In 2002 the US textile workers' union UNITE issued a report on factories in six countries around the world -- Lesotho, El Salvador, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and Cambodia -- producing clothing for The Gap. The union found: below subsistence level wages, systematic verbal and physical abuse of workers, rampant health and safety violations, routine union-busting, and regular violations of local minimum wage laws. And now these workers have Chinese textile exports facilitated by the demise of the Multi-Fibre Agreement dangling like a Sword of Damocles over their factories.
But thankfully, these workers have free traders like Dean Spinanger, senior researcher at the Kiel Institute for World Economics in Germany and "an expert on the quota system" telling them that they've been taking it too easy too long. In fact, Spinanger says,
"it will make them aware that they have to shape up."It appears the "shape up" message is indeed getting out.
Already, gains in wage levels and working conditions are starting to unravel. In Lesotho, the government has agreed to give apparel and textile factory owners an exemption from paying a mandatory cost-of-living increase. Business leaders in El Salvador want to reduce the nation's $5.04-a-day maquiladora minimum wage in rural areas to stay competitive with China and its lower-cost neighbors in Central America.Clearly when free traders say "shape up," they mean that $5/day has become an extravagant coddling of labor -- but fear not, little ones! Apparently Jerusalem will be builded here / Among these dark Satanic mills.
Halfway around the world in the Philippines, a panel of business and government officials has proposed exempting garment makers from paying the minimum daily wage, which ranges from about $3.75 to $5.