Vol. V, Bulletin No. 1.                                                        1,14, 2000 

'Paradise for Passengers, Hell for Workers'

Cruise Ships Are Floating Sweatshops

Forget any stereotype you might have of sweatshops. These are different. They aren't shabby but modern. They exist in an environment not of poverty but of luxury. Their owners are not developing country contractors but some of the richest corporations in the United States and Europe.

"We're everybody's idea of fun," says a brochure of the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise company. But fun is far from the lot of the thousands of third world workers who serve cruise passengers as bartenders, dishwashers, cabin cleaners, assistant cooks, and other laborers aboard cruise liners.

The latest media expose of the lot of cruise workers was a December 24 New York Times article headlined "For Cruise Ships' Workers, Much Toil, Little Protection." The long feature contrasted an industry enjoying record profits with workers who labor up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, at subsistence wages.

Carnival, with 45 ships, last year averaged $2.8 million a day in profits, almost all tax-free (since the company is registered in Panama). The whole industry is booming. "But," the Times reported, "the benefits have been slow to trickle down to the 70,000 or so workers who keep the fleets running and the passengers dining and dancing."

How Do They Get Away With It?

The cruise ships operate largely outside the regulation of U.S. (or any other) law. As the Times reporter Douglas Frantz wrote:

"Even though 90% of the nearly six million passengers sailing out of U.S. ports in 1999 were American, and most lines have their headquarters in the United States, the companies escape American minimum wage requirements and other labor laws the same way they avoid corporate income tax and many criminal and environmental laws: they register their corporations and ships in countries like Liberia and Panama, where laws are lax and enforcement is weak."
The day before the Times article appeared, the International Council of Cruise Lines, the trade group representing the 17 largest cruise lines operating out of United States ports, issued a set of voluntary guidelines called a "Shipboard Workplace Code of Conduct."

The code is quite limited in content. A typical provision says that "all ships recognize the right of employees to voice complaints," but omits any mention of the right to join a union. On wages, it says crew members are provided "compensation packages that are equal to or exceed [those of] similar positions in the nations from which crew are recruited."

Typically, a cruise ship's crew of several hundred may come from up to 40 different countries, according to the International Transportworkers Federation. The ITF Website, at http://www.itf.org.uk, quotes a former member of a cruise ship as saying "There are two realities on a cruise ship: that of the passengers, which is paradise, and that of the crew, which is hell."

Trade Ministers to Confer Again--So Will Activists

Less than three months after their unsuccessful meeting in Seattle, the trade ministers of the world will gather in Bangkok February 12-19 for the tenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD for short. They'll be greeted there by many of the same activists who shook up the World Trade Organization in Seattle and by many others who didn't make it to Seattle.

"Everyone who wants to build on the gains of Seattle should be coming to Bangkok in February for the UNCTAD X," says an announcement from Focus on the Global South, a Southeast Asian NGO network. "This is the first international meeting of trade ministers for the new millennium, and promises to be a major event in shaping the 'terms of trade' to build on the spirit of Seattle."

(As of this writing, the Website of Focus on the Global South at http://www.focusweb.org does not yet list its weeklong program of activities prior to the conference. UNCTAD has some information about its Bangkok program, but not much, on its own special Website, at http://www.unctad10.org.)

The Bangkok meetings, if properly reported, should help clarify who stands where on various globalization controversies. There's a common belief that the split on trade issues is always between the developing and the developed worlds. Not so. On many issues, especially worker rights, there's a sharp split between the governments of developing countries, on the one hand, and unions and other people-centered groups on the other hand.

Don't count on getting much news out of Bangkok, however. Seattle grabbed media attention for a while because of the violence perpetrated by a small minority of demonstrators, joined by small gangs unconnected with the demonstration. Bangkok is unlikely to offer much graphic videotape. To keep up with events there, you'll have to rely on the Web. See, for example, the listings under trade issues at links.htm.

Worker Rights and Trade Rights: the Battle Goes On

"There can be no development worthy of the name that does not involve an expansion of workers' freedom to associate and bargain and a strengthening of their protection from gender discrimination, exploitative child labor, and forced labor."

With those words, in a January 5 address to the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C., Under Secretary of State Alan Larson signaled a Clinton Administration intention to continue its efforts to link trade rights and worker rights in the World Trade Organization.  The objective, he said, is "to make globalization work for workers, both here and in developing countries."

The next big opportunity for the administration to lobby for this initiative will come during the 30th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27 to February 1.  The Forum brings together the movers and shakers of the corporate and financial worlds. President Clinton will address them on January 29, according to a White House statement, "to discuss his vision of globalization as we enter the 21st century."

More so than the governments of developing countries, corporate executives are the main barrier to the introduction of a worker rights dimension into the WTO. The Forum's Website, at http://www.weforum.org, in its coverage of the annual meeting, may offer clues to whether this corporate opposition is softening.

Honoring a Great Myth-Buster, Myron Weiner

My vote for one of the greatest books published in the 1990s goes to "The Child and the State in India" by Professor Myron Weiner of MIT.  It deserves that rank because it destroys many of the myths used to justify the scourge of child labor.

I still have the article from the 1991 Far Eastern Economic Review that first made me aware of the book. I scrawled: "WOW!" on the clipping, and highlighted the points that wowed me. For example, the reviewer, Marie Gottschalk, wrote that Weiner:

"...convincingly shows how the common explanation [for India's rampant child labor]--the country's abject poverty and, in particular, the dependence of the poor on the income that their children generate--is not only wrong, but has also allowed Indian officials to shirk any blame or responsibility for the fact that India has the world's largest population of child laborers and child illiterates."
Weiner's prolonged field research, which included interviews with child workers, parents of child workers, teachers, school administrators, employers, union leaders,  and dozens of other persons in governmental and non-governmental officialdoms, enabled him to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. The basic truth that Weiner uncovered was grim: the children of India's poor are in the labor force and not in school because of the class-biased "beliefs and values of elites" (including union leaders) who make public policy. Among those beliefs, as capsulized by Weiner: After recommending "The Child and the State in India" to a law school writer recently, I searched the MIT Website for an update on Weiner's activities. I startled my wife with my shout of "NO!" when I read: "Professor of Political Science Myron Weiner died of brain cancer on June 3."  Among the research projects he was working on prior to his death, the news release said, was "child labor and educational policy in India and other developing countries."

Who will carry on Myron Weiner's careful research and honest analysis of child labor?

("The Child and the State in India" can be ordered from Princeton University Pres at http://pup.princeton.edu/titles/4838.html.)

Diary: Some Flu-Borne Questions

For me the 21st century opened with a flu attack that sent me to my doctor for reinforcements. I'm back on my feet now, but I lost too many days of work in my home office. In my lethargy, I spent hours of musing about questions that bug me. For example:

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. V-1, January 14, 2000
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 2000
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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