Published in Dawn on December 31st, 2016
“People resist exploitation. They resist as actively as they can, as passively as they must.” — Immanuel Wallerstein
IN his world system analysis, Wallerstein speaks of a multiplicity of political systems which gives capitalists a “freedom of manoeuvre that is structurally based”.
This analysis explains how the system works when the core (rich) countries export waste to peripheral (poor) economies in the shape of decaying ships. It is the core (industrialist-state) nexus in the peripheral country itself which benefits at the expense of its peripheral (marginalised) labour. A follow-up of the disaster at the Gadani ship-breaking yard in Balochistan validates the premise.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2016
FOR millennia, the symbol of the ship epitomised hope and the promise of new horizons. With the discoveries of new lands and the onset of trade, the image of the ship was besmirched with the sufferings of human cargo — the slaves — transported in and out of continents. Then, more recently, emerged the phenomenon of boats full of refugees and immigrants capsizing on Western shores. What remains hidden, or not so visible, in our collective consciousness is the story of ships being broken down across South Asia’s shores, bringing in their wake death and despair to those who dismantle, bit by bit, the decaying, hazardous, mammoth machines.
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.
Previously a beneficiary of the tariff cuts under the Generalised System of Preference, Pakistan is one of the 10 countries which have been granted the Generalised System of Preference Plus (GSP-Plus) status by the European Union from January 2014. The GSP-Plus allows developing countries tariff-free export of their products to European markets. Under this special incentive trade arrangement, presumably for ‘sustainable development and good governance’, Pakistan fulfils the criteria for vulnerability. As defined by the EU, vulnerable (in terms of trade) are the countries which lack diversification and insufficient integration within the international trading system.
The GSP-Plus is conditional to ratification of, and compliance to, 27 international standards and covenants on labour, human and women’s rights, environment, narcotics and corruption. These 27 standards comprise eight ILO core labour conventions, six UN conventions/covenants on human rights, and gender and racial discrimination, nine UN conventions/protocols on environment and four UN conventions on narcotics and corruption.