This week Sprawl-Busters received an email from a worker in the town of Mayawaddi in Myanmar (Burma), on the border of the Thailand district of Maesot, about 500 km from Bangkok. According to this worker, a company called Top Form, which manufactures women’s bras under brand names like Vanity Fair and Maidenform for retailers like Wal-Mart, operates a factory in Maesot on the border, employing Mayanmar workers. “They pay much less wages to Burmese than Thai people,” the worker told me, “and do over-time pay at rate same a normal hour rate, exceed allowed working hours, abuse and discrimination is prevalent in everyday activities. Working till midnight is normal here. Many of the workers are underage — but all the documents shown will be faked to show to any one who would check it.” According to Umong, the worker, when “social compliance audits” are done at the factory, “they have prepared all false documents and prepare people to speak good about company in front of the compliance auditors. If someone follows them or try to speak that person is thrown out by the Management and management give money to Police to arrest same person and keep in prison and beat.” This email from Mayanmar serves as one more reminder that companies like Wal-Mart source from sweatshop producers like Top Form. Also this week came the announcement that November 17th has been designated “International Day of Protest Against Big Box Stores” by the group Global Exchange. People from 16 countries and in 16 cities in the United States have joined this action. A release from the group explained that the whole retail system is set up to encourage child and slave labor. “When companies like the Gap, Wal-Mart and Target demand lower and lower prices from their suppliers, the suppliers impose worse and worse working conditions on their workers. This is one of the hidden costs of low-priced goods.” On Saturday, November 17 — the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the lead-up to the big holiday shopping season — people around the world will be participating in an international day of action against Wal-Mart and other big box retail stores. “What better day to make a worldwide statement saying NO to worker rights violations, unsustainable distribution practices and the destruction of local independent businesses, and YES to human rights, workers’ rights, respect for communities and the environment?” Global Exchange asks. The day of action has been endorsed by groups like
the Big Box Collaborative, California Healthy Communities Network,
Corporate Accountability International, Global Exchange, the
International Labor Rights Forum, National Organization for Women,
Organic Consumers Association, Ruckus Society, United Students
Against Sweatshops and Sprawl-Busters. The worker from Myanmar who wrote to Sprawl-Busters said that if he was identified as the writer of an email protesting working conditions on the Thai border, that he would be sent back to Myanmar to die. How many American women would think about that when shopping for their next bra?
On Saturday, November 17th, the voices of grassroots activists can be heard by big box chain stores, governments and consumers around the world. Global Exchange asks you to help by joining an activity that’s already planned in your community or organizing your own local event outside Wal-Mart or another of the biggest worldwide supermarket
chains. It can be something small — like handing out flyers to customers going into the store — or something bigger, like a full-scale protest. Other ideas include getting 50 people to sign a petition demanding company reforms and delivering the petition to a store manager on November 17th; getting community members together for a letter-writing campaign asking local legislators to prevent big box stores from entering your community; or organizing a screening of a film like “The High Cost of Low Price.” For more ideas, see: http://intldayofaction.bbc.wikispaces.net/ DayOfActionActivities. Global Exchange and the Big Box Collaborative can provide you with resources to support your event. They will list your event with others on the joint website and promote it as part of the international day of action; and provide you with a template press release to get media coverage of your action. For questions or more information, contact Ruben Garcia, [email protected], 415-279-3174.