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Group Aims to "Think Globally, Act Locally," on Sweatshops

The popular shirts with the "Santa Cruz" logo are imported by a local company, NHS Inc., from factories in Asia and Mexico. On April 9, a group of young people associated with the documentary film, Planet USA, returned hooded sweatshirts made in Burma to Pacific Wave and requested the store stop carrying shirts made in a brutal dictatorship, The group wants to meet with the president of NHS Inc. to discuss their current factory conditions but he is refusing.

Shoppers in Santa Cruz may recall an unusual sight downtown in front of The Gap at Christmas time. While a group of carolers sang satirical anti-corporate Christmas carols, large video images were projected high on the wall of the store, depicting sweatshop workers in Thailand and Cambodia. The ones sewing behind bars were refugees from Burma (now called Myanmar), making about 12 cents per hour. They have fled from even worse conditions in Burma, a country where 50 million people are suffering under a brutal military dictatorship.

Here in Santa Cruz, we have a company, NHS Inc., which has imported clothing from Burma, among other places, and distributes all over the U.S. The popular items among surfers and skaters here are the T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the familiar red and yellow “Santa Cruz? logo. You can walk into any of a number of hip shops in town and read these labels – “Made in Myanmar/Burma.?

PLANET USA: an upcoming documentary film

[ NBA Caught (Again) Selling Slave Labor Goods I child labour in Burma (Myanmar) I Behind the Label I Co-op America's Guide to Ending Sweatshops and Promoting Fair Trade I Sweatshop Watch I Global Exchange's Sweatshops Campaigns ]
Shoppers in Santa Cruz may recall an unusual sight downtown in front of The Gap at Christmas time. While a group of carolers sang satirical anti-corporate Christmas carols, large video images were projected high on the wall of the store, depicting sweatshop workers in Thailand and Cambodia. The ones sewing behind bars were refugees from Burma (now called Myanmar), making about 12 cents per hour. They have fled from even worse conditions in Burma, a country where 50 million people are suffering under a brutal military dictatorship.

Here in Santa Cruz, we have a company, NHS Inc., which has imported clothing from Burma, among other places, and distributes all over the U.S. The popular items among surfers and skaters here are the T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the familiar red and yellow “Santa Cruz? logo. You can walk into any of a number of hip shops in town and read these labels – “Made in Myanmar/Burma.?

Here’s the scoop: Burma is the worst place on earth for exploitative manufacturing. Much of the work there is slave labor and child labor, not even sweatshop labor. Of all the places for corporations to look for cheap wages in the “race to the bottom,? this is the bottom. Burma is well known for severe human rights abuses. To do business there, you have to cut a deal with the regime and share profits, which are used to buy arms from China and repress the people. Because of human rights issues, sanctions have been in place against Burma since 1997.

Garment workers wages are as low as seven cents an hour, 56 cents a day and $3.23 a week. The workers have no rights, and even questioning factory conditions can result in imprisonment.

Nevertheless, U.S. companies since 1997 greatly increased the volume of business in Burma, including our local company, NHS Inc. One case has become a scandal and forced to change. The NBA (National Basketball Association) was making gear in Burma, including a hooded sweatshirt much like the Santa Cruz sweatshirt. The National Labor Committee estimates that the workers in Burma were paid just four cents for each NBA hooded sweatshirt they sewed, meaning that their wages came to less than one-tenth of one percent of the NBA’s $60 retail price for the garment. The National Labor Committee says, “This is the most extreme exploitation we have seen.?

For the full story, see www.nlcnet.org/campaigns/nba/

Things are so bad in Myanmar that even President Bush has take certain steps. The "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" prohibiting imports from Burma was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President on August 1, 2003. The laws, which was to go into effect 30 days later, states: "No article may be imported into the United States that is produced, mined, manufactured, grown or assembled in Burma." The ban is to remain in place until a new, democratically-elected government requests its removal based on an end to slave labor and gross human rights violations.

For more on conditions in Burma, see www.globalmarch.org/worstformsreport/world/burma-myanmar.html

The NBA sweatshirts made in Burma were raced to the United States just days before the ban was to go into effect on September 1, 2003, barring future imports from Burma.
Clearly the NBA was flying in the face of the import ban, knowingly violating the spirit and intent of Congress and the Administration, not to mention the hopes of the people suffering in Burma.

Because of public pressure and the ban on Burma imports, the NBA has moved its manufacturing to Vietnam and China. These are probably still sweatshops but hopefully an improvement. At least the Burmese dictatorship has lost some support.

Back to our town: In Santa Cruz on April 9, a group of young people associated with the documentary film in progress, Planet USA, returned two Burma-made sweatshirts, costing $44 each, to a downtown store. They presented a letter and a petition signed by about 100 Santa Cruz residents, requesting that the store no longer carry apparel made in Burma and asking the distributor, NHS Inc., to stop imports from there. To his credit, the store manager was interested in learning about Burma and agreed to look into the matter. Letters have also been sent to NHS directly, asking for a response in 30 days describing current import practices. The group wants to know if our local company is behaving like the NBA.

The problems of globalization are complex and are being addressed at many different levels by organizations like the National Labor Committee. Meanwhile, ordinary Americans can pay attention to their own shopping habits, have a look at labels, and learn more about the issues. We can hold transnational corporations accountable. The group of Santa Cruz young people -- 8th-graders from Shoreline Middle School and students from UCSC -- is waiting for a full report from NHS Inc. about importing, and response from the stores to take these shirts off the shelves. They do love these beautiful Santa Cruz shirts, as do many young residents of this town. But as they explained to the store manager, they can’t wear them knowing how they were made. A responsible reply from those who have the power would go a long way to restore hope in our truest American values.

At this stage, the president of NHS Inc., Mr. Bob Denicke, is refusing to meet with the young people who returned the shirts or with anyone from the Planet USA documentary. Two of us have talked to him at length on the phone to explain that we are simply looking for reassurances that our home town company is running an ethical business. While Denicke is claiming that NHS Inc. no longer imports from Burma, the group still wants to know about the current factory conditions in their other countries of manufacturing.

When Ryan Wadsworth, one of the UCSC students, offered information about a “Code of Conduct? developed by international human rights groups for companies to voluntarily sign, Mr. Denicke’s response was to hang up on him. Well, Mr. Denicke, these young people are your customers, in case you have forgotten, and wanting to know the truth about your products before buying them is their right. This is a straightforward case of THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY.

To help with the Santa Cruz campaign regarding NHS Inc., call 831-462-0127 or write to Ryan Wadsworth at: sumar (at) ucsc.edu

More information about sweatshops and globalization can be found at under www.planetusafilm.com, under “The Issues,? www.behindthelabel.org, www.sweatshops.org, www.sweatshopwatch.org, and www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/sweatshops.

(A postscript: Bush campaign gear has been made in Burma. The merchandise sold on www.georgewbushstore.com includes a $49.95 fleece pullover, embroidered with the Bush-Cheney '04 logo and bearing a label stating it was made in Burma, now Myanmar. See:
www.newsfrombabylon.com/article.php)

Dr. Marlene Winell is the producer/director of Planet USA, a forth-coming documentary about the devastating effects of the American lifestyle and U.S. foreign policy on the rest of the world. The film will include footage from her interviews with Burmese sweatshop workers, along with the scenes projected in downtown Santa Cruz. Marlene can be contacted at marlenewinell (at) mac.com
 
 


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