30 NOVEMBER 2002:
ABOVE: Shoppers at a Bakersfield
Wal-Mart grab televisions after the store opened at 6 a.m
The Washington-based National
Retail Federation predicts total holiday retail sales, which exclude restaurant
and auto sales, will increase by 4 percent to roughly $209.25 billion.
from The New York Times
for April 24, 2001:
Labor Standards Clash With Global Reality
by LESLIE KAUFMAN and DAVID
SAN SALVADOR Six years
ago, Abigail Martínez earned 55 cents an
hour sewing cotton tops
and khaki pants. Back then, she says, workers were made
to spend 18-hour days in
an unventilated factory with undrinkable water.
Employees who displeased
the bosses were denied bathroom breaks or occasionally made
to sweep outside all morning
in the broiling sun.
she and other workers have coffee breaks and lunch on an outdoor
terrace cafeteria. Bathrooms
are unlocked, the factory is breezy and clean, and
employees can complain to
a board of independent monitors if they feel abused.
are the result of efforts by Gap, the big clothing chain, to
improve working conditions
at this independent factory, one of many that supply
Martínez today earns 60 cents an hour, only 5 cents more an hour
than six years ago.
ways, the factory, called Charter, shows what Western companies
can do to discourage abuse
by suppliers. But Gap’s experience also demonstrates
the limits to good intentions
when first-world appetites collide with third-world
hours are still long, production quotas are high, and her
earnings are still not enough
to live on. She shares a two- room concrete home with a
sister, two brothers, her
parents and a grandmother.
real alternative in this impoverished nation is no work. And
government officials won’t
raise the minimum wage or even enforce labor laws too rigorously
for fear that employers
would simply move many jobs to another poor country.
from Gap’s experience in El Salvador is that competing
interests among factory
owners, government officials, American managers and middle-class
consumers all with their
eyes on the lowest possible cost make it difficult to
achieve even basic standards,
and even harder to maintain them.
have suggested that there are simple or magic solutions to ensure
that labor standards are
applied globally,” said Aron Cramer, director of human
rights at Business for Social
Responsibility, a nonprofit advocacy group that receives
support from business. “In
fact, it takes a great deal of work.”
with abusive conditions, Ms. Martínez and a small group of other
workers organized and began
to hold strikes at the factory, then called Mandarin
International, in 1995.
As tension rose, workers took over the factory and shut down
power to the plant. Security
guards forcibly ejected strikers; union members said the
guards dragged women out
by their hair and clubbed them with guns. The
factory’s owners fired hundreds,
including Ms. Martínez.
have ended that way, except that it occurred just as concern
about sweatshops was rising
in the United States. Groups like the National
Labor Committee, a union-backed,
workers advocacy group based in New York, had formed to
oppose sweatshops. Mandarin
offered a media- ready case of abuse, and the
revolt was widely publicized.
two of the four retailers using Mandarin left after the protests
J. C. Penney and Dayton
Hudson (now Target). Eddie Bauer, a unit of Spiegel Inc.,
suspended its contract.
Gap Inc., which is based in San Francisco, intended to quit,
too, but a group of Mandarin
workers pleaded with the company to save their jobs. Some
blamed union organizers
for the trouble. “Problems were made to look worse by the
union,” said one employee,
Lucía Alvarado, who has worked at the factory for eight years.
chose to stay after deciding that all the groups involved
workers, labor activists
and factory owners were willing to make changes. The
workers were expected to
stop disrupting the plant, and managers had to agree to more
humane practices and to
accept outside monitors.
sure the changes stuck and to arbitrate disputes, Gap decided to
try the then innovative
idea of hiring local union, religious and academic leaders as
independent monitors who
would meet regularly with workers to hear complaints,
investigate problems and
look over the books.
not a paradise,” said Carolina Quinteros, co-director of the
Independent Monitoring Group
of El Salvador, as the monitors call themselves. “But
at least it works better
than others down here. They don’t have labor or human rights
for change ranges far beyond the Charter factory, or El
Salvador. Today, activists
on college campuses are calling for an end to sweatshops
everywhere. [As recently
as this past weekend in Quebec, world trade officials debated
how to clean up those operations,
and the United States has pushed developing countries
to raise pay and working
conditions in thousands of plants from Bangladesh to
however, have been negligible. The basic problem is that jobs
and capital can move fast
these days, as the president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores,
is keenly aware. “The difficulty
in this region is that there is labor that is
more competitively priced
than El Salvador,” he said.
as in many other countries, labor advocates say the problem is
made worse by the government’s
cozy ties with factory owners. When a Labor Ministry
committee issued a report
critical of forced overtime, poor safety and threats
against labor organizers,
factory owners complained. The government swiftly withdrew
and disowned it.
officials and business leaders have also objected to monitors
Gap has hired to police
working conditions. They contend that the group is a tool of
unions that want to keep
jobs from leaving the United States or a leftist
anti-government front, a
suspicion left over from El Salvador’s long civil war, which ended in
there is practicality. Gap spends $10,000 a year for the
independent monitors at
Charter, which is owned by Taiwanese investors, and thousands more for
management time to arbitrate
disputes and for its own company monitors to recheck
the facts on the ground.
For the company to duplicate these intensive efforts at each
of the 4,000 independent
factories it contracts with would have taken about 4.5
percent of its annual profit
of $877 million last year.
world where costs are measured in pennies, that percentage would be
a significant burden. Wal-Mart
and Kmart are praised by investors for relentlessly
driving down costs, but
they have much less comprehensive monitoring programs.
that expense and staff time are not even its main concerns. The
experiment in El Salvador
has only reinforced the company’s conviction that
companies cannot substitute
for governments indifferent to enforcing laws. Also, it said,
retailers have limited power
over their independent contractors. Either they pull out,
which would punish innocent
workers, or they must accede to a slow process where
they must cajole and bully
for every bit of progress.
not the all-powerful Oz that rules over what happens in every
factory,” said Elliot Schrage,
Gap’s senior vice president for global affairs. “Do we
have leverage? Yes. Is it
as great as our critics believe? Not by a long shot.”
Sitting Down: Monitoring
Effort Enlists Outsiders
Still, monitoring is the
sweatshop opponents’ great hope. Watchdog
groups say that only people
outside of the company can win the trust of workers and
evaluate complaints. “That
is where you get problems that won’t show up in paper
records and interviews with
management,” said Sam Brown, executive director of the
Fair Labor Association,
a labor advocacy group in Washington.
time, however, no one had ever done it, said Mr. Brown, who is a
former Ambassador to the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
and past director of Action,
federal domestic volunteer agency.
efforts are still in many ways a blueprint for the international
labor advocacy movement
since 1995 other companies like Liz Claiborne and Reebok have
attempted to start similar
programs. But what has actually happened in
El Salvador is a process
that lasted longer, cost more and achieved less than what many
people had hoped for. “We
knew it would be hard,” Mr. Schrage said. “But it’s been
harder than we ever imagined.”
has found that no aspect of its efforts escapes local
politics. On the recommendation
of Charles Kernaghan, the director of the National Labor
Council, Gap turned to the
legal aid office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador and to
the Jesuit University here.
Earlier, both institutions had helped uncover abuses in
the plant, which to Gap
demonstrated their experience and independence from management.
But both also had a history
of sympathy for the Farabundo Martí National
Liberation Front, a coalition
of rebel groups and political parties during the civil war.
The coalition is known as
the F.M.L.N., its initials in Spanish.
companies see me, they see someone to the left of the F.M.L.N.,”
said Benjamín Cuéllar,
the director of the Institute for Human Rights at the
University of Central America
here who is also on the board of independent monitors. That view
manifests itself in mistrust
and resistance by managers, he said.
politics, Gap says it is not easy to impose its will on
contractors simply because
it is a major customer. Pedro Mancía, the factory’s manager,
indicated that he looks
on the monitors as an annoyance, not a threat. In his view, the
only meaningful role they
played was in easing tensions among the workers themselves
after the 1995 strike.
event “was not between management and workers,” Mr. Mancía argued.
“We had two warring factions
of unions and they could not sit down together.”
managers agreed to accept monitors mostly to avoid losing Gap
and going out of business.
Still, trust is tenuous and the managers have found ways
subtle and not so subtle
to resist, monitors say.
about a year to rehire all of the workers fired during the 1995
strike, for example. And
30 of those rehired in 1997 were fired again recently, not
because they were strikers
but because the company said they were not productive
enough. “They are playing
by the rules of the game,” said one member of the monitoring
group. “But I’m not much
in agreement with the rules of the game.”
that this project has taught it the limit of its own influence.
“We can’t be the whole solution,”
Mr. Schrage said. “The solution has to be labor laws
that are adequate, respected
and enforced. One of the problems in El Salvador is
that that was not happening
and is not happening.”
Moving On: Economic Obstacles
Before dawn each day, Flor
de María Hernández leaves her three children
in the tent where they have
lived since an earthquake leveled her home earlier this
year and begins her two-hour
commute to the Charter clothing factory.
the others, like Ms. Martínez, must be at work before 7 a.m.
Managers close the gate
precisely on the hour and dock the pay of anyone who is late.
rows of sewing machines face blackboards on which supervisors
have written the daily quotas
for shirts and trousers, roughly 2,000 a day for each
line of 36 machines. The
pace is relentless, but by local standards it is a
pleasant place to work.
There are lockers, tiled bathrooms, a medical clinic and an outdoor
cafeteria. Large fans and
high ceilings keep temperatures down.
Martínez remembers just what it took to get this far. She was
among the workers who protested
the abusive conditions in 1995. “Workers would
bring in permission slips
from their doctors to go to the hospital,” she
recalled, “and supervisors
would rip it up in their faces.”
70,000 garment workers in El Salvador, 80 percent are women. Few
earn enough to take care
of their families. Ms. Hernández, for example, earns
about $30 a week inspecting
clothes. It is not enough to feed her children; to make
ends meet, she relies on
help from her ex-husband.
her job because the most common alternative is to work as a
live-in maid or a street
vendor. Jobs cutting sugar cane in the searing sun, once
plentiful, are difficult
to find now, and wages have fallen in recent years along with commodity
never a wealthy country, is struggling every bit as hard as
its people. Roughly 75,000
people were killed and thousands wounded in the civil
war. The war also drove
away foreign investment, shuttered relatively high-paying
electronics factories and
left roads, power lines and other basic services in
this year, two powerful earthquakes compounded the difficulties
by wrecking hundreds of
thousands of buildings. Economists estimate that 180,000
Salvadorans are jobless.
Almost half of the population lives in poverty.
has gone out of its way to attract investment and jobs.
Government leaders pin the
country’s future on the optimistic hope of doubling the
number of factories making
clothes for the United States, to more than 400, in
have been a source of significant economic growth in recent
years,” President Flores
said using the Spanish term for the plants that enjoy tax and
trade benefits. “They are
the most dynamic economic sector in the country.”
growth, however, has not been matched by the budget of the Labor
Ministry, which is among
the worst-financed agencies. It employs only 37 labor
inspectors to enforce regulations
1 for every 10 factories, not including coffee
sites or other places of business in this country, which
has 6.1 million people.
of the government’s willingness to be an advocate for labor
was illustrated last summer
when it suppressed the report critical of factory working
conditions. The labor minister,
Jorge Nieto, said that the report was technically
flawed, and insists that
the government intends to modernize his agency and improve inspector
training. “We want investment,
but only with respect and fairness,” he said. “Only
when workers’ rights are
respected can we generate more contracts with American
get those contracts, El Salvador must compete with neighbors like
Honduras and Nicaragua,
where wages are lower and the population even poorer and
more eager for work. Government
officials and factory managers concede that El
Salvador’s current minimum
wage is not enough to live on by some estimates it covers less
than half of the basic needs
of a family of four but they are wary of increasing it.
be satisfied with the wage, but we have to acknowledge the
economic realities,” Mr.
Gap pioneered the independent monitoring effort, few other
American companies have
followed. They cite costs, politics and questionable effectiveness.
Gap executives echo those
worries when they assess the experience at Charter.
in a very competitive marketplace,” said Mr. Schrage of Gap.
“Consumers make decisions
on lots of factors, including price. There is no clear benefit
in having invested in independent
monitoring to a consumer and it is not clear if we were
to make it more broad policy
that consumers would get a benefit or care at all.”
shopped at the Gap flagship store at Herald Square in Manhattan,
Claire Cosslett fingered
an aqua cotton T-shirt made in El Salvador to check
for quality. Ms. Cosslett,
a legal recruiter, said she reads labels and sometimes worries
that her garments are “made
by some child chained to a sewing machine.”
companies dread comments like that. Yet for all their fears,
they ultimately have to
balance their concern over image, and any feelings they have
about third-world workers,
with customers’ attitudes. Then there are the competitive
pressures to keep costs
low. Would the cost of raising working standards in El Salvador
raise the price of a
T-shirt enough to drive off customers?
several shoppers who were interviewed at the Manhattan store, Ms.
Cosslett was the only
one to say that reports of sweatshop conditions had stopped
her from buying a particular
brand. She said she would be willing to pay more for
a garment made under
better working conditions.
then she paused and hedged. “It would depend how much,” she said.
28 NOVEMBER 2002: MORE
DRUGS ON THE WAY FOR DECADENT AMERICANS.
eating less may extend your life
Thursday, November 28, 2002
Posted: 2:09 PM EST (1909 GMT)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — As
Americans feasted on plates of Thanksgiving turkey Thursday, U.S. scientists
reported they have made progress in understanding how eating less leads
to longer life.
in yeast, rodents and other organisms have found that drastically cutting
calories extends life span, and researchers are striving to find out how
that happens. The hope is that human drugs may be developed to mimic
that effect, without having to eat less.
report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, researchers said studies
with fruit flies, which have many genes similar to mammals, showed that
an enzyme called Rpd3 histone deacetylase likely is a key to longevity.
decrease the level of enzyme without eating less, you still get life span
extension,” said Stewart Frankel, a Yale research scientist and the study’s
study, flies with genetic mutations that resulted in lower levels of the
enzyme lived about 33 percent or 50 percent longer than normal. With a
low-calorie diet, life span was extended by about 41 percent.
may be an attractive drug target, said Frankel.
cautioned that much more research, which probably will take several years,
is needed before scientists find a drug that can safely provide the same
effect in people. The drug would have to be convenient and safe to take
for many years, he said.
called phenylbutyrate, is thought to target the Rpd3 enzyme, Frankel said.
A study published earlier this year showed that feeding that drug to fruit
flies extended their lives.
diets produce other benefits aside from longer lives, according to past
studies in rodents that evaluated the effect of decreasing caloric intake
by 20 to 40 percent.
memory is better, their muscle tone is better, they get fewer cancers,
fewer heart problems,” Frankel said. Even gray hair is delayed.
was co-authored by Blanka Rogina and Stephen Helfand of the University
of Connecticut Health Center.
Missing Pieces [IMPORT]
(February 16, 2001)
Number of Discs: 1
1. After the Flood (Outtake)
3. New Grass [Edit]
5. Ascension Day
7. Piano – Mark Hollis
‘Missing Pieces’ picks up
where EMI’s ‘A’s & B Sides’ left off. After leaving EMI the band signed
to Polydor to produce their final album ‘Laughing Stock’. This CD is a
collection of the A and B-sides of the singles issued during the Polydor
era. Also includes the very rare piece called ‘Piano’, recorded in 1998.
1999 release. Standard jewel case.
26 NOVEMBER 2002: HOW
U.S. COFFEE CAPILTALISTS (Nestle, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, and Sara
Lee) ARE KILLING QUALITY COFFEE
Crisis in a Coffee Cup
The price of beans has crashed.
Growers around the world are starving. And the quality of your morning
cup is getting worse. So why is everyone blaming Vietnam?
Fortune: Monday, December
By Nicholas Stein
Nestled among the rugged
hills of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, 200 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City,
Buon Ma Thuot is a remote and isolated village in a remote and isolated
land. The only road in and out of town is a narrow, winding, muddy track
interrupted by gaping potholes and meandering yaks. Until the mid-1990s
the region was notable only for a key battle in the final days of what
Vietnam calls its American war. A replica of the first North Vietnamese
tank to roll into Buon Ma Thuot sits in the center of town as a monument
to South Vietnam’s “liberation.” But in the past decade almost everything
else here has changed. The rain forest that once blanketed the region is
gone–pulled up and burned down to get at the fertile soil beneath. The
population has exploded. And the streets now reverberate with the buzz
of motorcycle traffic and the hum of commerce. The development is exemplified
by Phuc Ban Me, a gaudy resort complete with a hotel, a sprawling water
park, and a karaoke bar built in the shape of a cave.
for Buon Ma Thuot’s growth was a plant associated more often with the lush
climes of Latin America than the jungles of Southeast Asia: coffee. Between
1990 and 2000, Vietnamese farmers planted more than a million acres of
the crop. Annual production swelled from 84,000 tons to 950,000, enabling
Vietnam to surpass Colombia as the world’s second-largest producer (Brazil
is the first). Vietnam may not have Juan Valdez, but its coffee is probably
in the can in your kitchen pantry.
after a frost in Brazil sent the price of green (unroasted) coffee on New
York’s Commodities Exchange soaring above $3 a pound, Buon Ma Thuot’s coffee
sector suddenly had more money than it could spend. But the coffee renaissance
in Vietnam proved short-lived. In 1999 prices began to fall, sinking last
December to 42 cents a pound, their lowest level in a century. For three
consecutive years prices have not even covered the cost of production.
Many of the region’s farmers are heavily in debt. Some have replaced their
coffee plants with corn or pineapples. Others have simply abandoned their
farms. Phuc Ban Me gets few visitors these days, and its water park stands
vacant, a reminder of the excesses of the boom.
coffee industry is not the only one suffering. The prolonged price slump
has ravaged many of the world’s 25 million coffee growers. In Central America,
where the costs of production are triple those of Vietnam, the repercussions
have been particularly severe. The U.S. Agency for International Development
estimates that at least 600,000 coffee workers have lost their jobs. Conditions
are equally dire in Africa, where impoverished nations such as Uganda,
Burundi, and Ethiopia rely on coffee for the majority of their export revenues.
Nestor Osorio, executive director of the International Coffee Organization,
calls this “the worst crisis ever” for coffee, the second-largest globally
traded commodity, after oil.
is not just a victim of the crisis. For many, it is also the chief culprit,
responsible for flooding the market over the past five years with millions
of bags of unwanted coffee, upsetting the fine balance between global supply
and demand for its own short-term gain.
depressed prices plaguing coffee growers are not simply the result of a
cyclical glut. They are also caused by two systemic changes within the
global coffee world: the collapse of the cartel that kept prices at sustainable
levels for nearly three decades, and the development of new coffee-processing
technology, which prompted a shift away from high-quality arabica beans
to cheaper, lower-quality robusta. The former was brought on by complex
geopolitical developments. The latter can be traced to the coffee divisions
of four multinational conglomerates–Nestle, Kraft, Procter & Gamble,
and Sara Lee–which buy nearly half of the world’s coffee and own some
of the best-known brands, including Nescafe, Maxwell House, Folgers, and
Chock Full o’ Nuts. In the past, these Big Four coffee roasters blended
small amounts of robusta with arabica to pare their purchasing costs. But
technological advances have allowed roasters to neutralize robusta’s harsh,
unpleasant taste. To reduce costs further, the Big Four have significantly
upped the percentage of robusta in their blends, substituting it for arabica
they once purchased from small farmers in Latin America and Africa.
of the robusta comes from Brazil and Vietnam, which together have seized
a greater share of global exports, up from 29% in 1997 to 41% last year.
“Brazil and Vietnam offer excellent coffee at very reasonable prices,”
says Frank Meysman, head of Sara Lee’s worldwide coffee business. “It will
be difficult for other countries, particularly in Central America, to compete.”
switch to cheaper beans in the past five years has provided a windfall
for the Big Four. Though none of the companies releases financial results
for its coffee divisions, all acknowledge they have enjoyed record coffee