The recent factory collapse in Bangladesh in which over 1100 workers died makes this the second worst industrial accident in world history – after the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India.
For Sociology students studying Global Development this is a good example that seems to offer broad support for the continued relevance of dependency theory.
One article highlights the following factors which contributed to the 1000+ death toll –
Bangladeshi factory workers cannot afford to not work when wages are only around the $50/ month mark. Behind this, of course, lies Western demand for cheap and fast fashion – We only get £2 because of those low wages…..
The lack of long-term commitment to suppliers on the part of Corporate buyers – which means that it is economically irrational for many factory developers to invest in health and safety measures in their factories. As I see it behind this lack of commitment lies transnational firms’ desire to take advantage of the ‘race to the bottom’ – short contracts means the parent company can move out of Bangladesh at short notice to take advantage of cheaper labour elsewhere….
International Corporations effectively wash their hands of responsibility for monitoring health and safety through outsourcing – As a result, many of our high street shops have scant representation themselves in Bangladesh, leaving monitoring of health and safety to the Bangladeshi authorities, which basically means effective monitoring doesn’t take place.
‘A common reaction in the UK media and from NGOs has been to focus anger on brands sourcing from Bangladesh. But the view in Dhaka is rather different. Newspapers here have concentrated almost exclusively on the failure by government agencies to implement the law on occupational safety and health (OSH) and the building code. This in turn is blamed on the nexus between garment factory owners and politicians – sometimes the same people.
According to the 2008 building law, any new structure, for any purpose, has to obtain an occupancy certificate from a government agency before it can be used; only six certificates have been issued since 2008, although it is estimated 4,000 – 5,000 new buildings come up every year.’
The ETI also aruges that the lack of unionisation of workers is an important contributory factor in these deaths – As the article above says, the workers could clearly see the cracks in the walls of the factory, but were forced to go in and work – Unionisation may have given them the sense of empowerment to stand up for their rights and stay alive.
Of course both of these perspectives – one blaming the TNCs, the other blaming the Bangladeshi elite – still offer broad support for the continued relevance of Marxist Theory – At the end of the day this is still a situation where the poor and powerless are dying so the powerful can maintain their profits.
Garment workers’ unions and human rights groups recently held a people’s tribunal in Feburary to investigate the state of povery pay in the Cambodia garment industry. The tribunal called for evidence from a wide variety of stakeholders including over 200 workers who work for factories manufacturing clothes for Adidas and Puma.
All of this follows strikes involving 200 000 workers, dismissals of 1000 union leaders and mass faintings induced by malnutrition of garment workers.
The tribunal concluded that workers are not being paid sufficient wages to lift them out of poverty, one of the main causes being that massive inflation in Cambodia has seen a real wage of loss of over 14% in real terms.
The problem today is that “Despite experiencing sustained growth in the sector, Cambodia’s minimum wage allowance is US $66 a month and is currently the lowest of all its neighbouring states. This wage amounts to around half that required to adequately meet the average worker’s basic needs.”
It also concluded that despite their PR talk, big clothing manufacturers are still failing to do enough to sort out ‘supply side issues’
Just thought I’d post this briefly as a succinct update on the latests evidence of sweat shop labour – students can obviously use the example in any essay on the failure of TNCs, the downsides of economic globalisation, or the continued relevance of dependency theory.
The above is summarised from an extract in the latest consumer magazine.
Water Aid works in 23 countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a total of 606 staff. Its mission is to ‘transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities’
According to this 2010-11 annual review – Last year they spent about £50 million – of which £32 million went to water and sanitation delivery service, £11 million on fundraising and £6 million on governance. You might criticise the £11 million on fundraising, but given that nearly 3/4 of their income comes from donations (the rest mainly from grants – which still need to be chased) – one imagines that without this, they’d have considerably less to work with…
The stats really add up – Last year Water Aid helped 1.5 million people gain access to clean water, and improved sanitation for 1.6 million people.
I’m in the middle of writing a critique of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid – mainly because the book uses highly selective evidence to promote neo0liberal ideology – but I will concede that the way Moyo conceptualises the history of development aid from the 1940s is a fairly useful teaching tool for A level Global Development – so here’s a brief summary of the second chapter of the book – (NB I said useful conceptually for A level, I’m not actually implying that her account is factually accurate – thankfully when you’ve got an exam board that lives in a 1980s timewarp, the actual facts aren’t necessarily that important for the exam)
Moyo splits ‘the history of aid’ up into ‘seven phases’ – starting with the earliest days of Bretton Woods in the mid 1940s – which saw the establishment of institutions such as the IMF, then outlines details of the Marshall Plan in the 1950s – but I’m going to start my brief summary with the third phase in the 1960s -which are followed in each successive decade with next four phases.
The 1960s – The decade of Industrialisation –
Here there was a shift to to the development of large scale industrial projects, with funding going directly to governments in African countries and coming primarily from the USA, but also from European governments.
A good example of this is the Kariba hydroelectric dam that straddles the boarder between Zambia and Zimbabwe – began under British colonial rule in the 1950s and finally completed in 1977 at a cost of $480 million.
While pointing out that records from the 1960s are not perfect, Moyo sites the following stats for country receipts of aid by the mid 1960s –
Ghana – $90 million
Kenya, Malawi and Zambia – all having recieved an averge of about $315 million
The 1970s – the shift to a poverty focus
This historical period starts with the 1973 Arab embrago on oil, which lead to oil price rises, followed by food price rises and recession across Africa. In 1975, for example, Ghana’s eGDP contracted by 12% and inflaction had risen to more than 100% by 1977.
In practical terms this lead to aid being redirected away from large infrastructure projects and towrds rurual projects in agriculture and rural development and social services – such as innoculation programmes, housing and literacy campaigns. By the end of the 1970s, the proportion of aid allocated to social service had increased from 10% (in the previous decade) to over 50%. Much of this aid came in the form of concessional loans which would need to be paid back.
Moyo also notes that despite the increasing inflows of aid, increasing numbers of people in Africa were falling into poverty.
The 1980s: Neoliberalism, Structural Adjustment and the lost age of development
Moyo begins – By the end of the 1970s, Africa was awash with aid. In total, the continent had ammassed around $36 billion in foreign assistance. This decade saw a shift away from governments giving aid and towards multilateral aid – with the World Bank and the IMF playing a more central role. Also, aid became focussed less on poverty reduction and more focussed on assisting (some may read coercing) developing world governments to adopt free-market policies.
The 1979 oil spike, precipitaed by the Iran-Iraq war lead to more financial problems for Africa as Western financial institutions responded to the corresponding price increases by raising interest rates – which meant that Africa’s debt service payments reached around $8 billion in 1982, while at the same time, worldwide recession meant declining income from exports, meant that in the 1980s, 11 African countries were eventually defaulted on their debts.
The solution to this crisis was to ‘restructure the debt’. Thus the IMF formed the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility – to lend more money to defaulting nations to help them. Of course this in itself did little to actually alleviate Africa’s problems – it was still dependent on concessionary loans from the West.
At the same time as this restructuring – there was also an ideological shift amongst donors – towards ‘neoliberalism’ – and aid now shifted so that when governments received it they had to agree to instigate ‘free-market reforms’ – minimising the role of the state, privatising previously nationalised industries, liberalising trade (less restrictions on private companies and exports/ imports) and reducing the number of government employees.)
Between 1986 and 1996 six African countries – Benin, the CAR, Guineas, Madagascar, Mali and Uganda shed more than 10% of their civil workforce, and overall across Africa, many industries were privatised.
The 1990s – A question of good governance
By the end of the 1980s, emerging-market countries’ debt was at lest $1 trillion — and the cost debt servicing had become so substantial that from 1987-1989 there was a net outflow of money from poor to rich countries of $15 a year.
Having seen the failure of aid in previous decades, donor institutions now laid the blame for Africa’s economic woes at the door of weak political leadership and institutions and there was an increased focus on the need to link aid to the promotion of good governance – in other words, credible institutions, transparent rule of law and freedom from corruption. There was also a growing belief that African countries needed a dose of Western Democracy in order to develop.
Moyo also notes that the increasing link between aid and democratic accountability was aided by that fact that in the 1990s, the cold war was thawing, which meant an end to the US and Russia providing aid to politcally dubious regimes in Africa for military purposes.
Finally, the later part of the 1990s saw the rise of ‘donor fatigue’ – ODA peaked in 1992 at a high of $17 billion and then fell to £12 billion in 1999.
The 2000s – the rise of glamour aid
While I think her overview of the preceding decades of development aid is useful, her casting of ODA in the most recent decade is flippant. She
fails to even mention that aid targetting came to be better informed by the 8 Millennium Development Goals, or the new philanthropy headed up by Bill Gates. Instead Moyo simply casts the 2000s as the era in which a new army of moral campaigners took to our TV screens – most noteably Bono, who not only wrote the forward to Jeffrey Sach’s 2005 ‘End of Poverty’ but also met with world leaders to discuss development issue and campaing for more aid to combat Africa’s problems. The only other substantive example she mentions about aid in the 2000s is the ‘Jubilee debt campaign.
So there you have it – with the exception of the last decade, a useful, if somewhat generalised account of the history of Western Development aid over the last half century.
What with the UK news focussing on the riots and the financial crisis, you may also have missed the fact that 12.5 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries in the region.
The World Food Programme has put together a very useful web site to provide information on the famine with lots of links to how you can help – the most easiest way being to donate by text message
This Guardian Development Post looks at what countries are donating to the humanitarian relief effort – Unsurprisingly The USA is the biggest relief donor – having committed to provide approx. $0.5 billion but the UK as committed to providing around $160 million in humanitarian aid – making us one of the biggest donors per head of population.
This may sound like a lot of money – bur keep in mind that this is money committed not money yet spent, and also the UN notes that another $2.5 billion is needed to prevent half a million people from starving.
If you want to know more about hunger around the world – the World Hunger Index provides details of percentages of malnourished children around the world.
This Guardian podcast focusses on Somalia and provides details of what it’s like for some of those suffering from famine and the problems with mounting large scale aid programmes in the area.
Half Term – means i’ve got time to discover all those things I really should’ve known about years ago – I just listened to a great podcast of an interview with William Easterly, I am much more sympathetic to his views than when I saw him speak at LSE last year – anyways, he plugged an orgasation called global giving – It’s basically ebay meets global development – some details from the web site
You can browse projects from all over the world, give to the ones you are most passionate about, and see the impact of your donations.Most of the projects on GlobalGiving.co.uk are in the developing world where a small amount of money usually goes a long way, benefiting communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to supporters in the UK.
Over £17 million has now been raised for 1,500 projects, across GlobalGiving’s US and UK websites. GlobalGiving.co.uk launched in the UK in September 2008, and the website has been averaging 300,000 annual unique visitors.
This might sound completely random, and not that I’ve anything against the man, but Lewis Hamilton has about ten times as many followers as Global Giving on Twitter – Which maybe suggests why charities spend so much time courting celebrities – I think in addition to the obvious coin-jar and vote on a project to sponsor thing, I might start a class project to try and get this global charity more followers than Lewis, I’m sure he won’t mind…
A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement