Detroit Industry (detail 2) (by paul.malon)
Diego Rivera, 1932
Documents found at the Tazreen apparel factory in Bangladesh, where 112 workers died in a fire nearly two weeks ago, indicate that three American garment companies were using the factory during the past year to supply goods to Walmart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary.
The documents — photographed by a Bangladeshi labor organizer after the fire and made available to The New York Times — include an internal production report from mid-September showing that 5 of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making apparel for Walmart.
In a related matter, two officials who attended a meeting held in Bangladesh in 2011 to discuss factory safety in the garment industry said on Wednesday that the Walmart official there played the lead role in blocking an effort to have global retailers pay more for apparel to help Bangladesh factories improve their electrical and fire safety.
Photo Caption: Burials on Nov. 27 for some of the 112 victims of the garment factory fire in Bangladesh.
— Annette Bernhardt, Policy Co-Director at the NELP
Ruben Valadez, 61, got a contract job with Warestaff in February. While most of us are sleeping, he’s dripping in sweat in 115-degree (46 Celsius) containers filled with boxes headed for Wal-Mart stores across the United States. The merchandise includes clothing, baby furniture, televisions, lighters, and cabinets, all made in Chinese and Mexican sweatshops.
A few weeks ago, Walmart announced that its second-quarter profits rose almost six per cent to just over $4 billion. Ruben makes $8.50 an hour with no benefits. Because he doesn’t have health insurance, he prays that he doesn’t get sick or injured on the job. He says the requirement to unload 250 boxes an hour is an impossible task, but he moves as fast as possible to avoid being fired.
Even though the heat is unbearable, especially during summer months, the drinking water supply quickly runs out, leaving workers with no choice but to buy a Gatorade or Coke from a machine. They used to have access to just one cooler of water. After complaining, they now have two. The coolers are dirty and the water is often an unsanitary brown color. Workers are only allowed to refill the bottles they must bring from home during three short breaks, two are 10-minutes each, and one is a 30-minute lunch.
This is happening in Southern California, the 15th largest economy in the world. Valadez was shocked to see how people are treated. “It’s inhumane,” he says. “They treat us like slaves. We don’t have any civil rights. If you speak up, you’ll lose your job.”
Valadez says his supervisor watches him like a hawk, even when he goes to the bathroom, and is often told that if he doesn’t like the working conditions, he can leave. Because people are desperate for work, Warestaff would have no problem finding a replacement, but Valadez won’t sit back and take the abuse. “I want people to know what’s happening. We need to stand up for our rights. We shouldn’t be intimidated and afraid of speaking up.”
At his last job as a scheduler and planner at an electronics company, which he lost in 2007, he made $17 an hour, had full benefits, and was protected by a union. These days, even mentioning the dirty word union will ensure that you’ll be followed to the bathroom and have your hours cut. Because Valadez can’t get enough hours, he can no longer afford to pay rent, recently got evicted, and is now living in a $42 per night motel.
The only way workers like Valadez will be treated with dignity, have access to clean drinking water, and make a living wage is through collective action and organising."
While obviously this could be an issue here as well, I’d pitch issues like this as a HUGE part of why New Yorkers should eat locally from one of the dosens of local greenmarkets in the city. These practices are, at the very least, MUCH LESS widespread in local agriculture than elsewhere.
Whistleblowing Wednesday: Children As Young As Six Harvest 25 Percent of U.S. Crops
Knowing the farmer who grows your food has become an important tenet of the modern food movement, but precious little attention is paid to the people who actually pick the crops or “process” the chickens or fillet the fish. U Roberto Romano’s poignant film, The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), being screened across the country for Farmworker Awareness Week (March 24-29), informs us that nearly 500,000 children as young as six harvest up to 25 percent of all crops in the United States.
What’s illegal in most countries is permitted here. Child migrant labor has been documented in the 48 contiguous states. Seasonal work originates in the southernmost states in late winter where it is warm and migrates north as the weather changes. Every few weeks as families move, children leave school and friends behind. If you’ve had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you’ve probably eaten food harvested by children.
This isn’t a slavery issue, or an immigration issue per se. What’s remarkable is that most of the migrant child farmworkers are American citizens trying to help their families. This is a poverty issue and it gets to the heart of what we, as consumers, see as the “right price” to pay for food.
Children earn about $1,000 per year for working an average of 30 hours a week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. When you consider that the average annual pay for a migrant family of four is $12,500-$14,500, it’s apparent why some families feel they have no choice but to bring their children into the fields with them. Half of these kids will not graduate from high school because they’re always moving around, perpetuating the cycle of poverty that caused them to be day laborers in the first place.
After they agree to donate, sellers are tissue tested, and if there is a match, the broker will offer the seller around $1,150. But in most cases, the sellers do not receive anywhere near that amount. The organ brokers tack on extra fees for travel and other logistics, and the sellers make sometimes only half the initial amount — and even then only after the surgery is completed.
The brokers forge fake passports and legal documents to make it appear plausible that the seller is donating to a blood relative. In one case, Michigan State anthropologist Monir Moniruzzaman found a 38-year-old Hindu seller who had to get circumcised to donate to a Muslim recipient. The circumcision was done crudely and only with local anesthesia. “When I was coming back home, the anesthesia stopped working,” he told the anthropologist, “and I felt like it was a nightmare.”
Most of the sellers Moniruzzaman spoke to were taken to India for the surgery, and upon arrival they had their passports confiscated so they could not leave. “One case I found [was] a 23-year-old college student,” he says. “He went to India and realized that he was making a mistake. So he wanted to come back without giving his kidney. The broker hired two thugs — Indian thugs — and they basically beat him and forced him to go to the operation room.”
This man, like all the other sellers, woke up from surgery with a 20-inch long scar around his torso — a constant reminder that he sold part of his body for a few hundred dollars. “We are living cadavers,” another told Moniruzzaman. “By selling our kidneys, our bodies are lighter but our chests are heavier than ever.”
Read more. [Image: Monir Moniruzzaman]
This is sick, the people of Bangladesh have been exploited for too long. The protests last week was massive (100,000 protested in Dhaka). Hopefully they’ll keep it up.
An audit of Apple’s Chinese factories details “serious and pressing” concerns over excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, health and safety failings, and management interference in trade unions.
In the most detailed public investigation yet into conditions at Foxconn factories in China, which assemble millions of iPhones and iPads each year, the independent Fair Labor Association found that more than half of employees had worked 11 days or more without rest.
More than 43% of workers reported experiencing or witnessing an accident at the three plants audited.
Health and safety breaches found by auditors and published on Thursday included blocked exits, lack of or faulty personal protective equipment and missing permits, which the FLA said was remedied when discovered.
Despite several suicides, which raised the alarm two years ago, and an explosion that killed three workers last year, Foxconn still failed to consult workers on safety, with the committees “failing to monitor conditions in a robust manner”, the report found.
The management was found to be nominating candidates for election to worker committees, with the result that “committees are composed not by those who need representation, but instead are dominated by management representatives”. This left workers feeling “alienated” and lacking confidence in safety procedures."
List of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.
1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. (Source: Exxon Mobil’s 2009 shareholder report filed with the SEC here.)
2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion. (Source: Forbes.com here, ProPublica here and Treasuryhere.)
3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. (Source: Citizens for Tax Justice hereand The New York Times here. Note: despite rumors to the contrary, the Times has stood by its story.)
4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009. (Source: See 2009 Chevron annual report here. Note 15 on page FS-46 of this report shows a U.S. federal income tax liability of $128 million, but that it was able to defer $147 million for a U.S. federal income tax liability of $-19 million)
5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year. . (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here and Citizens for Tax Justice here.)
6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction. (Source: the company’s 2009 annual report, pg. 112, here.)
7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department. (Source: Bloomberg News here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction. (Sources: Profits can be found here. The deduction can be found on the company’s 2010 SEC 10-K report to shareholders on 2009 finances, pg. 127,here)
10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent. (Source: The New York Times here)
Our country & our world can no longer afford to be run by these corporations!
PALMYRA, Pa. — Hundreds of foreign students, waving their fists and shouting defiantly in many languages, walked off their jobs on Wednesday at a plant here that packs Hershey’s chocolates, saying a summer program that was supposed to be a cultural exchange had instead turned them into underpaid labor.
The students, from countries including China, Nigeria, Romania and Ukraine, came to the United States through a long-established State Department summer visa program that allows them to work for two months and then travel. They said they were expecting to practice their English, make some money and learn what life is like in the United States.
In a way, they did. About 400 foreign students were put to work lifting heavy boxes and packing Reese’s candies, Kit-Kats and Almond Joys on a fast-moving production line, many of them on a night shift. After paycheck deductions for fees associated with the program and for their rent, students said at a rally in front of the huge packing plant that many of them were not earning nearly enough to recover what they had spent in their home countries to obtain their visas.
Their experience of American society has been very different from what they expected.
“There is no cultural exchange, none, none,” said Zhao Huijiao, a 20-year-old undergraduate in international relations from Dalian, China. “It is just work, work faster, work.”
Each summer, the State Department brings many thousands of foreign students to the United States on the international work-travel program, with visas that are known as J-1. Over the years, the program has successfully given university students from distant countries a chance to be immersed in everyday America and to make lasting friends.
But in recent years, the program has drawn complaints from students about low wages and unexpectedly difficult work conditions. It appears, however, that the walkout at the Palmyra plant is the first time that foreign students have engaged in a strike to protest their employment.
John Fleming, a State Department spokesman, said officials were aware of the students’ protest and had sent staff members to Hershey, Pa., where the candy company is based, to investigate. “It is our job to ensure that all J-1 visa holders are accorded their rights under all provisions of the Summer Work Travel program,” Mr. Fleming said.
The arrangements that brought the foreign students to work at the Eastern Distribution Center III, a vast warehouse in a trim industrial park near Hershey, the American chocolate capital, involved layers of contractors.
The students said they mainly placed blame on the organization that manages the J-1 visa program for the State Department, the Council for Educational Travel, U.S.A., which is based in California.
Rick Anaya, chief executive of the council, said he had brought about 6,000 J-1 visa students to the United States this summer. Mr. Anaya said he had tried to respond to the Palmyra workers’ complaints. “We are not getting any cooperation,” he said. “We are trying to work with these kids. All this negativity is hurting an excellent program. We would go out of our way to help them, but it seems like someone is stirring them up out there.”
A spokesman for Hershey’s, Kirk Saville, said the chocolate company did not directly operate the Palmyra packing plant, which is managed by a company called Exel. A spokeswoman for Exel said it had found the student workers through another staffing company.
The spokeswoman, Lynn Anderson, said: “We contract with a staffing agency to provide temporary employees, some from the local work force and some J-1 visa holders. We don’t have a lot of influence over some of those issues that they’ve raised.”
A labor organization, the National Guestworker Alliance, which has been working with the students, presented a complaint on Wednesday to the State Department asking for the Council for Educational Travel, U.S.A. to be removed from its list of sponsoring organizations.
In the protest on Wednesday, about 200 students who were scheduled to start work on an evening shift at 3 p.m. walked into the plant and presented a petition with several hundred signatures to a management representative. Then, together with some students coming off the daytime shift, they marched out.
They came down the driveway to the plant, with semi-trailer trucks wheeling by, chanting, “We are the students, the mighty, mighty students!” and labor slogans in English as well as their own languages. The students said they believed that so many of them walking off their jobs would stop some production on their shifts.
“We want to own our rights,” Ms. Zhao said, speaking in English. She and three other Chinese students held out their arms, pointing to bruises they said they had from moving large boxes.
Representatives from two American labor unions participated in the rally at an intersection outside the plant. Three labor officials, including Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Neal Bisno, president of a Pennsylvania branch of the Service Employees International Union, staged a brief sit-in at the plant entrance and were arrested.
Harika Duygu Ozer, 19, a second-year medical student from a university in Istanbul, said she had heard from friends that the summer exchange program would be fun and that she would earn enough money to pay for her medical school tuition.
“I said, ‘Why not?’ This is America,” Ms. Ozer said.
When she was offered a contract for a job at a plant with Hershey’s chocolates, she said, she was excited. “We have all seen Charlie’s chocolate factory,” she said. “We thought, ‘This is good.’ ”
Like many other students, Ms. Ozer said she invested about $3,500, which included the program costs, to obtain the J-1 visa and travel to the United States.
Several Chinese students, including Ms. Zhao, said they had paid more than $6,000 in the process of securing visas.
Ms. Ozer said she worked an eight-hour shift that began at 11 p.m.
“You stand for the entire eight hours,” she said. “It is the worst thing for your fingers and hands and your back; you are standing at an angle.”
At one of the sites where she worked, she said, cameras were trained on her, and supervisors told her that if she did not want to maintain the pace of work, she should leave.
Godwin Efobi, 26, a third-year medical student from Nigeria who is studying at a university in Ukraine, said his job was moving boxes. “Since I came here, I have a permanent ache in my back,” Mr. Efobi said. “Holding a pen is now a big task for me; my muscles ache.”
The students said they decided to protest when they learned that neighbors in the apartments and houses where they were staying were paying significantly less rent.
“The tipping point was when we found out about the rent,” Mr. Efobi said.
Ms. Ozer and other students said they were paid $8.35 an hour. After fees are deducted from her paychecks as well as $400 a month for rent, she said, she often takes home less than $200 a week. “We are supposed to be here for cultural exchange and education, but we are just cheap laborers,” Ms. Ozer said.