Vol. V, Bulletin No. 10. July 10, 2000
'Olympic Living Wage Project' Planned for Indonesia
Learning How You Survive on $1 a Day
It all started more than two years ago with a professor's recommendation to do a research paper on moral theology and sport. Jim Keady, then a 26-year-old graduate student in pastoral theology at St. John's University in New York, chose to research and evaluate Nike's labor practices. The topic had a strong personal appeal: he was the school's assistant soccer coach, and St. John's athletic department has a business relationship with Nike.
Before long Keady was protesting publicly against that business relationship, notably by refusing to wear Nike sneakers and other apparel Nike supplied to university teams. In May 1998 a university official gave him an ultimatum: wear Nike and drop this issue publicly, or resign as a coach. He resigned. "For the first time in my life," he wrote in a term paper, "I was awakened to the reality of attempting to live the justice of the Gospel."
A year later he offered to work in a Nike shoe factory for six months in Southeast Asia to learn first-hand what life is like for an ordinary worker. Brad Figel of Nike's labor practices department turned him down. So now Keady is doing the next best thing. He and another worker rights advocate, Leslie Kretzu, are planning to go to Indonesia for a "Survivor"-like experience of their own, living not on a deserted island but among factory workers in a poor neighborhood near Jakarta. For about two months, they will try to see what it is like to live on the wage of a Nike worker.That won't be easy. Indonesian food prices are spiraling as the value of Indonesia's currency sinks. A July 7 Reuters report from Jakarta quoted 9,260 rupiah to one U.S. dollar--bringing the daily wage for the average Nike shoe worker down to about a dollar a day.The Huge Gap Between Those Who Make Sneakers and Those Who Wear Them
In any case Keady and Kretzu are determined to adopt the worker's typical diet and lifestyle, except for two key differences: Keady will have a laptop computer and Internet access to provide a running account on-line of their daily routine on a Website. Their research, scheduled to begin July 31, will be for the "Olympic Living Wage Project," organized by Press for Change, in collaboration with two other worker rights advocacy groups, the U.S.-based Nicaraguan Solidarity Committee and the Australia-based NikeWatch. Kretzu, who is deferring the start of her masters in theology program to participate in the project, has just returned from volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in India and Nepal.
The project's timing will overlap with the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. "The time frame," a Press for Change announcement explains, "was chosen to draw attention to the world-class athletes who benefit most from Nike's exploitative labor practices. While these athletes play and receive lucrative endorsement contracts for doing so, the factory workers are forced to live and work in sub-human conditions."
Besides the on-line diary, the research project is expected to result in a documentary film, a book, and a press conference in Sydney during the Olympics, as well as a U.S. speaking tour. The project organizers, says Press for Change, hope to encourage the use of similar "creative ways to bring those in the First World into a human relationship with those in the developing world."(For more information, pending the creation of a Website, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, click http://www.caa.org.au/campaigns/nike/ for information on NikeWatch.)Passion Blurs This Intellectual's Vision
There he goes again. In a book review published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Jagdish Bhagwati, senior fellow in international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, accuses people like me of promoting "politically motivated protectionism hiding behind a mask of moral concern." What he strenuously objects to is the expanding campaign to link worker rights and trade rights.
Now, although Professor Bhagwati is an economist of considerable vision, I don't think that he can look into my soul and discern my motives. Yet he might just possibly have a credentialed mystical power of some sort, or else how could he know what motivates worker rights advocates like me? After all, he has leveled that charge frequently in his prolific output of books, articles, reviews, and letters to the editors over the years. Though of course he doesn't name me personally, I do take the charge personally, and have heard it often enough from various sources to resent it as a personal slander.
Mounting the Barricades to Defend Globalization
One can admire Professor Bhagwati's dedication. As he explains in Foreign Affairs, intellectuals have the primary role to "run to the barricades to save globalization." It is an advocacy role that he pursues with "passion," as writes in the introduction of his book, "A Stream of Windows."
His zeal clouds his insights, however. It limits him to regarding worker rights advocacy as motivated by selfish purposes, and blinds him to seeing that the AFL-CIO and other groups could have a genuine concern for the plight of sisters and brothers in foreign lands. No matter that the American labor movement has had such concerns ever since its founding in the 19th century, long before the era of globalization. That's just outside Bhagwati's perspective.
In his blasts against "antiglobalists," Professor Bhagwati focuses much attention on critics who are from rich Western countries and "overwhelmingly white, largely middle class." That's an example of his reliance on polarization to divide those arguing about globalization into two opposing camps. This fallacy grossly distorts reality. In fact, some of the sharpest critics of today's globalization are non-white Asians, most of them not "antiglobalist" in any fundamental sense. Professor Bhagwati undermines his own credibility as an intellectual by ignoring their concerns.In the interest of full disclosure: I am a rank-and-file member of two unions, the American Foreign Service Association and the AFL-CIO Communications Workers of America Local 32035 (Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild). But the views expressed here, as elsewhere, are my own.Is the WTO Good for Developing Countries?
At least 80 of the developing and transition economy members of the World Trade Organization are in violation of WTO rules on intellectual property rights, customs valuation, and sanitary measures. To implement those obligations would cost each of them $150,000,000--an amount equal to a year's development budget for many of the least-developed countries.
"Would the $150,000,000 per country be well spent?" asks J. Michael Finger, lead economist for trade policy at the World Bank, who calculated the cost. His answer for the vast majority of developing countries: No, because of other ways to spend that investment: "for example, basic education for women and girls, would have much more attractive rate-of-return numbers."
Dani Rodrik, professor of international economy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, cites Finger's data in a paper he prepared for the development conference the World Bank held in Paris June 26 to 28. The paper's title: "Can Integration into the World Economy Substitute for a Development Strategy?" No, it cannot, Rodrik answers, and adds that almost all economists and policy-makers would answer No if the question is posed that starkly. But in practice the answer is different, he finds:"Foreign trade and investment are increasingly viewed as the ultimate yardstick for evaluating government policies....Development strategy is becoming increasingly synonymous with global integration."The Paramount Priority: Don't Frighten Foreign Investors
As an example of this tendency, Rodrik quotes a senior U.S. Treasury official who, according to the Wall Street Journal, "urged Mexico's government to work harder to reduce violent crime, saying the country's high crime rate would frighten away foreign investors." Rodrik remarks that someone "less bowled over by the zeitgeist of the times might have thought that the primary targets of violent crime are the local population, and that it is the latter's welfare that should be paramount in guiding policy."
As in his book "The New Global Economy and Developing Countries," Rodrik argues against a strategy of "globalization above all": "Openness [to foreign trade and investment] is not an adequate substitute for a development strategy. Policy makers have to evaluate globalization in terms of development needs, not vice versa."
So What About China and the World Trade Organization?
Rodrik does not say what his points might mean for the People's Republic of China now that it will be subject to the many rules of the World Trade Organization. But reflecting on his paper does suggest these questions:
The choices are not mutually exclusive, of course, but neither are they identical.
- Should China pursue its economic reforms in a manner to win favor with the WTO, the World Bank, and foreign investors?
- Or should it pursue those reforms in a manner to advance the welfare of China's people?
The WTO and foreign investors are hardly the best judges of how to advance the welfare of China's people. But then who is? The Communist Party of China? China's vast state bureaucracy? You can see where those questions lead: China's people need a voice that they do not now have. In the absence of such a voice within China itself, it follows that pressures must be sustained on the WTO and its sister international financial institutions to make sure that they don't just represent the interests of foreigners.
(Check Professor Rodrik's Website at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/rodrik/ABCDE-Paris.pdf for the full text of his paper.)
Diary: Wow, A Published Poet in the Family
"Beautifying Life" is the English translation of the title of the174-page book of poetry by my wife, Dzung Senser, just published under her Vietnamese name, Nguyen Thi Ngoc-Dung. It contains 79 of the poems that she has written in Vietnam and the United States. Some of her early poetry was lost in Vietnam.
She has dedicated this book to me, our four children, Thuy, Son, Han, and Tony, and their spouses, Kelly, David, and Hope, as well as our two grandchildren, Anton and Levi. Sadly, none of us can read Vietnamese and so cannot read what she has written about us. Of course, you can't blame Levi, a little Texan who can't even read English, being only four months old.
Dzung's two earlier books, memoirs of her life in Vietnam, Europe, and the United States, are best sellers in the Vietnamese community. We had hoped to get them translated, but so far without success.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. V-10, July 10, 2000
Robert A. Senser, editor
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