the other way. Or they make it a point NOT to investigate.

In Cambodia, the same thing happens with aid money. I was told just today that a large NGO here in Cambodia does not bother to speak with actual beneficiaries in the provinces. They speak only with the village chief who submits the names of his relatives or those who bribe him as candidates for the donation. It's so easy to cheat donors' money.

These NGOs and retailers have such an easy way out--they can always blame the next guy along the chain, the village chief or the supplier. "It's not our fault, we were misled too!" they will exclaim indignantly. Bullshit. It *is* their fault. These organisations can do much more if they wanted to. Indeed, it is their obligation to do due diligence and not pass on the lies to customers/donors.

If you want to be a responsible consumer, please do not take retailers' written policies at face value: talk is cheap. Ask yourself how you can buy a top for 3 pounds (USD6) and yet producers are paid a living wage. How is that possible? (On the flip side, be aware that just because a ricebag is sold for USD40 does not mean workers were paid fairly for making it).

I know people want to save money when they purchase things, but surely not at the expense of someone else's suffering. Other people do not exist as machines that churn out cheap things, just so we can save our money for buying more stuff. Please, don't be an accessory to the exploitation of workers. Please, be more conscious of what you are paying for.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin