Category Archives: globalization

Look At The Label & Remember

Next time you see “Made in Bangladesh” on your clothing, remember this picture:

bangladesh__factory_collapse_AP809812716191_1_620x350

This is the factory in Bangladesh which supposedly made clothing for Wal-mart, Dress Barn, Benetton, and others, where workers were ordered inside despite the sudden appearance of large cracks in the building, and a hundred or more died as a result:

The cracks that suddenly appeared on Tuesday afternoon in the Rana Plaza building were large enough to send workers fleeing into the street.

They made the television news that night, but the building’s owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, told reporters the sudden appearance of cracks was “nothing serious”.

He did not say that police had ordered him to shut the factory. Nor did he mention that the top four floors of the building, in Savar, north of Dhaka, were constructed illegally without permits.

I know the New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof has been trying to convince us that outsourcing our manufacturing to poverty-stricken countries like Bangladesh is a good thing because jobs and blah blah. Pretty sure he’s not saying such things with anything close to a straight face any more, though. As NPR notes:

The collapse comes just five months after 112 workers were killed in a fire in another apparel factory in Bangladesh that had supplied Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

I’d like steal a phrase (and documentary title) and say this is the high cost of those low prices. But actually, it’s not even low prices anymore; Benetton ain’t cheap. I’ve seen “Made in Bangladesh” on clothes I’ve purchased at higher-end stores, too. This seems to be “the way it’s done” these days. Clothing manufacturing has been outsourced to desperately poor countries where people work in Triangle Shirt Waist Factory conditions. I certainly didn’t ask for that, and I have no control over it. Even if I don’t buy a $10 T-shirt from CostCo, my clothes are still made overseas under specious conditions. At least if they were made in the U.S. I’d have some, tiny shred of confidence that the workers weren’t abused in the process (though the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion has even put that to the test). It’s damn hard to avoid it.

I really don’t want people dying to make my stuff. I don’t get why that’s so hard for Wal-mart and Dress Barn and Macy’s and The Gap and everyone else to understand.

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Filed under corporations, globalization, outsourcing, poverty

Debt: As American As Apple Pie

I’m having a hard time getting worked up about Congress temporarily raising the debt limit, partly because with our economy on the brink of collapse it seems like debt is the least of our worries, at least for the near future.

But also, let’s face it folks: Debt is our national past-time. As I’ve blogged a gazillion times before (here and here, for starters) it seems debt is the only thing America manufactures anymore. Well, that and war machinery of course. And I simply don’t understand how we can have any kind of real economic recovery, including reducing the national debt, as long as we have waved a permanent goodbye to our manufacturing base.

At one time, Americans made things. I grew up with the “look for the union label …” ditty playing on the TV. “Buy American” meant you really were buying something made in America, not something pieced together in a sweatshop by immigrant workers in the Northern Mariana Islands.

If we stop making things here, then how can we put people to work? It simply doesn’t make sense.

The current issue of Harper’s Magazine contains these recommendations for President Obama by Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council. Tonelson, as his affiliation indicates, is concerned about America’s waning manufacturing base and its effect on our economy, and he fully embraces the so-called “protectionist” stance requiring those taking federal contracts to use American-made steel and other products.

He adds:

But the full potential of the Buy American approach has been limited by U.S. treaty obligations under NAFTA, and by our membership in the World Trade Organization. Hence, at the very least, the United States should declare these obligations suspended until the economic crisis has been vanquished. Buy American measures also should govern all federal support programs for specific companies and industries (e.g., the auto rescue), and industries-to-be slated for subsidies (e.g., alternative energy systems and other “green” manufactures). In addition, strategies are needed for attracting advanced production to the United States in areas where Buying American is no longer possible.

I never understood why a little protectionism was supposed to be a bad thing, especially since it’s something every other country does.

Two critical “do no harm” steps can further reduce American multinationals’ strong incentives to move production and jobs offshore. First, Washington should declare a moratorium on all new trade agreements until it figures out how to ensure that they promote more domestic production and employment. Second, if Congress does pass a climate-change bill, it must include stiff carbon tariffs. Otherwise, more and more American manufacturers will relocate to countries that lack complicated cap-and-trade programs or other limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

A lot of this makes sense to me. Some of it might have repercussions–pissing off the Chinese might have them calling in our loans, for instance. But I don’t know why we don’t have some kind of tax discouraging multinationals from outsourcing their production.

I don’t know why it’s so damn hard to “buy American” in this globalized world: surely there can be a way of showing consumers whether 10%, 30% or 100% of a product is made in the USA.

And I don’t know why our corporate overlords aren’t interested in putting Americans back to work. Scratch that–I do know why. They’re more concerned about profits, and outsourcing production to cheap labor countries like Vietnam and Honduras is more profitable. But now that our economy is in the toilet and unemployment is over 10%, Congress needs to take some drastic action to get people back to work. Ballooning the debt doesn’t seem like a longterm solution, just as lowering interest rates was not a longterm solution.

People need jobs. Let’s put people back to work first.

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Filed under economy, globalization

>What’s The Matter With China?

>We’ve turned to China to manufacture everything from cough syrup to dog food to cheap plastic crap sold at Wal-Mart, but I think it’s time we got to the bottom of this:

WASHINGTON, June 18 — China manufactured every one of the 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States so far this year, including the enormously popular Thomas & Friends wooden train sets, a record that is causing alarm among consumer advocates, parents and regulators.
. . .
Over all, the number of products made in China that are being recalled in the United States by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has doubled in the last five years, driving the total number of recalls in the country to 467 last year, an annual record.

It also means that China today is responsible for about 60 percent of all product recalls, compared with 36 percent in 2000.

This is very scary to me. Because it’s not just cheap plastic toys anymore, it’s everything. Not only have we had the pet food-melamine scare originating in China, but also recalls of toxin-laced monkfish, tainted cough syrup and toxic toothpaste. People are dying around the world because of this. Hello! Is anyone paying attention?

What’s scary is that, in this globalized economy, you can’t look for the “made in China” label and avoid those products. Stuff isn’t made anymore, it’s assembled, and the components come from all over.

Remind me, who thought this was a good idea?

Last week the Chinese authorities destroyed U.S. imports of raisins and health supplements. They cited safety reasons:

“The products failed to meet the sanitary standards of China,” the agency said in a brief notice posted on its Web site. No details were given on when or how the inspections were conducted.

The agency said it was asking “all local departments to increase quarantine examinations of foods imported from the United States.”

Oh, we’re so sorry. I’m just glad to know you folks have standards. Now, would you mind applying them to the stuff you send to us?

Not coincidentally, yesterday the Chinese balked at U.S. lead limits on children’s toys.

The Chinese government opposes a proposed U.S. standard limiting the amount of lead allowed in bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry sold for children.

All but three of more than 30 Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls for lead in children’s jewelry since 2003 were for China-made items. The others were made in India.

Little bit of tit-for-tat here, you think? Maybe a bit of, “you take our melamine wheat gluten or we won’t buy your California raisins”?

I’d say “screw ‘em,” except I really don’t think the American consumer is willing to pay the price–literally. What would these things cost if they were made here in the USA? What does it cost us when they’re not?

I realize China is a communist country, but as it operates with the rest of the world, it’s the “free market system” run amok. No standards, no regulations — it’s like the freaking Wild West out there! When the “free hand of the market” intervenes in the form of product recalls, it’s already too late for thousands of people and pets, dead from diethylene glycol or melamine poisoning. Next time I need to buy cough syrup or dog food, I’d like to know that key pieces of it aren’t made in China. But there’s no way of knowing.

The only way to be perfectly safe is to make this stuff yourself. Great. Can the model for consumer safety in the new millenium really be “Little House On The Prairie”?

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Filed under China, globalization, imports, recalls