Tag Archive: developing world

Red Baron Mediawatch – Tucked away on p. 23 in The Guardian a few weeks ago was a story about the US consolidating its position as the world’s leading arms dealer. The US currently accounts for 42% (approx $17bn of sales) of the world’s arms trade, 80% of which is currently to the Developing World. According to the article US sales have been buoyed up by the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq making neighbours somewhat nervous, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia have been the largest buyers whilst Iran also remains high on the list, but it generally sources its hardware from the Russians.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the US is absolutely raking it in on all counts. Firstly the defence budget has been justified meaning the American public pays good tax money that might otherwise be frittered away on healthcare or welfare on good old fashioned warfare in a struggle to defeat a subjective concept which keeps expanding even were one to get anywhere near to seemingly defeating it. Nouns are of course tacticians of the highest order!

Secondly all that military hardware is being used, and they’ll need to keep spending money to keep it going, the military objective is a largely destructive one whilst lo and behold who comes along to build Iraq like a Phoenix from the flames but Haliburton and the like, who glean lucrative contracts which are not tendered fairly in the first place.

Thirdly anything in the Iraqi infrastructure that is worth anything is put into the hands of companies that are fronts for US companies thus safeguarding the Iraqi oil not to mention ensuring that Iraqi oil continues to be traded in $ rather than € thus propping up the stability of the $.

It’s a win-win situation. For some. Certainly not for the Iraqis, or the Afghans. Is it any wonder Iran is shitting itself and trying to do a North Korea and tell the US that it has a nuclear capability in an effort to keep the GIs out of Tehran. However they’ve made a fatal mistake and are not playing the game, damn them, they’re paying money to the Ruskies and the septics want a piece of the action. It’s the rather more supra-national equivalent of the hoods coming roung saying:

“We’re offering you protection.”
Victim: “But I don’t need protection.”
Hoods: “You will do!”
Victim: “Listen we pay those red geezers”
Hoods: “Do we look like the red geezers? We’re bigger than the red geezers, we could eat the fucking red geezers for breakfast, you pay us from now on unless you want your capital city to have a nasty accident, know what I mean?”

There was me thinking that this was all about power and religious ideology and the clash of civilisations when all the time it’s nothing more simple than a brutal rip-off and how to make profane amounts of money at the expense of others in a rather Caponeian sort of way. Still we can’t say they aren’t learning from their history then can we?!

Song Of The Day ~ Maximo Park – Apply Some Pressure

Gap pulls ‘child labour’ clothing

Is there really any surprise about child labour stories in the developing world? Surely by now anyone who buys clothing that is made outside the Western World must know that there is a strong chance these clothes are made in sweat shops which may or may not contain child labourers. What I also find somewhat contemptible is the fact that were there not to be children involved in such sites the moral outrage would simply not exist, at least certainly not on the level of being newsworthy. So it is considered quite acceptable for 25/35/45/55/65 year old men and women to work for the amount of money per week most people in the West earn in minutes but for a child to be placed in that situation is a step too far.

It is surely so blatantly transparent to hear the industry and even NGOs talk about how difficult it is to monitor because there are some estimated 20 million children working in India and yet The Observer did not seem to have trouble finding a 10 year old to film working in a factory making clothing for GAP, neither does it come as any great shock to most of us with a brain that they should have been able to do so, I know India is a densely populated country but 20 million is a tough number to secrete about the place and in so many of the documentaries about India that I have seen such as the excellent Bombay Railway the problem is highlighted and shown as widespread and hardly covert.

Of course the story is rendered more alarming that it is such young children who contribute to our designer clothing but this alone masks a more worrying problem. No-one denies that to have our clothing cheap the exploitative nature of capitalism seeks to keep costs as low as possible and that the easiest way to do this is by paying as little as possible in outlay. So whilst it is the cutting edge of globalised labour that it should involve children sold effectively into slavery no-one has been batting so much as a metaphorical eyebrow that such practices should be commonplace in sweat shops populated by adults.

Production is an expensive business, companies that keep production costs low can maximise their profits on the sale of their goods, it is therefore a natural part of capitalism that companies will seek to do this at every available opportunity. Thus it stands to reason that since labour costs represent a major part of this expenditure that companies will seek to drive down the labour costs where they are provided it remains financially the best option to remain there and should an opportunity emerge to relocate and further save money over the medium to long-term they will choose this option. One cannot expect them to do otherwise they are not philanthropists they are beholden to shareholders who range from people with pension funds to speculative money-grabbing bastards!

Costs of labour are being driven down across the world, in Europe the problem is especially bad because over the years workers have built up extensive labout laws, health and safety guidelines and trades unions, these are not in a corporation’s best interests. I heard a number of talks at the European Social Forum in 2005 where central European comrades were detailing a systematic policy of blackmail being perpetrated by the multi-nationals. In Germany for example workers were being told that their factories were scheduled for closure and production was to move to Eastern European countries like Hungary or the Czech Republic. The only alternative to this was for the German workers to accept lesser conditions such as a pay cut, longer hours and less rights for items like union recognition. If they chose to accept these conditions obviously the cost benefits for the company of the move were negated, at least for the time being. However this is just the first step, were workers not prepared to accept these conditions and production shifted to the Eastern European country the cycle would quickly begin again, Hungarian comrades had already started saying that the companies were impressing the need for them to adhere to the same standards as Romanian workers or production would have to shift again. It seemed likely this trend Eastwards would continue until production reached India or China.

This process can only be stopped with a concerted effort of solidarity across the world, I know ‘Workers of the World Unite’ is regarded as something of an old political cliché but not to do so will result in the continued fractionalisation and exploitation as corporations ruthlessly use the fact that people just want to feed their families first and foremost. Trans- and Multi-National Corporations do not care about their workforce – they may sometimes recognise the need to keep them sweet but they will always be of minimal importance when compared with profits and mangement salaries and options. Politicians are either too stupid or too corrupt to recognise this, prefering either to look at the short-term electoral benefits of a new factory opening in their constituency, or the victory over the local trade unions in order to keep the factory open temporarily at the expense of half the workforce. Or perhaps they are looking longer-term with the possibilities of kick-backs, directorships, pension provisions, stock options, business trips abroad and the like, or is it the covering up of the last time they were caught in flagrante delicto? Cynical, me?!

Getting back to the point, it’s your choice people. If you want clothing that has the special labels, and you want to pay as little as possible for it then you must recognise it comes at a price. If you buy goods without looking at labels or trying to find out if they are produced ethically then I’m afraid ignorance is not an excuse, just as if you want to buy Israeli goods it’s your lookout. Did you buy South African in the old days of propping up a systematically racist regime? If not why was this, because of politically-correct peer pressure?

WAKE UP! There are always consequences. Your decision is when is a price too high a price to pay.

Song Of The Day ~ Jamiroquai – When You Gonna Learn?

No looking to the future series would be complete without a look at the real future, namely the generations to come, our children and their children. The perils that are facing them across the world are magnified by virtue of the fact that even before they have to clean up our mess they must first navigate the education system, and this is for those that have that as an option let alone the millions without adequate food and water.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has just published a report saying that the 1996 targets of halving the number of the starving by 2015 will not be met. At present 6 million children die every year from malnutrition or starvation, many deaths are actually caused by diseases like diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, but victims would survive if they were not already weakened by a lack of food. At the present rate of development only South America and the Caribbean are on course to meet Millennium Development Goal targets. The FAO reports estimate that 852 million people were undernourished during 2000-2002. In fact the proportion of those in sub-saharan Africa has risen from 170.4 million around 1990 to 203.5 million, which makes something of a mockery of the gesturing of the G8 leaders at the summit in Edinburgh last summer.

In Uganda in 1997 primary education was made free and the primary school population rose from just under 3 million to over 7 million almost overnight. However secondary school is not free and costs around 60,000 Shillings (around £20) per term. This is around 6 weeks wages for the average Ugandan, which is more than enough for earning parents let alone parents who are ill with HIV/AIDS or TB and that doesn’t begin to cover the orphans. The fees cannot be waived because if they are the schools do not have the money to pay the teachers who generally are paid months in arrears.

Children not educated in secondary school are likely to become domestic servants. Female “housegirls” are like as not to be used for sex. Ugandan schools therefore witness a sight alien to those of us in the west, where students are trying to break into school rather than out. Hardly surprising when it is considered that school fees not only comprise the access to education and a future but also include a meal at lunchtime, in a country where 23% of the population are malnourished.

To see some of these children talk about how important school and education is for them one cannot help but feel that for every one who is unable to go a spark of hope is snuffed out. It’s not as if children in Uganda don’t have enough to worry about 100,000 children in Uganda alone die of malaria every year. In Africa as a whole a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. Malaria has killed more people throughout history than all the other causes of human death put together. There may not be a quick fix for such a disease because simple antibiotics and the like will only be effective for a certain period of time before the disease mutates and develops resistance.

It is easy to think that it is just in the developing world where this burgeoning education system requires investment to allow it to benefit the whole population in time and over the generations. This would be a false assumption and either a naive or an arrogant one were one to properly examine our education system in the West. Here the social and financial apartheid of the state and private school systems creates division almost as soon as it is possible to do so. Some local authorities have good nursery education but free nurseries do not start in Britain until age 3. Well-off parents of course have the option of sending children to often facility-rich private nurseries which are often the only institutions pre-secondary school to offer a modern language. At primary school level the postcode lottery comes to the fore again. Offsted reports are scrutinised for every primary school in an area and the good ones affect house prices of the catchment area drastically, once again favouring the more affluent.

Of course results in primary school are seen as the best indication of progress and potential for future direction. Britain’s schools do not respond well to non-conformity of any kind, most of the state schools do not have the resources to, and the private schools can choose children that don’t exhibit it in order to keep the results high and overhead costs low. Of course the better the school the greater the likelihood of a broader range of subjects and sporting facilities etc. The broader the range of subjects on offer the increase in chances that a pupil be given the opportunity to find ones that s/he excels in. Aptitude generally leads easily to success in schools whilst students offered a narrow selection are far more likely to respond with ambivalence.

I have raised the question many times before of who benefits if all children get the best quality of education? It is not just the child nor even the parents but the whole of society, the more children whose aptitude can be assessed the greater the possibilities that they can find a direction that is of interest and benfit to them in later life and this will invariably lead to them feeling more part of society and society gaining the more for such. The inequitous state of education in this country and others like it is a national and international disgrace. That in the 21st century we are unable to adequately guarantee a good and consistent level of education to every child in the land should be something that shames every government that leaves office with the situation unresolved.

In the West currently there is ever more disenfranchisement from society as the education system fails more and more people within it. If one is not of academic normality and this can mean too compentent as not gifted in this area, the education system has little option. To add insult to injury we have been taught over many generations to prize academic excellence above all other and thus for those who fulfill it the possibilities are far greater than for those who do not. One could be the best mechanic in the country but would receive less plaudits from most than a mediocre Dr. On account of the postcode lottery even the academically gifted have no guarantee of receiving the education that will bring out their talents if their parents are not wealthy. The well-off have rather more options, the academic children can be sent to good private or “public” schools to receive a far better level of education than most state schools can offer, whilst the less academically-able child of rich parents can be sent to the sort of institution thaat will look after its own in order that alumnii can rely on a degree of old school tie support to see them right in later years. Private schools are not bounded by the same curriculum restrictions as state schools and therefore have a far greater degree of autonomy to be able to offer that broader range of subjects that can mean so much. Thus even the less well-able can prosper if they are born of the well-off and hedge their bets so as not to come across as ‘unacademic’.

So, as we have seen in both Africa and Britain the differences are not so great, if you are schooled academically you are perceived as being of greater value than if you are not. This must change across the world, there can be no real progress without it. The weighting of the bookish above the dextrous is holding back the progress of human society. Every child without exception must be provided with the best education possible to provide and the broadest range of experiences, only this way can we tackle ignorance and apathy and create people with both social awareness and social responsibility.

In the light of this, to see hundreds of billions chucked on warfare is tantamount to seeing governments dismantle schools that haven’t been built yet. it is our responsibility to reverse that trend.

Song Of The Day ~ Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls

Original Comments:

The Fat Boy made this comment,
NYC has an excellent public education system, except for the violence.
-Redbaron responds – Cuba has an excellent healthcare system except for Guantanamo!-

comment added :: 29th November 2005, 09:42 GMT+01 :: http://spongeblog.blog-city.com