Posted tagged ‘poverty’

The cost of poverty?

May 4, 2013

Guest post by Dr Anna Notaro, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee

While I’m writing this lives are still at stake in the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, the collapsed building which housed one of the many garments factories providing Western customers with low cost clothes. Three hundred workers are believed to have died and six hundred are still missing, with very little chance of being pulled out alive. As often is the case after such tragedies a debate is now raging in the media touching upon the familiar issues of globalization and global capital, with some very powerful ethical overtones. David Blair in the Daily Telegraph  has convincingly argued that ‘all of us are linked to this tragedy in some way’, retailers and consumers alike; moreover we, as consumers, should use our purchasing power to force retailers to sign up to local tougher workplace safety agreements.

On this particular issue Matthew Yglesias writing in the online magazine Slate has claimed:

‘Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States. … Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans… Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer’.

In a similar vein Tom Chivers in the Daily Telegraph  has warned:

‘If you force Bangladesh to run its sweatshops at much higher safety standards, labour costs will go up. The only advantage Bangladesh has over other countries is that their labour costs are cheap; without that advantage, the companies may go elsewhere. Then Bangladesh will lose the source of income that is currently making its poor people better off. It is perfectly possible that well-intentioned efforts to improve the lot of workers in the developing world will backfire, and make things worse. For instance, one study found that a law in Brazil banning under-16s from working reduced their school attendance.’

So here are some moral questions for us all to ponder: is poverty a good reason to justify the lowering of safety standards in particular parts of the world? Can workers in poor countries exercise any free choice as implied by Yglesias in his Slate piece above? Retailers like Primark and Bonmarché have a strikingly successful business model, in that by outsourcing production to developing countries they can sell clothes so cheaply that Western consumers regard them as disposable items. What are the consequences of such a business model not only in the clothing industry, but in the food industry and, of particular interests to readers of this blog, in (higher) education?

Measuring the quality of life

October 14, 2010

Still on national rankings, an interesting one is the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures quality of life based on education, health and GDP per capita. The most recently available rankings published in 2009 relate to 2007, and in this table Ireland is at number 5, while the United States is at 13 and the UK at 21. The top 10 countries are:

1 Norway
2 Australia
3 Iceland
4 Canada
5 Ireland
6 Netherlands
7 Sweden
8 France
9 Switzerland
10 Japan

Although this table also has a Scandinavia winner in Norway, overall the Nordic countries don’t do as well as they do in gender equality. The table does however show up the striking gaps between the rich countries and the developing world. Life expectancy in the top 10 countries lies at around or just under 80 years; however in countries such as the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone it is roughly half that. GDP per capita is $53,433 in Norway, in Sierra Leone it is $679. We still have a major job to do in lifting some of the world’s poorer countries out of poverty.

Eradication of poverty

October 17, 2009

Today, October 17, is recognised by the United Nations as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This particular observance was instituted by the General Assembly of the UN with Resolution 47/196 in 1992, with the attention of highlighting global poverty and its causes.

Of course there are instances of poverty and deprivation everywhere, including some in Ireland and Europe, but the worst incidence in still in the developing world, where it encompasses not just the absence of money, but disease, lack of education and a lack of political representation. Furthermore, the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development (an output from the 1995 World Summit on Social Development) drew attention to the connection between poverty and a lack of transparent democracy.

I believe we too readily tolerate poverty and deprivation, as we also tolerate corrupt and abusive government as long as we don’t experience it here. We must ensure that we engage actively with the global community to ensure that poverty and its underlying causes are effectively addressed. Doing so during a recession is more important than ever.