IN this age of globalisation, multinational corporations hold a vital place in the world’s port industry as 80 per cent of the global trade is handled by maritime transportation. Ports the world over are now increasingly being developed and operated by the MNCs for container terminal services in an environment of deregulation. With the privatisation of ports and globalisation of trade, a race to the bottom has come about in labour standards for workers.
So the union busting by the South Asia Port Terminal, Karachi, a subsidiary of the Hutchison Ports, is business as usual. Through the internet, the SAPT Democratic Workers’ Union does have supporters in the world hence the news of sacking of the union members four weeks ago was circulated and a signature campaign ‘Reinstate the Karachi 8’ was launched by the LabourStart, a global network of over 700 volunteers who devote their time and effort to support labour.
Every brand has a story to tell, so said some marketing experts. What the experts failed to share is that most brands also have stories to hide. These are the stories of unjust, unlawful treatment of those who create products which are wrapped up in illusions of comfort, grandiosity and pride of possession called ‘brand’ and sold to beguiled consumers.
The stories about brands violating labour and environmental rights in poor developing countries remain on the margins and seldom make it to the mainstream media. Hence I was surprised to read a story recently in The New York Times that a home-based seamstress in Italy — the third largest economy in the EU — is paid €1 for each metre of fabric she stitches. At most she earns €24 for an entire coat which is sold by brands like Louis Vuitton and Fendi for €2,000!