Multinational Monitor

OCT 2001
VOL 22 No. 10


Payday Profiteers: Payday Lenders Target the Working Poor
by Kari Lydersen

Renting to Owe: Rent-to-Own Companies Prey on Low-Income Consumers
by Jake Lewis


The View from Below
How the U.S. Working Poor Don’t Get By
an interview with
Barbara Ehrenreich

Migrating from
Exploitation to Dignity
Immigrant Women Workers and the Struggle for Justice
an interview with
Miriam Ching Yoon Louie

The Community Development Credit Union Alternative
an interview with
Clifford Rosenthal


Behind the Lines

Wartime Opportunism

The Front
Easy on Sunday Morning - Poverty and Mental Health

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

The Fattest Fat Cats

CEO pay now stands at 531 times the pay of the average blue collar worker, according to “Executive Excess 2001,” the eighth annual CEO compensation survey issued by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

CEO salaries jumped an average 571 percent between 1990 and 2000 (before adjusting for inflation). The recent downturn in the market does not seem to have had any affect: the pay hikes continued to rise in 2000, even while the S&P 500 dropped 10 percent.

Executives who cut the most jobs and paid the least taxes made off with the most money.

CEOs of firms that laid off 1,000 or more workers in 2000 earned about 80 percent more, on average, than executives at 365 other top firms. The job-cutting corporate leaders earned an average $23.7 million in total compensation in 2000, compared to an average $13.1 million earned by top executives as a whole.

Forty-one large, profitable corporations used special tax breaks and credits to reduce their corporate tax bill to less than zero at least once between 1996 and 1998. The CEOs of these firms had an average 69 percent pay raise hike the same year their firms received a tax rebate, far above the average CEO raise of 38 percent for the 1996 to 1998 period.

In six cases, the CEO’s raise entirely consumed his company’s tax rebate for the year.

The survey authors also report that the gender wage gap is widest at the top. The 30 highest-paid women in the corporate world earned an average total compensation of $8.7 million, while the 30 highest-paid men averaged $112.9, a ratio of 1 to 13.

Sweatshop’s Deadly Fire

Twenty four workers — mostly women — perished in a factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh on August 8, bringing the total number of lives lost in factory fires in the country to 84 in one year.

“These deaths are nothing short of murder, caused by the government’s failure to implement health and safety standards,” says Neil Kearney, general secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.

The tragedy occurred in the Mico Sweater Ltd. Factory after a worker sounded an alarm after seeing flames coming from an electric circuit board.

Though the fire did not spread very far, workers from five different production units converged on the stairs after hearing the alarm, but found the single exit locked, and the security guard absent. In the resulting stampede, 24 died and more than 100 were injured. Observers say memories of prior incidents may have intensified the panic in the eight-story building.

A crowd outside the factory clashed with police when they discovered that the workers could not escape.

The accident is the third of its kind in one year. Less than a year before, a fire in Chowdhury killed 48 workers and a fire at the Globe Knitting factory killed 12. Over 300 workers have been killed in accidents in garment factories in Bangladesh in the last 10 years.

Readymade garments are Bangladesh’s biggest export to the West.

“How many more workers have to die before the government takes action to stamp out the lawlessness in the industry?” Kearney asks.

Pottery Barn Out of Burma

Pottery Barn, the home furnishings store owned by the San Francisco-based Williams Sonoma company, announced in September that it has broken off all business ties with Burma because of “current political and human rights issues.” The company says its commitment to not doing business with Burma has been in place since July 2000, when it switched vendors and moved production of its “Martaban” collection to other countries.

According to the Free Burma Coalition, Williams Sonoma imported over $320,000 worth of Burmese products in 2000. The group found some of the items on sale in a Washington, D.C. Pottery Barn store and were planning a national day of protest when company officials announced Pottery Barn’s new policies, and removed the items from its store.

The decision makes the billion-dollar retailing giant the twentieth company to end business with Burma in the past 14 months. Multinationals which have pledged to sever ties with Burma include Wal-Mart, Costco, TJ Maxx, Fila, IKEA, Sara Lee (makers of Hanes and other undergarments) and Perry Lee. Other companies that once did business in Burma but have withdrawn include Amoco, Texaco, Pepsi, Disney and Levi Strauss. Others remain, including Unocal (in partnership with TotalElfFina), Marriott and Suzuki. These companies continue to be targeted by a variety of human rights, environmental and shareholder activists.

“We haven’t seen this many companies withdraw from a country on human rights grounds since South Africa in the 1980s,” says Ko Ko Lay, a Burmese dissident in exile and leader of the Bay Area Burma Roundtable.

The campaign for economic sanctions against Burma is supported by opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose political party won Burma’s 1990 democratic election, which was later annulled by the ruling military regime. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, where she has been held for most of the past 12 years, and has called for anti-apartheid style sanctions against the military junta, which has one of the worst human and labor records in the world.

— Charlie Cray



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