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May 29, 2005

White slavery

Britain’s hottest fashion accessory this summer is a simple white silicone wristband, sold to raise money for Make Poverty History, a campaign organized by some 400 charities. The bands are to be found on the wrists of everyone from Prime Minister Tony Blair to supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

A big selling point of the £1 ($1.82) bands is that 70% of the price goes directly to help alleviate poverty. Unfortunately a much smaller percentage seems to be helping prolong it:

Wristbands sold to raise money for a campaign against world poverty are made in Chinese sweatshops in “slave labour” conditions, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
A report on the Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, dated April 12, 2005, accuses it of using “forced labour” by taking “financial deposits” from new employees in violation of Chinese law and the Ethical Trading Initiative set up to promote international standards for working conditions. The audit uncovered a list of “weaknesses” including poor health and safety provision, long hours, a seven-day week, workers cheated out of pay, inadequate insurance, no annual leave and no right to freedom of association.
An audit at the Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company in Fujian province found workers paid at below the local minimum hourly wage of 2.39 yuan (just under 16p) and some as little as 1.39 yuan (9p). Overtime was worked beyond the legal limit and not paid for properly, there was no paid annual leave, and no guarantee of a day off each week. Workers had pay deducted for disciplinary reasons, in breach of Chinese law.

Anxious to pass the stupidity baton, several of Britain’s big charities are turning uncharitable. Christian Aid and CAFOD are blaming Oxfam, which they say failed to mention Tat Shing’s working conditions. Oxfam says it did tell the other charities, but perhaps should have put it in writing. Oxfam is passing the buck to Louis Kennedy, a British fair-trade marketing company that sourced many of the wristbands. Louis Kennedy says it is “disappointed” by the audit, but is confident that improvements are being made. It also notes that the Shenzhen factory did not prevent workers leaving to seek alternative employment. Well that’s good news—I’m sure its employees have lots of options.

With such clueless champions, small wonder the poor stay poor.

Posted by Stephen at 9:01 PM in Humanity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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