Published in Dawn on December 29 2019
The recent verdict by a French court on ‘moral harassment’ of employees has set a major precedent in an era of turbulent global economic liberalisation. While the criminal trial against the French telecom exposes tactics of corporate culture — merciless downsizing leading to workers’ suicides — the verdict reveals the strength and role of trade unions in holding corporations accountable.
Cynics might ask what a First World dispute between managerial staff and employers has to do with Pakistan, a country where managerial cadre is deprived of the basic right to form a union, where trade unionism is no more than a weak whimper and labour disputes take years to decide. Well, it gives us hope — an increasingly rare commodity these days — that the verdict might make corporations across the globe rethink ‘corporate social responsibility’.
WHILE debate on the contradictions of capitalism, its ruthlessness and vulgarity, gains momentum on the margins of global discourse, capitalism glides smoothly along on the back of its modus operandi: the global supply chains. Termed as the foundation of 21st-century trade, global supply chains account for 80pc of global trade, benefitting Western populations through the availability of cheaper products manufactured by the low-wage, abundant labour of developing countries.
Pakistan is one of the low-cost production centres in Asia. In this country, Sialkot is a hub of several industrial clusters producing surgical instruments purchased by the healthcare industry in the West through global supply chains. According to a 2012 report by the Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan, 2,300 units in Sialkot, employing 150,000 workers, produce 150 million surgical instruments every year. Sialkot manufacturers sell to suppliers at a very small margin of profit; the suppliers then sell to the end users at much higher rates. For example, according to an estimate quoted in the 2010 report of the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a pair of surgical scissors costs $1 to produce, is exported from Pakistan to Germany at a price of $1.25 and, probably, sold to a hospital for about $80.
Since money, as the exciting and active concept of value, confounds and exchanges all things, it is the general confounding and compounding of all things—the world upside down—the confounding and compounding of all natural and human qualities.
Increasing prevalence of contract work in the labor market is a global phenomenon. Low production cost and increase in productivity–the reasons cited by economists for contract labour—both lead to wealth accumulation. Thus, the hidden motive behind contract work is desire, or greed of the employer, for more profit, more money. No wonder, then, contract work is so confounding that even the ILO finds it full of complexity and riddled with ‘conceptual’ problems.