Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Swoosh 'n' Sweat


There's been a lot of talk about dirty and dangerous Asian factories over the years - sweatshops if you like. You know the ones, where the employees are overworked, underpaid and generally exploited for their labour. Nike, in particular, and their brands such as Converse, seem to cop the heat over the sweatshop issue. Are they paying their employees too little? It would seem so. Are they working in unacceptable conditions? Almost certainly. Are the fat cat industrialists and controlling capitalists making disgusting amounts of money from these operations? To be sure.

There is an argument, however, that sweatshops aren't all bad, after all, the people working in these factories are being paid more than many other workers in their homeland. And this is certainly true in some cases. I've seen several Chinese factories firsthand. The people work hard and they are paid little, but the general consensus amongst the workers was that they were happy to have jobs that could help support their families. The jobs are sought after. At the start of each year, thousands of kids come streaming into the big cities of China from the country, to hopefully gain employment in one of these places. They queue out the front. They're desperate to get in.

I would say, however, that just because others work for less, or don't work at all, or that these jobs are relatively attractive (relative to hauling human shit in buckets in some poverty-stricken village in west China) doesn't make it right to exploit workers. These factories are dangerous. I've seen 16 year old girls work at huge, dirty, loud and dangerous grinding machines which could take off hands rather easily, wearing no gloves and no eye or ear protection. I've seen old women lugging around heavy metal doors on their backs. There is no OH&S, no safety officers, no safety gear, few breaks, long hours and little hope of aspiring to anything else. It is drudgery. And then they have to breathe that air and drink that water.

But why does Nike get singled out? Isn't everything made in China? The vast majority of clothing, footwear, toys and hardware - just to name a few - are made there, in equally poor conditions, let me tell you. Is it just cos Nike got caught?

52 comments:

WitchOne said...

Pretty much. Plus they are massive and sell their products at a huge mark up because they are charging for the brand, not the quality etc and so on.

Soooo many issues here.

Boogeyman said...

I would suppose that, some day in the future, economies of China, India and other third world countries will eventually (and ideally), rise to be on par with us in the west, such that workers in those countries will receive equal levels of pay and equal standards of working conditions.

It will be interesting when that day comes. Can you imagine paying western workers' wages to factories to produce your t-shirt, el cheapo runners, or various plastic crap? The price of many basic living goods that we take for granted would rise dramatically.

I think that a lot of the 'stuff' we take for granted in our daily lives is only affordable for us because of the huge disparity between our currency values and theirs.

Melba said...

I know there's a big Nike operation in Indonesia, or was a few years ago. I tutored a kid (Taiwanese) living here whose father was a bigwig with Nike in Indonesia. Pretty sure it was a real factory, not knockoffs.

As WitchOne says, so many issues. But the one common denominator that cuts across everything is greed.

Dr. Golf said...

Our kids kids will be working in call centres putting on fake indian accents.

gingatao said...

Nike made themselves very visible with their particular type of advertising and I think it maybe the obvious dichotomy between the image they pimp and the reality behind it that makes their exploitation so obvious. The fact that the workers are happy not to be starving to death while the owners are raking in billions is hardly a justification.

wari lasi said...

I remember reading somewhere that you used to be able to get Nikes with a customised slogan. They apparently refused to make a pair for someone with "Sweatshop" as the slogan.

squib said...

But why does Nike get singled out?

I suppose because consumers can feel comfortably indignant about a brand of shoe. They can go about saying well I don't support sweatshops in Asia because I don't have Nike shoes

But if they had to get rid of everything that was made in sweatshops, they would end up like the emperor with no clothes

Which is similar in many respects to saving the environment

squib said...

I should add that I include 'me' in 'they'

Fad MD said...

Fortunately the tears of overworked children have been found to have resistance reducing qualities. It's much easier for me to pay for that than actually train.

wari lasi said...

It pays to remember that a hundred years ago we (westerners) were using forced child labour.

Compassion, like education, comes with prosperity.

Mr E Discharge said...

For those among us who just want STUFF, STUFF and more STUFF,it's a no-brainer. Faced with a choice one hand between a society where Workplace health and safety, a livable wage, opportunities for education and training, recreational leave, sickness cover and super are fought for and maintained, and the ability to buy 12 pairs of badly made Tube Socks for $3.99 on the other, I want the socks! Howard understood this.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Dunno about this Bob.

Most of the outrage over Nike was more 2000-2001 with the whole No Logo stuff.

This year's faux outrage is mostly around climate change.

wari lasi said...

This year's faux outrage is mostly around climate change.

Careful Ramon, lest you be labelled a "Climate Change Denialist". It's right up there with being a "Holocaust Denialist".

Pepsi said...

Nike get all the attention because they have the lamest logo.

Sweatshops for companies with cool logos seem to be travelling under the radar.

On a serious note, I dont like to get too pompous and judgemental about other countries labour practices, especially from my white, middle-class, university educated ivory tower, but I do like what Wari said.

Compassion, like education, comes with prosperity.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Oh climate change is real enough, Wari.

It's the outrage that's faux.

wari lasi said...

Too true Ramon.

We live in a faux emotional world these days. It's only the degree of falsity that varies. Particularly with the press.

Funnily enough, I think this may have been Bob's point.

wari lasi said...

While we're briefly on climate change, today's Crikey editorial is a gem. And Clive Hamilton's article is a savage indictment of both sides of politics.

Lewd Bob said...

Quite Wari. I don't feel sorry for Nike, I just wonder why other companies, of which there are hundreds, don't cop the abuse.

Similarly, McDonalds cops the heat for bad nutritional practices, animal exploitation and deforestation while the likes of Hungry Jacks, KFC et al, continue to fly under the radar.

Leilani said...

Isn't it the case that once the economy of the third world country rises and workers start demanding equal levels of pay, that big business just finds a new third world country and sets up sweatshops there? This then creates mass unemployment in the country they've just fucked over and when the new country's economy and standard of living starts to rise they can pull out of that one and find another one. This cycle ensures a never-ending supply of sweatshops for Nike and the rest.

patchouligirl said...

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

This covers the topic quite well. Sorry I can't be bothered figuring out how to do a link.

Anybody heard from Louche since Monday?

Boogeyman said...

PG - perhaps Louche Jnr has finally made her debut?

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Louche is having another Louchlet?

Boogeyman said...

Yes, sometime this month, as I understand.

I expect her to pop that jnr Louchlet out and be back on the internet within hours.

Boogeyman said...

See what essential information you miss out on by eschewing Facebook for the much slower news source of Blogspot, Ramon?

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Indeed Boogey.

Very much in the style of a former Director of the Victorian Government's media unit who allegedly took a mobile phone call while in labour.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

And I still ain't joining Facebook.

Dagnabit.

patchouligirl said...

Louche is having another Louchlet?

This is what I was wondering. I hope louchlet arrives today, which I can personally recommend as an excellent day to have a birthday.

WitchOne said...

Happy birthday Patch. :-)

Boogeyman said...

And I still ain't joining Facebook.

Ahh, more of a Twitter man, I see.

If you join Twitter Ramon the young comms graduate chickies will be all over you, seeking your wisdom every 30 seconds.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Something like

******

"Drink"

*******

"Drink"

*******

"Girls"

*******

"Feck"

*******

"Arse"

*******

Boogey?

Boogeyman said...

I'm flattered that you think about me enough to twitter my name.

Or disturbed and slightly creeped out.

Alas, I have become so jaded that the two have become seemingly indistinguishable.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Maybe I should join Twitter, so I can send out random stream-of-consciousness gibberish.

"Smoking jacket"

"spoons"

"Clem Bastow"

Boogeyman said...

It would still be quantum leaps ahead of the inane dribble on there now.

Except the Clem Bastow stuff. That's just about on par.

Perhpas if you join Twitter I can rate your Twittering on the International Clem Bastow scale for anile dribbling and pointless self-promotion.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

"Clem Bastow is now working as a railway sleeper on the Epping/Hurstbridge line".

eat my shorts said...

It would still be quantum leaps ahead of the inane dribble on there now.

Hey! Watchit, mister.

Oh. Allright. I can't argue with that.

And many happy returns, Patchouligirl. Hope someone made a cake for you.

And I still ain't joining Facebook.

Dagnabit.


Dagnabit is a great word, Ramon. It doesn't get used nearly often enough. I'd like to see you join Facebook and use that word a lot.

Or you could not join Facebook, but use that word a lot more around here. Whichever.

patchouligirl said...

Thanks ems they did. I got a few pressies that I didn't really need and the night off cooking which I did need.

wari lasi said...

How ironic patch. The best thing you got was not getting something.

Who was it who said, "The best things in life aren't things"?

patchouligirl said...

What happenned was my husband bought me a $150 voucher for a day spa. The idea of going there and being poked prodded and scrutinised horrifies me. It is also too extravagant a present for our current budget of living on one wage and there are so many things I have been wanting to buy but haven't felt we could afford it. Of course I had to hide my dismay but I am shocked that he got it so wrong. From now on I'll tell him what I want every year.

Boogeyman said...

Your husband reads too much Cleo, PG. Next time give him a copy of Wheels magazine and say, "See that new all chrome muffler with bonus fluffy dice? That's what I want for Xmas!"

Puss In Boots said...

Patch, maybe he thought you deserved to be pampered? Maybe he thought it was something nice to give you if you've been squirreling away all your money and not spending it on yourself lately? Still, I hate getting presents that don't reflect me. My nearly MIL gave me a teatowel for my birthday once. It was black and red (not my decor) and had Audrey Hepburn on it (I've never seen any of her films nor expressed a desire that I liked her). Then that Christmas she gave me a biography of Hepburn. Weird.

$150 would likely only get you a massage at a day spa, so I doubt you'd get scruitinised and prodded too much. If the day spa was in Brisbane, I'd buy the voucher off you. I'm in desperate need of a visit myself.

patchouligirl said...

I'm not a jewellery person either. I'd rather be given a good swiss army knife, something useful. To blow $150 on a massage that will be over in an hour is beyond my comprehension. I could buy 2 Kylie Kwong cookbooks AND a good kitchen knife for that. Or better yet, a trike, a scooter and some DVDs for Jack which would buy me hours and hours of peace.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Or alcohol.

People always appreciate alcohol as a gift.

Or is that just my family and friends?

squib said...

Patch, I gave MrSquib a 'guide' for buying me gifts, years ago. It tells him what flowers I hate (EG gerberas,asian lilies,chrysanthemums,and flowers that have already expired etc) and what flowers I love and so on. It's about 6 pages long and people always look a bit horrified when I tell them about it

Fad MD said...

I appreciate alcohol. Which means it pains me even more than usual to have to part with all the grog we have accumulated here before we return next month. Stupid duty on alcohol!

wari lasi said...

Are you bringing a container of personal effects back FAD? Just hide it at the back.

patchouligirl said...

My husbands parents gave me a voucher for a giftwear shop. His Dad happily told me they have some didgereedoos and xylophones. What does he think I going to do with a didgereedoo? I don't think I am difficult to buy for. I just don't want useless things like nic nacs, jewellery, flowers or frivolous pampering (at many times the hourly rate we earn I might add). An Angus and Robertson or Big W or Bunnings voucher would be fine. Why do people lose their minds when buying gifts? I could do a whole post on this.

wari lasi said...

Oops, sorry, didn't mean to yell at you.

patchouligirl said...

The next door neighbour just dropped me in a flower arrangement. I have to laugh. Maybe someone will send me a strip-o-gram tonight? Or some personalised number plates?

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Maybe someone will send me a strip-o-gram tonight?

Pers, I've got a gig for you.

Melba said...

Presents are hard to buy for people. All I want ever is a book voucher. But people try to be kind and thoughtful but usually it's something I hate or don't want. Then you feel like an ungrateful bitch.

Book voucher. Book voucher. Book voucher.

That's all I need.

I buy my own flowers, underwear, food, alcohol, and frequently, books. But you will never go wrong with a book voucher.

Giving alcohol, sorry Ramon, it's just a sign that you think the recipient is a piss-head. My father always gets given alcohol and I was at a 50th last year and the bar was lined with bottles in boxes. I think my friend was quite embarrassed by it.

patchouligirl said...

Thank God for Ebay. I'm gonna buy me that Didgereedoo and put it straight on there. I wonder if they have any postage size nic nacs?

eat my shorts said...

Thanks ems they did. I got a few pressies that I didn't really need and the night off cooking which I did need.

Most excellent. All is as it should be.

Or better yet, a trike, a scooter and some DVDs for Jack which would buy me hours and hours of peace.

Reason #1092482 why I am not a mother (most probably): If I wrote that sentence, it would read: "Or better yet, a trike, a scooter and some DVDs for me which would buy me hours and hours of peace."

Sigh.

People always appreciate alcohol as a gift.

Or is that just my family and friends?


No Ramon, it is not just your family and friends. Either that or you and I are either family or friends. I'll leave that disturbing notion with you while you're on holidays.

Squib: I'm a firm believer that gerberas are the devil's flower. EVIL.

Patch: I'll have the xylophone if you don't want it.

Giving alcohol, sorry Ramon, it's just a sign that you think the recipient is a piss-head.

You take that back, Melba! Take it back!