[Oclug] [OT] City of Ottawa No Sweat Website and Petition
sean.hammond at gmail.com
Tue Sep 13 11:16:11 EDT 2005
First, thanks for your comments.
The text of the website, links, proposal, and the no sweat coalition itself
is not my work, I just made the website for them. Though I do think they're
a good cause.
I'm not involved with them anymore as the website is finished and I've moved
back to the UK, but if you give me permission I'll forward your comments on
to the group so they can consider all of this.
Just briefly though, as I have done a lot of fairtrade related work, I'll
respond personally to a couple of things:
American Apparel - I haven't followed the link and read the expose and I
can't really claim to know whether they're a good company or not, nor can I
discriminate between the company and unions involved. Another fairtrade
group I worked with, fairtrade carleton, used American Apparel for
promotional t-shirts because the t-shirts were fairtrade and organic. We
later decided not to use them again and removed all references to the
company from our website. This was due to their advertising - you've
probably seen it, they show their female employees posing with a short
little bit of text with the name and some short fact about the person.
Apparently these workers are paid properly, but I wouldn't be surprised if
they were being exploited in another way. None of their adverts feature male
employees. The adverts are sexist. Also we didn't want to lend our weight to
such a big company that even has a store in the Rideau Mall, we figured they
could advertise themselves just fine.
About your second point - I can't answer your question of what specifically
is being done to avoid removing business from areas where sweatshop work is
the only work available. I don't think anything is being done about that at
the level of the Ottawa No Sweat Coalition, but the larger international
Fairtrade organisations might be a different question entirely. The idea of
the fairtrade movement is to get employers to improve working conditions. If
no one will buy from employer X anymore because they run a sweatshop, then
the employer will be forced to improves conditions for the workers in order
to stay in business, or in order to keep up with better employers who are
now getting all the business, and the employer knows he could get a lot of
business from these big international fairtrade organisations, from the big
foriegn importers, if he can get them to certify his labour standards as
fair. So the idea is providing an incentive to improve working conditions.
I recognise that the issue you raised is real, but it doesn't seem to me
that we should continue rewarding employers who use sweatshop labour
whenever there is no better alternative labour at hand for those workers. If
we did that people would be doomed to be working in sweatshops forever -
we'd just be supporting the bosses that impose such conditions and not
providing any incentive for an alternative to develop. I think fair
standards do need to be enforced to prevent a race to the bottom with labour
standards here. I don't think people voluntarily give themselves or their
children away to a life of sweatshop labour - they do it because it's the
only way they can survive. But I do agree that as well as simply not
supporting bad labour conditions, we also need to actively work to improve
conditions and to provide alternatives.
It's way more than just a few horror stories. Unnecessary exploitation is
pretty rampant across most of the world.
Your third point - that poor people in Canda cannot afford to buy fairtrade
products. The Ottawa No Sweat Coalition is focused on forcing the government
to buy stuff like police and government uniforms, tea, coffee etc from
non-sweatshop conditions. It's not about retail stores in Ottawa but about
the city's own purchases. But fairtrade in the stores is usually meant as an
alternative, the idea is not to remove all chocolate from the shelves in
favour of more expensive fairtrade versions so that some people cannot
afford to buy it anymore, but instead to provide people with the option of
an alternative. Before fairtrade labelling, a consumer had no easy way of
discerning the working conditions of the people that produced an item and
nothing to encourage them to even think about this, and in fact pretty much
all of the chocolate, coffee, and various other products, was produced under
terrible conditions. That's an unacceptable situation - when the norm on our
shelves is products from sweated or underpaid labor. But no one is
suggesting that we make all the food or clothing in Ottawa expensive,
imported fairtrade stuff so that some can't afford to buy any. These are
luxury, imported goods we're talking about. If some people in Canada can't
afford to buy these goods then the solution it to improves wages in Canada,
not to use unfair foreign labour. Basic goods should be produced locally
under good conditions, and Canadian workers should be paid enough so that
they can afford to buy the goods!
Also, support fairtrade and help them grow, help them work to make the
products more affordable in ethical ways.
So by now we've hit the basic moral argument behind it all - does our right
to cheap, luxury goods outweigh someone elses right to decent working
On 9/11/05, elefino <kevinmcl at magma.ca> wrote:
> On Saturday 10 September 2005 17:05, Sean Hammond wrote:
> > I apologise for the hideously off-topic post (but I did mark it), but
> > could anyone who would like to please visit:
> > http://www.ottawanosweat.ca
> > And sign the online petition.
> > This is the finished version of a website I've been working on. Also I
> > think one or two people on this list who helped me with the code said
> > they'd be interested to see the final version.
> I went to the site. Of course, I did not sign the petition. Instead, I
> followed some of the links that they featured to 'make their case'.
> Specifically, on the right-hand side, under "Links:" I clicked:
> "Behind the Label".
> At the top of the resulting page was a mildly interesting article -- not
> an expose[e] but rather a compiling of other people's expose[e]s of
> that fiendish company, American Apparel. Below that was a half mile
> of drivel by some sub-human troll-bot calling itself "kingfelix"... then
> the interesting posts began to appear. (I cynically assume that the
> entire purpose of the kingfelix posts was to discourage inquiring
> minds from reaching the thoughtful posts below...)
> I came away with the feeling that the company is probably a decent
> employer, and the unionizers are a bunch of sleazebags, and that it
> was a tactical error to include that "Behind the Label" link on your
> web site, because at least _some_ people will read past the opening
> article and see its premises thoroughly debunked by a string of
> credible replies and probing questions --- that consistently and
> tellingly go unanswered.
> I wonder if the link won't mysteriously vanish, or point to a different
> site the next time I look, now that I've mentioned it doesn't necessarily
> support the agenda of your site.... :-)
> As for the overall premise of your site, I do acknowledge that there
> are some horror stories from all over the world about people being
> coerced into horrible working conditions. That should be stopped, or
> at least minimized.
> On the other hand, there are many third-world locations where
> conditions prevail that WE, in rich North America, would consider
> harsh, primitive, even "sweatshop", but the people who voluntarily
> show up for work each day find it preferable to the alternatives they
> have available. There are many locations in the world where it makes
> sense for children to work. We, in the rich developed world can
> afford the luxury of banning child labor. If we effectively ban it in
> places where it's the difference between the family having enough
> to eat or the family going hungry, we are not doing those people
> any favors.
> I looked briefly around your web-site for explanations of how your
> petition (and its hoped-for results) would differentiate between stopping
> coercive and unnecessarily harsh situations, and simply taking the food
> out of poor people's mouths (in situations that were non-coercive
> and only superficially similar). I didn't see how you'd avoid throwing
> out the baby with the bathwater. I didn't see where the desperate
> workers would find alternative employment when a company moved
> to another country in response to your efforts.
> You and I can afford to pay a little more for our clothing and food,
> to ensure that it comes from only the most unblemished working
> environments. But there are plenty of people in this very city who
> are far less fortunate than we are. To them, an additional few dollars
> per shirt, pair of pants, shoes is enough to take them out of reach.
> When you are in the supermarket, did you ever notice some of
> the obviously-poor people shopping? Ever notice that they
> don't buy they "organic" fruits and veggies? If they buy a chocolate
> bar for their kids, it's the two-for-a-dollar-nineteen hershey bar,
> and not the $4.49 "Fair-Trade Chocolate" bar with the picture of
> a panda on the wrapper. Do you know why?
> I just like decisions to be made knowingly.
> Kevin (suspicious of "movements" built on half-truths and feel-good
> motivators... and not gonna sign)
More information about the OCLUG