Category Archives: Global Development

Sociology on TV – Fashion’s dirty secrets

dispatchesThe latest episode of dispatches demonstrates how garments destined for New Look and Peacocks are being made in sweat shop conditions in Leceister.

The company making these garments (Sammi Leisure Wear) pays workers less than the minmimum wage – £2.50 to £3.00 and hour and the workers work in aweful conditions – no windows, very cramped, blocked fire exits, and no safety guards on sewing/ cutting machines. 

Profiting from sweatshop labour in the UK

The aweful pay and conditins means that the production of theses garments is in breach of New Look’s ethical code of practise. Of course New Look can claim they do not know about the conditions in the factory – and they probably don’t – (they are now investigating conditions themselves) – New Look places an order with a subcontractor for a certain price and the subcontractor delivers – without informing New Look about the immoral and illeagal practises that go on in the factory. To be fair to New Look – Sammi Leisure Wear was actually sewing fake labels into the garments saying they had come from abroad.

It is also interesting to note how subcontracting is used by a company to deny responsibility for the sweatshop – the subcontracting allows them to claim that they do not know it was going on – my arguement is that they must – all they have to do is basic maths to work out that someone, somewhere is getting exploited in order for them to make such profit margins.

Also think about how the law is applied differently here –buying and selling stolen goods is an offence – but as far as I know buying something that was produced by a company that exploits it workforce by making them work in sweatshop conditions and breaches health and safety law isn’t illegal. Perhaps New Look should spend more money in investigating working conditions in its factories and less money promoting its fake ethical image.

The web site of the programe is worth a look – it ends on the following note –

So where does the buck for this level of exploitation stop? Campaigning groups say the retailers need to take responsibility and place the factories under closer scrutiny. Others say the government needs to step in and regulate the fashion industry. But what about our responsibilities as consumers? Instead of buying blindly perhaps we should stop to ask more questions about where and how these clothes are made. After all, they’re not being stitched thousands of miles away, but right here on our doorstep by people who are being exploited because of our insatiable appetite for dirt cheap fashion.

Stacey Dooley – Kids with Guns

550x350_staceyboysIn her latest journey abroad, Stacey visits the Democratic Republic of Congo to look at the process of demobilising child soldiers. Personally I love Stacey’s ‘what can I do to help right here and right now approach’, while at the same time being painfully aware of the fact that her efforts are a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done to resolve the underlying causes of conflict in Africa, if, indeed, we can ever really figure out what those underlying causes are with any level of certainty.

One of the blog comments below criticises Stacey and the programme for failing to report on the complexities of the crisis of the DRG. Stacey clearly isn’t an academic – but she is genuinly compassionate –  and I’m moving towards the idea that what the developing world really needs is less westerners researching and analysing its problems and potential solutions and more people actually going out there and just bloody well doing something.

A couple of comments on the programme –


I was just watching this program, and i think that Stacey Dooley is doing a absolutly a wonderful thing for those people in the program.
I would just like to say that while i was watching this i got a bit emotional, i really really felt for some of these children and what they have gone through.
I think what Stacey Dooley and the bbc are doing is amazing by making this issue more known.
I would love the chance to help people from situations like this.
🙂 xxx


Two – 

1. At 4:14pm on 07 Oct 2010, dakar110 wrote: This is now, what? …the fourth programme that Dooley has fronted exposing child labour/ abuse in conflict zones for the BBC?

While I wish her every success in her burgeoning broadcasting career (better than flogging perfume at Luton airport, which I understand was her previous occupation) I cannot help but wonder what kind of contribution these programmes are really making to the development debate.

I dont doubt Dooley’s passion and sense of injustice about what she has encountered, but is it really appropriate to send someone like her, with clearly such limited knowledge of the subject, to report from places like the DRC, Nepal and West Africa?

The fact is that Zaire/ Congo has been in a state of huge internal conflict/ full blown war since independence.
And, like most African nations, the country is NOT intrinsically poor. It’s home to one of the world’s biggest deposits of coltan, the mineral used in mobile phone production, as well as some of the continents biggest timber and rubber reserves. (The Belgians didnt go there for the climate)

But it’s suffered from the ruinous reign of a series of despots, most recently President Mobutu Sese Soko, one of Africa’s most corrupt and kleptocratic rulers.
He bankrolled the genocide in Rwanda, while at the same time ripping off vast inflows of international aid, the like of which Ms Dooley is already promoting here in her blog. (More charity from the West being the perpetual answer to Africa’s problems, of course.)

These situations are NEVER simple and more money is ALMOST never the answer.
Sorry Stacey, but we cant save these people – more to the point they dont really want us to.
It’s fifty years now since independence. Africa has to get it’s own house in order, and we have to let them.

 I think I might ask some students which of the above they would be more inclined to agree with.

This post – relevant to the ‘war and conflict’ section of the our Global Development Module.

The incredible immorality of corporate greed?

 or How Capitalism encourages individuals to be selfish

The next time you enjoy an ice cold coke, try to look beyond the cute Christmassy connotations, get beyond the warm reassuring notion that ‘there’s always coca cola’ and take some time out to discover the not so refreshing truth that lies behind the sickly sweet image of one the most enduring icons of the 21st century. Really discover the ‘real thing’.

It takes 2.72 litres of water to produce 1 litre of coca cola[1]. Now this may sound like a reasonable ratio for such a deliciously sweet beverage, but not if you happen to be a farmer living close by to Coca Cola’s Kaladera plant in Rajasthan, North East India. According to recent independent report, commissioned by coca cola, “[the factory’s] presence in this area would continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” concluding that the company should find alternative water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant.[2]

The result of coke’s presence in the water depleted region is that local farmers who have lived in the area for decades now have inadequate water supplies to keep their crops watered and there appears to be a clear link between the coca cola Corporation moving into the region and the destruction of the livelihood of the farmers living nearby. Coca Cola, which had an advertising budget of $2.6 billion[3] in 2006, is clearly in a position to compensate these farmers, or relocate to a more water rich area, but chooses not to. Coca Cola’s priority clearly lies in maintaining its sickly sweet image while generating famine and poverty for those living in proximity to its factory.[4][5]

The farmers of Rajasthan have it easy, however, compared to unionised workers at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Colombia. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Colombia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories.[6]

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Colombia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

Now, before you purchase your next coca cola (or related product), pause to reflect, and ask yourself:

  • In areas of water scarcity, should priority of use be given to farmers who have lived there for generations to meet their basic human needs such as for drinking, watering crops and washing, or should priority be given to a multinational to produce a sweet fizzy beverage that has little nutritious value for consumption by the world’s wealthiest nations.
  • Is it acceptable for a company to continue producing in a country where its local managers use violence to kill those members of a work force who have joined a union?

If your answer is no to the above questions, and you don’t like the idea of living in a world of poverty, misery, and violence, then don’t drink coke ever again, because if there is any truth in the notion of there ‘always [being] coca cola’ then there is also a good chance there will always be human misery and environmental disaster in the wake of its production because available evidence suggests that Coke’s profits are more important than basic human rights.

Coke is merely one example of one product produced by one company that harms people and the environment in its productive process. It really is just the red and white tip of one very large, very wealthy, and very powerful corporate iceberg, and that iceberg is unlikely to go into melt down any time soon. There are many other cases where the pursuit of Corporate Self Interest has lead to obvious harm of workers, the environment and local communities.

In addition to the increasingly well documented cases of companies such as Nike being involved in sweat shops labour[7], two other fairly widely known examples are those of Shell in Nigeria failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by it’s oil pipelines leaking[8]; and the Nestle Corporations policy of providing free samples of its baby milk formula to new mothers in developing countries which resulted in their breast milk drying up and their becoming dependent on this formula, having to pay after the first few weeks had been used up.[9]

Many commentators, even mainstream conservatives, have also pointed out that one of the root causes of the credit crunch was the greed and self interest of bankers who lent money to people who they knew could not afford to service the debt it in order to improve their profit margins. This created a massive debt bubble that eventually lead to economic decline and a massive tax payer bail out of financial institutions.[10] [11]

A further, softer, criticism of the morality of the corporate sector can be constructed by taking a critical look at the usefulness of the goods some corporations actually produce. There are dozens of corporations which the technological know how to produce useful products that could improve the lives of millions, but instead they plough their resources into producing goods that will benefit the rich, because selling to the wealthy generates more profit than producing socially useful goods. Pfizer, for example produces Viagra; and Oil corporations have persistently refused to invest in greener technologies all the time there are oil reserves they can tap into.[12]

Probably the most worrying example of extreme Corporate immorality is the recent growth of Corporations such as British Aerospace, Blackwater and Haliburton which derive a significant part of their revenue from providing services to the military sector, in the form of the development of weapons systems, the provision of private security forces (mercenaries), in addition to the provision of more mundane services such as rebuilding infrastructure and providing meals for the armed forces.  We thus have an expanding private sector that increasingly relies on wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan for a significant portion of their revenue.[13]

So to summarise so far, if we look at just a few examples of our not so cute and cuddly  corporations we know that, in the course of increasing profits, they deprive communities of the resources they need to survive (Coca Cola), pollute land through which their resources are transported (Shell), encourage dependency on their products (Nestle and Monsanto), choose to sell unnecessary goods to the wealthy rather than use their resources to help the needy (Pfizer, all oil and car corporations), and seam to have little compunction over profiting out of war (Halliburton and BAE).






[5] See Mark Thomas’s book (2008) Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola




[9] gives details on the documentary ‘The Corporation’.



[12] ‘The Other Bail-Out, 7th October ‘08

[13] See Naomi Klein’s book (2008) The Shock Doctrine

Criticisms of Transnational Corporations 2 – damage to the environment

All of this material is relevant to the global development module – this can be used in an essay that asks you to ‘assess the role of TNCs’ or in any essay that asks you to criticise neo-liberal approaches to development, because TNCs are one of the primary agents of the neo-liberal project. You should read this in conjuction with the previous blog in this thread – I-Nightmares, Killer Coke and Sweatshops –

Corporations damaging the environment

images3One of the worst cases of both environmental and social harm is that of Union Carbide in Bhopal. In December 1984 when an explosion at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India caused toxic gas to leak into the local area. 3000 people died immediately, a further 20 000 people have died and 120 000 suffered illness as a direct result of the toxic pollution that even to this day, 25 years, later, is still seeping into the ground water which the local people have to drink. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which should have take on liability for this, but failed to adequately clear up the pollution or compensate the victims of this tragedy. (7) (8)

A second example is the failure of Shell and Exxon Mobile to clear up the pollution of the Niger Delta – Shell in particular has been460_0___30_0_0_0_0_0_shell_skull_colour the target of sustained criticism for failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by its oil pipelines leaking – this particular case being documented in the recent film documentary ‘I’m with stupid’. (9a) (10)

The total harm done in this remote region is far in excess of the recent BP disaster off the coast of America, one recent newspaper article (12) reports that –

‘With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing.’

94300Shell claims that most of the oil spills are due to Vandalism by radical, armed militias, but the local communities claim it is because of rusting and decaying pipes. On this point, it is worth seeing the 2010 documentary film ‘Sweet Crude’ (13) – which actually follows the development of the armed militias mentioned by Shell – it turns out that protests over the combination of pollution and lack of social development following oil extraction used to be peaceful groups but following years of nothing happening, some protestors have turned to more violent tactics. The sad thing is – all they are asking for is their fare share (14)

In fairness to shell – they have provided money to the Nigerian Government which was intended to develop local areas, but given that Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments on the planet, it is no surprise that most of this money has disappeared.

To go back to the Corporation (1), the argument is made that one of the root causes of pollution in developing countries is because TNCs are ‘externalising machines’ – In order to maintain profitability they try to externalise as many costs as they can get away with, and pollution is one obvious example of an externality. All of the above companies have been happy to let local communities bear the costs of their pollution, rather than paying for the cleanup.


(1) – a link to the homepage of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.


(2)  – A link to my blog on ‘Bhopal’ – the worst industrial accident in history – check out the links to the ‘yes men’ material – inspiring stuff! (coming soon!)


(3) – A link to ‘Belching Out the Devil – Global Adventures with Cocacola by Mark Thomas, 2008


(4) – a fact sheet outlining the history of Shell in Nigeria


(5) – web site of the DVD the age of stupid – a film about humanity polluting the planet – one chapter of which is devoted to Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta


(6) – news article outlining how oil pollution in Nigeria is far worse than that caused by the BP spill off the coast of America.


(7) – web site for the 2010 movie Sweet Crude.


(8) – a clip of local Nigerians protesting about their oil being taken and them getting nothing in return.

Why any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement

RSA video and podcast of David Harvey on the credit crunch – David Harvey has read, re-read and taught Marx’s Capital every year for the last four decades. According to him ‘any sane person today would join an anti-capitalist organisation, because otherwise we are screwed’ (or something along those lines) –

And the podcast from Thinking Allowed –

 My summary of the above two together – These are relevant to the question ‘Assess the relevance of Marxist theory to an understanding of contemporary society’

This is really quite advanced stuff for an A level student – and quite difficult to understand – I will try and clarify if you don’t get it – catch me at the end of the day sometime!

David Harvey’s basic theory is that Capitalism is a system that grows in boom-bust cycles – the bust phase being what is commonly known as an ‘economic crisis’, which typically requires Nation States to step in and ‘rebalance’ the system to get economic growth going again.  The problem is that the solutions to one economic crisis simply lay the foundations for another crisis, or downturn in economic growth, at some future point in another part of the world, or another sector of the economy.

David Harvey demonstrates one way in which Marxist theory is still relevant to understanding contemporary events – Here is how Harvey explains the ‘credit crunch’ in Marxist terms –

He starts off by pointing out that ‘the excessive power of finance capital’ is the root problem of the current crisis – In other words the banking and credit industries who lend money had (and still arguably have) too much power – but how did this happen?

Harvey goes back to another ‘economic crisis’ in the 1970s to explain this. At this point in history, he points out that wages, especially in the manufacturing sectors, in Europe were too high in order for Capitalists to make a profit. This crisis was solved by outsourcing manufacturing to the developing world where labour is cheaper and a combination of high unemployment in the West and Thatcher breaking the power of unions in the 1980s. This then meant that overall labour costs were lower, restoring profitability and economic growth.

However, wages provide people with the money that buys goods – thus a reduction in wages lead to a reduction in the demand for goods and services, which again reduces profit for Capitalists –

The solution to this problem was ‘pumping up the credit economy’ – or encouraging consumers to get out their credit cards and take on more debt.  The average British household has trebled its debt in the last thirty or forty years, most of this debt being in the form of mortgages, which most of us regard as a normal part of adult life.

The end result of this is that the banking and finance sectors have grown massively in recent years – before the credit crunch, in the mid 2000s, they represented 30% of the British economy. The profits of these industries have soared in 1990s – whereas manufacturing profits were declining and Harvey argues that Britain has screwed the manufacturing industry to keep the financiers happy –

Something else that happened in the last decade was the ‘deregulation of the finance sector’ – banks and hedge funds were given more freedom to lend – and many banks such as Northern Rock did so to people who could not realistically afford to pay back what they borrowed – eventually people woke up to this fact and the banking sector of the economy started to collapse (economic growth based on debt which needs to be repaid – once it’s realised this can’t be repaid it causes a crash)

Of course in Britain, this was a disaster, because baking  represented 30% of our economy – so the government bailed the banks out – and now we have a massive national debt – and what are the Tories doing – cutting our public services by 25% and raising the pension age so we, the tax payer,  can pay for this.

What are we actually paying for – the billions of pounds of profit that the heads of banks have taken in wages and bonuses over the last two decades. We are paying for them – The unequal accumulation of wealth has not stopped – in 2009 more billionaires were created in India than ever and in the same year the managers of the 5 biggest hedge funds in the world shared bonuses of $15 billion.

The wealthy are doing fine out of the credit crunch, while we the people, in our ignorance of how Thatcher and the Bliar pimped our nation to the transnational capitalist class over the last three decades, pick up the bill for their wealth years later.  

Harvey’s theory is that Capitalism can never solve its own crisis problems – it just moves them around geographically – eventually it is the little man that gets shafted while the wealthy just go on getting wealthier. This is classic Marx – all that has really happened since his day is that Capitalism has become more complex, some may say convoluted, but at its root – Capital will always make the little man pay for his wealth accumulation.

Harvey argues that any sensible person right now would join an anti capitalist organisation. If you decide to join one, an interesting debate would be ‘what level of violence is it acceptable to use against the Capitalist class and their Tory apologists in order to get your money back?’

Of course Harvey has his critics, and you might like to read the commentary below the video…

Vulture funds bill blocked by Christopher Chope, MP

OK this is old news – from March, but I’ve been meaning to write on this for ages… only just got round to it!

This item shows you the following

  • For A2 Global Development – this demonstrates the role of the Capitalist class in keeping developing countries poor – this is due to to the inability of the government to regulate a few unscrupulous hedge fund managers.
  • For A2 Crime and Deviance – The power of the elite minority to prevent just laws that the majority believe in coming into force

I first came across Vulture Funds thanks to this article – which is quoted at some length below…

39779“Would you ever march up to a destitute African who is shivering with Aids and demand he “pay back” tens of thousands of pounds he didn’t borrow – with interest? I only ask because this is in effect happening, here, in British and American courts, time after time. Some of the richest people in the world are making profit margins of 500 per cent by shaking money out of the poorest people in the world – for debt they did not incur.

Here’s how it works. In the mid-1990s, a Republican businessman called Paul Singer invented a new type of hedge fund, quickly dubbed a “vulture fund.” They buy debts racked up years ago by the poorest countries on earth, almost always when they were run by kleptocratic dictators, before most of the current population was born. They buy it for small sums – as little as 10 per cent of its paper value – from the original holder and then take the poor country to court in Britain or the US to demand 100 per cent of the debt is repaid immediately, plus interest built up over years, and court costs.

Let’s look at two examples in two of the countries most aggressively targeted by the vulture funds – Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I spent a week in a gargantuan rubbish dump in Peru 35 miles north of Lima. It is home to more than 5,000 children. Among them I found Adelina, a little eight-year old smudge, living there in a nest she had built from trash. She spends all day searching for something – anything – she can sell. The vulture funds managed to get $58m out of Peru, on a debt they paid $11m for.

Action Aid launched a campaign to prevent vulture funds from suing indepbted developing countries for their money in British Courts – part of whch involved raising public awareness as most people simply don’t know about them! – see here for more details –

In March 2010, Labour MP Sally Keeble actually tabled a private members bill to prevent vulture funds from operating in Britain. Having just reviewed some old WDM and Action Aid magazines from that month, they had news reports that assumed these vulture funds would be bloked.

25799_jpgHowever, because this bill was brought before the commons just before the general election, if one member objected, it would not get passed – This member was a Torie MP Christopher Chope – It is rare that you find a living example of scum – but here is one – Christopher Chope MP – Doing the dirty work of hedge fund managers in the house of commons while the poorest people suffer.

What is really aweful about this affair is that at the time of the vote on the bill, three MPs actually covered their mouths when the question ‘are there any objections’ to this bill was raised, so other people in the house could not be sure who actually objected, it was only afterwards that Chope came out as being scum.

Chope’s contact details, should you wish to send him a message…


House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 5808
Fax: 020 7219 6938


18a Bargates, Christchurch, BH23 1QL
Tel: 01202 474949
Fax: 01202 475548

Had this bill gone through it would have been a good example of the state regulating the finance sector – but once again here it fails to do so – and this example shows you the appalling lack of morality amongst some conservative MPs.

The Corporation – A must see documentary for all A2 Sociology students


It may be a while since its release in 2004, but this is one of the best educational documentaries ever made. The film has an outstanding web site with a wealth of resources and is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.

One of the main strengths of the film is the interviews with numerous corporate insiders and leading members of the anti-capitalist movement such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky

This documentary effectively documents the huge social and environmental harms done by corporations in the pursuit of profit. By extension you could also see the film as a critique of the neo-liberal policies which gave these corporations the freedom to do these harms and of the whole capitalist system which is based around the competitive accumulation of capital.

Social and Environmental harms done by Corporations

These are just some of the harms that Corporations are responsible for with occasional links and examples

1. Exploitation of people in sweat shopsNike in numerous countries

2. Doing Environmental harm to keep costs down (externalities) Shell in Nigeria/ BP in the USA/ Union Carbide and Bhopal  –

3. Profiting from the poor through the privatization of things such as water – Bechtel in Bolivia

4. Profiting from selling goods that are harmful to people and the environmentMonsanto

5. Profiting from war and fearHalliburton in Iraq/ Coke in Bolivia – see relevant chapter in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, also see

6. Working with oppressive regimes in order to make a profit – Coke and the Nazis, Bechtel in Bolivia

7. Manipulating children to buy products they don’t need – McDonalds and Coke

8. Co modifying everything – Corporations try to own everything – some are patenting genes, and some have tried to ‘own water’ – critics say that there should be some things that are not for sale!  

Excerpt from the web site

To assess the “personality” of the corporate “person,” a checklist is employed, using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”:

  • It is self-interested,
  • inherently amoral, callous and deceitful;
  • It breaches social and legal standards to get its way;
  • It does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.”

Interestingly, despite the huge amount of evidence that Corporations can be monstrous, there is recognition that the individuals within the Corporations may be the nicest people you ever meet, and the documentary concludes that what makes Corporations so bad is the competitive economic system in which they have to survive – Corporations, in other words, are seen as products of the Capitalist system.  

The film is very easy to watch over a number of days because of its clear breakdown into a number of distinct chapters.