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Behind the Lines
Nike's Sweatshirt Sweatshop
The Kuk Dong sweatshirt factory in Puebla, Mexico is rapidly becoming a litmus test of Nike's commitment to ensuring that workers' rights are respected by its subcontractors.
800 Kuk Dong workers went on strike in January when 25 others were fired or forced to resign. The 25 workers' original complaints included forced overtime, low wages, bad cafeteria food and efforts by management to block the formation of an independent union to replace the company-supported union, the CROC, discredited for its ties to the PRI party.
Although Kuk Dong agreed in January to rehire all 800 workers, observers say that by mid-February only 200 have returned, in part because of the consistent presence of armed riot police, and because those rehired are treated like new workers without seniority status and pay.
Nike says it is working with third-party experts to reach a meaningful resolution. In late January, it said factory management is working to facilitate the workers' return regardless of which union they support.
But in early February, the company position changed: Mexican labor law and "the current collective bargaining agreement signed by Kuk Dong and the CROC union requires that [returning workers] recognize CROC as their representative union," the company said in a statement posted on its web site.
Although Nike added that "once re-employed, workers do have the right to seek an election and a new representative union," critics say in-plant intimidation makes this impractical, and say the CROC contract is illegal because it was signed before work began at the plant, and the law requiring workers to recognize the CROC only applies to new workers, not workers returning from a strike.
A Tale of Two Cities, IWhile the world's corporate and political elite met in late January at a gated ski resort in Davos, Switzerland for the thirtieth annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), thousands of grassroots activists gathered for the first time at the rival World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to discuss how to reverse a range of neoliberal policies promoted by the titans of corporate globalization meeting halfway across the planet.
Although WEF organizers invited a number of NGO critics to participate in the Davos summit, whose theme was "Sustaining Growth and Bridging Divides," the agenda was dominated by 25 heads of state and numerous investment bankers and corporate CEOs who came to share ideas about such topics as foreign exchange markets and possible fallout from slowing U.S. economic growth.
At the high-security summit in the Alps, PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO Jim Schiro said transparency "is not an option but a pressing reality, the only issue being how much, how soon and how well managed," while Monsanto CEO Hendrik Verfaillie said, "We have learned the hard way that transparency is better."
Meanwhile, many journalists and protesters intending to come to peacefully protest or attend a counter-conference held across the street were kept altogether out of Davos by a military roadblock on the one road leading into town. Others were forced to return by train to Zurich, where they were met by police with tear gas and water cannons.
"No wonder people are suspicious of large corporations meeting in secret," says Kerim Yildiz, an international human rights lawyer.
A Tale of Two Cities, IIOrganized in just eight months, the World Social Forum (WSF) began in Porto Alegre, Brazil with a 20,000-person march and continued with hundreds of plenaries and workshops on a wide range of issues concerning indigenous rights, gender and racial discrimination, poverty, hunger and environmental destruction.
Njoki Njoroge Njehu of the 50 Years is Enough Network says that in contrast to Davos, Porto Alegre provided "a clear example of how governments can prioritize human and ecological needs over the insatiable demands of multinationals."
Over 4,700 delegates traveled to the week-long forum from more than 120 countries.
Media interest peaked when French activist farmer Jose Bove joined representatives from Brazil's Landless Workers Movement to uproot acres of Monsanto's genetically modified soybeans (the entire state of Rio Grande do Sul has been declared genetic-engineering free).
An attempt to create a "Dialogue between Davos and Porto Alegre" via satellite was rejected by Davos organizers. Nevertheless, WEF attendees including financial speculator George Soros ultimately agreed to participate. After listening to some rough criticism, Soros said he supported a "Tobin tax" on international financial transactions a small transactional tax intended to slow the turnover of speculative investments in currencies and financial paper.
Two officials from the United Nations also participated in the exchange from Davos, asserting that they wished they could have been in both places. But Njehu, who joined a diverse group of 11 other WSF panelists, responded that the UN officials had chosen what side to be on and were only "bluewashing" the corporations' track record; during Davos the UN announced it would expand its Global Business Compact to 1,000 companies by 2002.
Organizers say they plan to make the World Social Forum an annual event.
- Charlie Cray