Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WAL-MART PART 2....Here's Part 2 of the 3-part LA Times Wal-Mart story. First there's this:

Isabel Reyes, who has worked at the plant for 11 years, pushes fabric through her sewing machine 10 hours a day, struggling to meet the latest quota scrawled on a blackboard. She now sews sleeves onto shirts at the rate of 1,200 garments a day. That's two shirts a minute, one sleeve every 15 seconds.

....Reyes, who earns the equivalent of $35 a week, says her bosses blame the long hours and low wages on big U.S. companies and their demands for ever-cheaper merchandise. Wal-Mart, the biggest company of them all, is the Cosmos factory's main customer.

Reyes is skeptical. Why, she asked, would a company in the richest country in the world care about a few pennies on a pair of shorts?

But then there's also this:

Sheikh Nazma, a former child laborer [in Bangladesh], has seen the way Wal-Mart can help clean things up.

She worked at a Dhaka garment factory that had no clean drinking water and only a few filthy toilets for hundreds of employees. After the owner refused to pay their wages for three months, the employees complained to Wal-Mart, the factory's main customer.

"Wal-Mart interfered, and...the owner paid our salaries and overtime and even paid bonuses to each worker," recalled Nazma, who later helped launch the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation.

There are no simple answers to the questions raised by this article, but it does show that American outsourcing can work for both good and ill. It's just that it would be nice to raise the proportion of good a little bit.

Kevin Drum 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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