cagle cartoon
Three more recent articles feature corporations acting in their own self-interest, and against the interests of their employees and customers.

Two of the articles are about offshoring — where the corporations seem destined to ‘win’, and workers worldwide will lose:

  • An article from Jim Lobe at OneWorld summarizes a new report by Oxfam, showing that Wal-Mart and other large multinational retailers are driving down wages and working conditions all over the world. It’s a neat corporatist trick: Don’t own the third world sweatshop, control it by being its dominant customer. Then coerce them incessantly to lower their wholesale price at any cost. The sweatshop has no alternative but to reduce its costs to keep its biggest customer without going bankrupt, and to do that it must abrogate even dismally low social and environmental standards. And in the unlikely case someone dares to blow the whistle, Wal-Mart can simply say “That isn’t one of our companies, we’re merely a customer of theirs; we have no control over how they operate”. The Washington Post in a related article said: “As capital scours the globe for cheaper and more malleable workers, and as poor countries seek multinational companies to provide jobs, lift production and open export markets, Wal-Mart and China have forged themselves into the ultimate joint venture, their symbiosis influencing the terms of labor and consumption the world over.”

    OneWorld goes on: “That marriage, however, according to the both the Post account and the Oxfam report, has come largely at the expense of the worker on the factory line. ‘Wal-Mart pressures the factory to cut its price, and the factory responds with longer hours or lower pay,’ a Chinese labor official who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation told the Post, ‘And the workers have no options.’ That was also the message of a report released Monday by the New York-based National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch on a toy factory in Ping Township in Guangdong province that produces goods for Wal-Mart. The two groups reported that the mostly female labor force at the plant were paid only about half the legal minimum wage and forced to work longer hours than the legal maximum. It also reported that fire exits were normally locked. Wal-Mart responded to the report by insisting that it conducted regular inspections of all of its plants in China, but the groups said that plant managers were always informed of the inspections in advance and coached the workers on what to tell the inspectors.”

This is, of course, corporate fraud, and the big-budget PR campaigns of these stores, telling consumers they’ve cleaned up their act, are bare-faced lies. But in the wild and wooly world of third world business, where money buys anything, just try and prove it. And be careful about charging these companies with lying to customers — as the Nike case shows, corporatists prosecute those that try to stop the lies, claiming that prohibiting deceptive advertising interferes with the corporation’s ‘rights’. There is therefore only one way to fight back: Boycott companies that offshore domestic jobs to third world countries (both manufacturing and service jobs). Encourage Consumers Union and other consumer and labour advocacy groups to maintain and communicate lists of offshorers. Pledge to buy local.
  • An article by Anne Fisher in Fortune magazine suggests the potential for offshoring American jobs to the third world is almost limitless. The article says: “So far, according to the best industry estimates, only about 5% of U.S. IT jobs have been shipped to India, New Zealand, and Eastern Europe. But by 2007 at least 23% will have gone. Not a techie? Don’t get cocky. IT folks may just be the canary in the coal mine. Notes a reader named Hans: ‘There is almost no limit on the technology that can take jobs overseas. Anyone in any field who has ever thought they could just as easily do their job from home, or who has smiled at the thought of working from a laptop on a beach, should understand that his or her replacement could just as easily do their job from Bangalore.”
So it’s not just manufacturing and help-desk service jobs at risk. As retailing goes online, all the related services and transaction processing could be offshored. As virtual presence technologies improve, all sales, consulting and business overhead jobs could go offshore as well. No job is safe. In addition to boycotting offshorers, we need to lobby politicians to change tax regulations to put employers of domestic workers on the same after-tax footing as offshorers.

One customer is determined to strike back at abusive treatment by one notorious group of corporations, the RIAA. As reported by John Borland at CNET, Michele Scimeca, one of the people sued by the RIAA for file-swapping is counter-suing the RIAA for extortion and violations under the federal anti-racketeering act. According to CNET she “contends that by suing file-swappers for copyright infringement, and then offering to settle instead of pursuing a case where liability could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the RIAA is violating the same laws that are more typically applied to gangsters and organized crime”. Brava, Ms. Scimeca.

Now if only we could get that kind of creative strategy to deal with offshoring. Is depriving citizens of their right to a reasonable livelihood against any law? How about wrongful dismissal? Or a human rights violation?

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  1. Raging Bee says:

    So now we’re comparing the RIAA to Al Capone? I guess that’s less idiotic than comparing them to Stalin – although it’s still pretty stupid, given that the RIAA haven’t killed anyone. Does this self-righteous music thief even know who Al Capone was?The sheer childishness of the music thieves is matched only by their hypocricy.And speaking of hypocricy, first you condemn WalMart for forcing down wages all over the world, then you praise the “creative strategy” of someone who shamelessly steals the work of creative artists, then cries “extortion!” when she’s caught. Any Republican crook could have thought of that, and many already have.

  2. Firas says:

    Raging Bee, this is really one of the few issues where both sides (left/right) have chimed in on the same side–against the RIAA.1) Copyright infringement is not theft. Let’s be clear about this. Copyright is the exclusive right to copy, display, distribute etc.–nothing to be suing 13 year olds about.2) Can we agree that what’s legal does not decide what is good or bad?

  3. Raging Bee says:

    When someone who is not the rightful owner of a work uploads it to a site like Napster, making it available for indiscriminate copying, outside the control of its owners, and the owners have no ability to get paid for it, then it is copyright infringement, and it is theft – which is normally defined as taking something one does not own and refusing to pay what one is expected to pay for it.And can we quit hiding behind 13-year-olds and playing innocent, wronged children? The human-shield game is for Hamas. Kids can be busted for shoplifting. And where were these wayward teens’ parents? Were they not monitoring what their kids were doing with several hundred dollars worth of computer equipment? Did they not attempt to explain the meaning of that little bit of text on every record, tape, CD and book – “Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws”?If the RIAA’s actions force these kids to grow up and recognize that their actions have consequences, then I’m all for it.

  4. Dave says:

    What are the right questions to ask about this topic? When we say that citizens have a right to a reasonable livelihood, what does that mean? To me, it means that laws are such that individuals and small business have reasonable access to capital and other resources, rights to form business, and so on. I don’t think it means that IBM must provide some specified amount of employment, with living wages for US citizens. Anyway, the crux of the issue is the US public education system, which has systematically removed the inventiveness, initiative, and personal character that was the source of this country’s wealth in the first place.

  5. Jon Husband says:

    Remove “RIAA” from the computer/machine in the cartoon and substitute “The Corporation”, and I see also the general effect that waking life spent in service to coporate profit has on the music, the songs, in peoples’ imaginations and hearts – the pockets for/of their souls.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Raging Bee alias Pony Tailed Writer: You should read what Lawrence Lessig and John Snyder (who represents many recording artists) has to say about this. It’s oligopolistic price-gouging by RIAA members that created this little consumer rebellion.Dave (too many damn ‘Daves’ in the blogosphere): Corporate charters carry with them responsibilities, not just rights. If IBM wants to hire foreign workers instead of Americans, they should operate as a foreign company, and be treated as such — none of the rights that American companies get (tax breaks etc.) and be prepared to have their product subject to foreign duties when it is ‘imported’ into the US — those duties going to American companies who employ Americans and exercise their responsibilities to American communities. There are no rights without responsibilities.Jon: Amen!

  7. Dave says:

    I agree – many companies are abusing their responsibilities. I would also repeat the concern about worker exploitation in countries where individual freedoms and rights are weaker than in the US.

  8. Life Tenant says:

    Dave, at the risk of sounding grumpy again, I think you’re mixing apples and oranges in this post, and presenting issues in one-sided fashion, in ways that undercuts rather than strengthens your arguments. You’ve rightly made the point before that the recording industry has adopted the bizarre strategy of making war on its own customers. The RIAA’s members claim to champion creativity but in reality are relentless stiflers of innovation and form one of the most unimaginative and unresponsive industries in existence (for example clinging to the album format when technology and consumer preferences are clearly driving the market towards singles). The RIAA abuses the legislative process to get special powers and rights that twist the judicial process into a mechanism for corporate self-help at the expense of individual privacy and market competition. In contrast, the trends in international trade and services that you refer to involve increases, not reductions, in market competition, which create winners as well as losers. Walmart’s buying practices in developing countries *benefit* purchasers of cheaper clothes in Walmart’s stores. If they drive hard bargains that lead suppliers to pay low wages, we have to ask why workers still seek those jobs. When rich countries subsidize their farmers and force poor countries to lower tariffs, developing country farmers are unable to make a living on the land and have to seek industrial jobs, in which case they may be better off having a low-wage industrial job than none at all. Are you sure you are aiming at the right Target here?The outsourcing of services that allows companies to cut the jobs of workers in developed countries *benefits* the skilled workers in developing countries who replace them. These are not insignificant benefits, but your post ignores them. Oxfam’s report implies that purchasers like Walmart somehow control the buyer’s market leaving developing countries defenceless. But 1300 stores in 10 countries is a small fraction of the retail market in the developed world. While Honduras admittedly is at a disadvantage in dealing with US multinationals, it is laughable to suggest that Walmart dictates the content of laws in China concerning minimum wage, workplace safety or the right to organize. China has made its own choices about the terms of foreign trade and investment, and the unfortunate conditions of workers there results largely from policies defined by political elites whose power was entrenched well before companies like Walmart came on the scene. To Oxfam’s credit, its report places blame with Third World governments as well as First World-based corporations. You suggest that we should boycott all First World-based companies that source manufactured goods or services in the Third World. Surely there are some companies that comply with the law in developing countries with decent labor laws. If so, the foreign exchange and capital that they bring could be highly beneficial in poor countries seeking to build industrial sectors that will provide desperately needed jobs to their growing labor forces, and goods and services to populations that are outgrowing agriculture-dominated economies. Shouldn’t we be identifying and rewarding the good actors among the multinationals?

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Subdude: You raise some very complicated points here, and I can’t really answer them in the space allotted for comments to a blog. In different ways, international trade in goods that can reasonably be produced locally does a huge disservice to workers in both the importing and exporting country, but the reasons for this are very complex. Thom Hartmann (Unequal Protection), David Korten (When Corporations Rule the World) and Herman Daly (economist whose essays I’ve linked to on my blog) all take hundreds of pages to explain why this is so, and I’d recommend their work. I wish I could answer your points in a few sentences, but I can’t. If you don’t have the patience or inclination to read the above sources, e-mail me and I’ll attempt to deal with your concerns using that medium, though it will still take a fair amount of back-and-forth.

  10. Jon Husband says:

    Subdude: ” If they drive hard bargains that lead suppliers to pay low wages, we have to ask why workers still seek those jobs”Are you serious ? I think it’s probably called survival rather than starvation based on principles.

  11. Raging Bee says:

    “It’s oligopolistic price-gouging by RIAA members that created this little consumer rebellion.”Rubbish. It was technological advancement that enabled the uncontrolled, indiscriminate uploading and copying of music in computer-usable formats. And of course, once you get used to getting something for free, ANY price will look like “price-gouging.” Making it easy does NOT make it right, any more than better guns make homicide right.And stop trying to glorify opportunistic theft by calling it “consumer rebellion.” You’re not fooling anyone who doesn’t already want to be fooled.

  12. Life Tenant says:

    Dave, you object to international trade in products that can reasonably be produced locally, but everything depends on what you mean by reasonably, which involves a judgment about the value of external costs and benefits that cannot be entirely defined in monetary terms. Herman Daly’s writings changed my life and thought, giving me a grand framework for identifying what’s wrong with our current economic system and what we should do instead. But I no longer feel that his radical opposition to trade makes sense. I get a big consumer surplus from the daily pleasure of drinking good arabica coffee, something I could never get without international trade. I’m not entirely comfortable with the radical critique of foreign investment either; until underdeveloped areas strengthen their domestic legal and financial systems they’ll often benefit from inflows of capital – properly managed and regulated. We can’t rule out the possibility that some multinationals may bring in external benefits, for example in the form of rational bureaucratic values, practices and know-how, that are a cut above the corruption, nepotism and inefficiency found in some countries.Jon Husband, my point is that Dave P. is wrong to say that boycotting is “the only way to fight back.” The jobs that foreign trade and investment create in developing countries may not be great, but they are often better than the even more miserable alternatives, and if we boycott all multinationals that buy foreign inputs without developing alternatives then we may be doing more harm than good. Raging Bee, your comparison of new Internet-based technologies to guns exemplifies everything that is wrong with the recording industry’s mindset. These new technologies offer fantastic opportunities for education, sharing, and creativity, but you and the RIAA want to destroy them as if they were dangerous weapons. A true champion of creativity would look for profitable ways to exploit new technologies. Instead the RIAA and its members spend millions on lobbying fees to get special legislative favors that cripple market competition and prohibit beneficial technologies, millions on legal fees to bully and penalize their own customers, and millions more on the development of devices that thwart an open society rather than foster it.

  13. Raging Bee says:

    Subdued: a “true champion of creativity” would admit that indiscriminate, uncontrolled sharing and copying of music hurts creativity by allowing people to take creative work without paying for it, thus depriving creative artists of their right to profit from their work. Such action is no better than a boss who refuses to pay his employees for work already done, and has nothing to do with the “fantastic opportunities” offered by new technologies.Stop using the RIAA’s actions as an excuse for theft; stop pretending to be a “victim;” and start acting like an adult.PS: I’ll take your lame ad-hominem attack, and your refusal to address the specific actions I speak of, as an admission that you know I’m right.

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