Karoshi Culture in AnimationJapan, known for its global economic power, has started developing solutions to Karoshi, or death by overwork. This phenomenon started in the late 1960s and gained media traction in the 1990s when several company executives died suddenly. Karoshi culture in animation, specifically, is a significant issue as workers experience unlivable wages and long hours.

How Prominent is Karoshi Culture?

The Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies suggests that the exploitation of Japanese workers is a Western disease that has caused as many deaths as motor vehicle accidents. This issue is specific to Japan because of the “workaholic” mindset of the Japanese economy. On average, Japanese workers do 100 to 200 more overtime hours than other developed nations.

Karoshi’s Effect on Animators

Karoshi culture in animation largely has to do with wage theft and overwork. In 2010, a 28-year-old animator committed suicide shortly after he quit his job. The animator worked hundreds of hours of overtime without pay for several months. An online journal that the animator kept documented that he had only taken three days off in 10 months and worked as late as 4 a.m.

Young workers are consistently the most exploited demographic as highly sought out animators still work for abysmal wages. The median wage for animators in 2019 was $36,000, with many low-end illustrators making as little as $200 per week. Comparatively, the average animator in the United States makes between $65,000 to $75,000.

Companies can get away with this because many animators are self-employed or freelance workers. Employees receive pay on a per-project basis, which means that employers can refuse to pay animators if they do not complete more work. This financial insecurity often drives workers to suicide or the hospital. Many workers have died from heart attacks or strokes.

Karoshi and the Japanese Economy

Many animators must choose between their job and starting families. Animator Ryosuke Hirakimoto told The Japan Times that he had never made more than $38 a day. He ultimately quit after his first child was born. Hirakimoto “started to wonder if this lifestyle was enough.”

Animators leaving, either by death or by choice, could ultimately hurt the global anime market. Most anime production is based in Tokyo and the industry is worth more than $20 billion. Anime provides great economic prosperity for Japan. The global pandemic has only increased sales and streaming as more individuals seek entertainment while stuck indoors.

Alongside workers leaving, the lack of pay means a lack of contributions to the economy. Animators will likely choose to spend their money on necessities because they cannot afford luxuries.

Recent Progress

Japanese citizens recently developed an organization called the National Defense Counsel for Victims of KAROSHI. It offers consultations on compensation for work-related stress, diseases, disabilities or death. Much of the organization’s work is dedicated to preventing Karoshi and helping those affected by Karoshi.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Japan reported that the average citizen worked 1,598 hours in 2020. This prompted the Japanese government to introduce a plan to encourage businesses to offer four-day workweeks.

Since overwork and pay discrepancies are leading causes of the phenomena, the implementation of a four-day workweek could solve many issues stemming from Karoshi culture in animation. Japan recommends that companies reduce their hours or keep better track of overtime to promote the educational and familial prospects of employees.

Moving Forward

Japan’s Karoshi culture in animation will not resolve easily. There is a lot that requires addressing beyond the economic factors, including the social stigma of taking time off. The next move for the government is implementing legislation to solidify shorter workweeks as the population ages and shrinks. 

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

Tea Plantation Workers in Sri LankaSri Lanka is one of the largest tea-producing countries globally and is home to many tea plantation workers. Sri Lanka is known for its Ceylon Tea, which is “acclaimed as the best tea in the world.” However, the process of tea cultivation is arduous and time staking, requiring meticulous care. Tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka put hours of hard work into the job. However, workers, including child workers, are often exploited and unfairly compensated. Organizations are committed to fighting for the rights and protection of tea plantation workers in countries like Sri Lanka.

History of Tea Plantations

Tea plantations, also known as tea estates, came about in the 19th century. The British Empire brought people from Southern India to work on the tea plantations. Most of these workers were from Tamil Nadu. Even though the British Empire abolished slavery, these Tamil tea plantation workers were certainly subject to conditions of slavery. The workers did not receive compensation and endured harsh working conditions “with long hours and heavy quotas.” Furthermore, the “workers lived in crowded shacks, without sanitation, running water, medical facilities or schools for their children.”

After British rule and achieving independence in 1948, Sri Lanka labeled the tea plantation workers as “temporary immigrants,” outrightly denying them citizenship despite years of employment in the country. Only about 30 years later, in the 1980s, Sri Lanka granted citizenship rights to the “descendants of Indian Tamil indentured servants.” To this day, many Tamils still work on tea plantations. While they gained some rights as Sri Lankan citizens, workers, including children, continue to face exploitative conditions.

Present Day Exploitation

Even though the tea industry is one of the foundations of Sri Lanka’s economy, tea plantation workers often experience exploitation. Laborers often walk barefoot through the hills of the tea estates and pick tea leaves for hours. To earn the daily wage, workers have to pluck a minimum amount of tea leaves. Up until this year, to receive the daily wage of 700 Sri Lankan rupees (LKR) (about $4.15) a plantation worker needed to gather at least 40 pounds of tea leaves.

Since around 2016, “tea plantation trade unions” have demanded a raise in the daily wage to 1,000 LKR. The protests finally paid off in January 2021. The Cabinet of Ministers amended the Wages Board Regulations, implementing an increase of the daily tea worker wage to a minimum of 1,000 LKR. Despite this wage increase, most tea workers still struggle to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, the workers do not receive sick leave, and since “no work means no pay,” workers cannot afford to take a day off.

Along with inadequate compensation, children also experience exploitation within the tea industry. Due to poverty, many Sri Lankan children drop out of school to earn an income to support their families. While the minimum legal working age at Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs)  is 16 years old, one study found that 73% of Sri Lankan children were engaged in employment before the age of 12. Long working hours and strenuous labor adversely impact children. Furthermore, child labor means education is not a priority, perpetuating the cycle of poverty even further.

Ethical Practices

While Sri Lankan tea plantation workers continue to battle unjust treatment, organizations aim to fight for tea plantation workers’ rights. In 2018, the Mother and Child-Friendly Tea Plantations project, funded by Save the Children Hong Kong, launched the Child Protection Policy. In partnership with Kelani Valley Plantations and Talawakelle Tea Estates, the policy “is a voluntary undertaking through which participating tea companies” promise to protect children living in tea estates from harm and exploitation.

Another organization dedicated to tea workers’ rights is the Ethical Tea Partnership. The Ethical Tea Partnership works “with tea companies, development organizations and governments to improve the lives of tea workers.” The organization works in tea-producing regions in Africa and Asia. Between 2016 and 2020, the organization’s efforts benefited more than one million tea workers across the world. Its Women of Tea program in Sri Lanka runs until the close of 2021, aiming to improve “the health and nutrition” of Sri Lankan tea plantation workers. The initiative also aims to improve “hygiene and sanitation practices and financial management strategies.”

The Way Forward

Although there is still room for progress, organizations have achieved significant success in improving the lives of tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka. With further efforts to uplift and empower tea workers, there is hope for tea plantation workers to live a life outside of poverty.

-Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Fast Fashion in BangladeshMerriam Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” To many people, this phrase means trendy clothing for affordable prices, but to the garment workers and citizens of Bangladesh, fast fashion means unlivable wages and unsafe working conditions. Bangladesh is the second-largest producer in the garment industry after China and is home to more than 8,000 garment factories. The clothing produced makes up 83% of the country’s total exports. With more than four million Bangladeshi citizens working in these factories, the stability of the nation depends on the industry, which is controlled by the Global West.

The Fast Fashion Industry

Fast fashion is controlled by demand. The industry needs to pump out clothing quickly so stores have the clothes in stock before the trend fades. American and European demand for Bangladesh to produce is constantly increasing, which creates lower wages, more precarious working conditions and detrimental environmental consequences.

Bangladeshi garment workers make an estimated $25 to $75 a month. This is an impossible wage to live on, especially in large Bangladeshi cities such as Dhaka, where most of the garment factories are located. Nazma Akter, a seamstress in Bangladesh who began working in factories at 11 years old, stated, “We are cheap labor — that is why we are scared; we need money, we need to survive.” With an unlivable wage comes an unlivable life.

This violation of human rights comes with serious economic effects. With such a large percentage of the population living on so little, there are few citizens who are able to invest in Bangladesh, spend money to boost the economy and help lift the nation out of poverty. This low wage, which is only getting lower, is keeping Bangladesh impoverished and fast fashion plays a large role.

Unsafe Working Conditions

Fast fashion’s demand for cheap, fast labor creates low-quality working conditions, which can lead to horrific disasters in garment factories. In 2005, a garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, which killed 64 people and injured more than 100 others. In 2010, a Bangladeshi factory fire killed 26 and injured more than 100. Another fire in 2012 killed 112 workers and injured more than 150. However, the most tragic garment factory disaster was the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which housed five garment factories that sold to countries in North America and Europe. In the collapse, 1,138 people were killed and 2,600 people were injured. The incident revealed the horrible reality of the dangers posed to underpaid Bangladeshi garment workers.

Outside of these large-scale disasters, it is estimated that there are 1.4 million workplace injuries in garment factories every year. Western corporations often manage their factories through a series of subcontractors, creating little to no presence of the actual company in the factory. This allows brands to blame any liability on the subcontractors and removes the obligation to improve working conditions.

Environmental Consequences

The cheap prices of fast fashion cause severe environmental consequences in Bangladesh. Textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year and consumes a lot of water. Furthermore, in order to produce clothing quickly and inexpensively, the garment factories use toxic dyes and chemicals. These chemicals are then released into nearby rivers, polluting the water supply. The World Bank estimates that around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from textile dyes. Chemicals released into the water supply increase disease among Bangladeshi citizens.

Effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh especially hard. In March 2020, when shutdowns began across the U.S. and Europe, a large retail fallout followed. Many large clothing brands such as Zara, H&M and Gap canceled their orders. In March 2020 alone, 864,17 million pieces of clothing from Bangladeshi factories that cost $2.81 billion were canceled after they had already been produced. This left the workers unpaid, unemployed and unsupported.

The petition #PayUp started trending worldwide, exposing the clothing brands that canceled their orders of Bangladeshi garments without compensating factories and workers. However, many large brands still have not paid. In response to the crisis, the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, announced a bailout of $590 million to be used solely for the salaries and allowances of factory workers.

Industry Reform

The garment industry is deeply ingrained in Bangladesh. If the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic taught any lesson, it is that the solution is not as simple as boycotting. Removing fast fashion would be removing almost the entirety of the Bangladeshi economy. Instead, the solution is reform. The solution is to raise awareness of the poor working conditions and put pressure on the large fashion corporations to create more sustainable clothing, humane working conditions and a livable wage. By holding companies accountable, making informed consumer decisions and advocating for workers’ rights, there is hope in ending the negative consequences of fast fashion in Bangladesh.

Georgia Bynum
Photo: Flickr

Overseas Filipino Workers
Travel enthusiasts and visitors often cite Dubai as the most dazzling city in the Middle East. Yet amidst all the glamor and luxury in the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers face immense wage inequality and abuse. One of the largest populations of migrant workers hails from the Philippines. Filipino laborers undertake a variety of service jobs in domestic work and hospitality, both of which are vital sectors of the Emirates economy. Yet despite their integral role in the financial stability of the Emirates, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) struggle with a lack of job security and often have no choice but to return home. The economic hardships of COVID-19 have only exacerbated their struggle.

UAE Migrant Demographics

As of 2019, immigrants comprise nearly 90% of the United Arab Emirates’ total population. This is largely because Dubai offers a variety of policies to attract global businesses and international professionals. For example, Dubai established 30 tax-free regions of the city for companies to operate free from restrictions. The Kafala Sponsorship System allows workers from around the world to more easily access job opportunities in the Emirates, but this program has also created conditions in which migrant workers face increased vulnerability and potential risks.

The United Arab Emirates operates as a mixed free economy. Although oil sales comprise the majority of its income, the UAE has branched out into the vacation industry as well as the automation and telecommunications sectors. The expansion of economic sectors such as hospitality, development and trade in the United Arab Emirates have made employment more accessible for blue-collar migrants. The Filipino government in particular has supported labor migration for its citizens, with the Labor Code of the Philippines promoting protections for OFWs. Currently, over 2 million Filipino migrant workers are in the Middle East.

Wealth Disparity

In recent years, the severe maltreatment of Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates has forced the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines to repatriate thousands of its citizens. Several of these individuals suffered abuse from their Dubai employers or were victims of human trafficking.

Household workers, who are usually female, make up 10% of Filipino migrant workers. Among female Filipino domestic workers, sexual abuse and mistreatment are unfortunately quite common. Due to the vulnerable financial and legal status of female Filipino domestic workers, this particular segment of migrant workers often experiences abuse. The Filipino government responded to this by repatriating such female workers from the United Arab Emirates.

Solutions for Overseas Filipino Workers

The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) advocates for OFWs’ rights and addresses the concerns of the transnational community. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) provides programs for migrant workers and aims to prevent potential abuse.

Filipino migrants in economically valuable positions can effectively produce a change for their community. Educated Filipino migrants make up over half of the Filipino migrant population in the United Arab Emirates. As such, they are economically essential to the country’s labor force. Approximately 47% of Filipinos have climbed the ladder to higher positions. These individuals are paving the way for a new rank of Filipino professionals to represent the OFW community.

Generous Filipino residents within the UAE work tirelessly to assist their fellow community members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the service of caring individuals such as Dela Peña, unemployed Filipino workers still have resources to survive through the coronavirus pandemic and access to food through Dela Peña’s program, Ayuda.

Points of Resolution

Leaders of the United Arab Emirates often overlook the impact that OFWs have upon its economy. However, migrant workers have been pivotal to the growth and industry of Dubai and the nation as a whole. With this in mind, the UAE will hopefully recognize the importance of the OFWs and establish laws to uphold their rights. Supporting and encouraging the Overseas Filipino Workers in their endeavors will not only erase the need for their repatriation back to the Philippines but will further strengthen the economy of the migrants’ new home.

– Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Snack Against Hunger and PovertyPeople can often feel hopeless nowadays when addressing global poverty and hunger on a personal level. One can only donate so many times before it feels pointless. For decades there was a decrease in poverty and hunger all around the world. However, with the pandemic in full force, the numbers are once again increasing.

So what should can each individual consumer do to help those in need and bring these statistics down? They must change daily patterns, so nearly all of their “normal” actions start benefitting someone else. One way is to switch up the food consumers eat. Many brands in a variety of food categories use their profits to fight global poverty and hunger. Switching to one of these brands allows people to effectively snack against hunger and poverty. Below are just a few of the brands aiding in poverty and hunger-reduction.

1. Bobo’s

Bobo’s donates their profits from selling oat-based products to eight organizations. Two of the organizations focus on food security in the U.S. (Community Food Share and Conscious Alliance), and one nonprofit provides housing for low-income families (Habitat for Humanity). Get in a dose of nutritious oats to snack against hunger and poverty.

2. This Saves Lives

This Saves Lives has something for everyone. They have 10 different flavor options, a variety of kid’s options and five types of crispy treats. For each purchase, This Saves Lives provides a calorie-dense packet of paste filled with nutrients to a child in need. So far, over 24 million packets have been sent out!

3. Barnana

Barnana is a company that produces plantain-based chips in normal chip form, tortilla style and flavor bites. All consumers can find a chip that will satisfy whether that’s salty or sweet. The plantains used for the chips are upcycled from those that were deemed not perfect enough for mainstream market standards. By upcycling the produce, Barnana fights food waste and secures extra income for small scale farmers that depend on every sale.

4. Project 7

Project 7 is a healthy candy brand that makes gummies, lollipops and everything in between. They partner with nonprofits to help the seven areas of need: healing, saving, housing, food, drink, teaching and hope. Make chewing a life-giving activity and snack against hunger and poverty.

5. Beanfields

Beanfields is another company that creates chips both sweet and salty, similar to Barnana. The company — centered in a kitchen and not a boardroom — cooks up a variety of bean-based tortilla chips and cracklings. They get creative by producing an environment-conscious snack while also supporting people in need. Beanfields partners with Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps ex-gang members find peace and stability in their new lives. Homeboy Industries partners with many nonprofits fighting hunger and poverty that provide ex-offenders jobs and a sense of community.

Buying snacks and snacking are often mindless activities. Helping people should have that same ease and it does. Yet, it often falls on the back burner and gets forgotten. Buying from companies donating to those in need is one easy solution. People can enjoy their favorite foods in a more effective way. Why just snack when one can snack against hunger and poverty?

Anna Synakh
Photo: Flickr

women in developing countriesInternational trade is arguably the most significant economic development of the last century. Its growth has been roughly exponential due to technological advancements and specialization, and exports today are more than 40 times the amount they were in 1913. Although this growth contributes to higher wealth and more stable economic systems for many countries, it simultaneously can exasperate already-existing inequalities, particularly those concerning women. International trade has contributed to the creation of new workforces containing more women. However, the employment opportunities in developing countries are typically low-paying positions with little prospects for skill development. Women in developing countries are limited to such positions due to social and cultural dynamics, policies and other country-specific contexts.

Employment of Women in Developing Countries

Women in developing countries oftent act as a cheap source of labor for firms. In manufacturing, women are mainly employed in jobs involving the production of goods, rather than higher-paying jobs involving management positions. If an economy is predominantly agricultural, women are often subsistence farmers or members of family businesses. In these situations, many women in developing countries do not get paid for their work. In service-based economies, women occupy low-skill positions such as street vendors. However, increasing the pay women receive for these jobs and successfully closing the gender gap could add about $28 trillion to global GDP.

The tendency of women to work in low-skilled jobs results from ingrained social norms designed to limit women’s economic mobility. Societies that expect women to assume the full responsibility of childcare often give them few opportunities to receive education or reduce the burden of their domestic labor. Consequently, these women are less likely to have the same access men do to land, credit and labor markets.

Little Access to Opportunities

Women in developing countries often also experience disproportionate rates of unemployment or remain in low-paying positions because they are unable to learn more about job opportunities in other locations. Robert Jensen, a former professor from the University of Texas at Austin, examined this phenomenon. He concluded that women living in rural areas in India who were contacted by recruitment campaigns providing information about job opportunities in urban areas ultimately participated more in the labor force. As a result, they experienced increased mobility.

Current Trade and Employment Policies

In 2016, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development released a report stating that gender-blind trading policies exacerbate the inequalities women experience in developing countries. These gender-blind trading policies do not create equal opportunities. Instead, they allow men in the workforce to further benefit from existing economic advantages they enjoy.

However, the U.N. proposed two new global development frameworks to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through trade. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on combating gender issues. It links economic, social and environmental factors to address power structures and social dynamics that contribute to gender inequality. The Addis Ababa Agenda on Financing for Development requests equal gender inclusion into the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It also aims to ensure women’s equal rights through access to economic activities that would combat gender-based violence and discrimination.

Together, these development plans are a holistic, firm course of action in the fight against women’s economic inequality. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations recently reported on the progress nations have made in adopting plans, allocating funds and formulating policies. It found higher numbers of trade agreements with gender-related provisions in the last three decades. Although the global economic impact of COVID-19 may disrupt this progress, comprehensive plans and agendas will ensure that the pursuit of gender equality in trade continues.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Unsplash

Migrant Poultry Workers
Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in America. According to the USDA, estimates determine that the per capita American consumption of chicken will rise from 28 pounds per person in 1960 to 94 pounds per person in 2020. This is in contrast to the per capita consumption of beef in America, which projections determine will fall from 94.1 pounds in 1976 to 57.5 pounds per person in 2020. This certainly reflects the rising demand for broiler meat, or commercial chicken farmers breed and raise for meat production in the U.S. However, not many Americans wish to work in poultry processing factories. In response to this shortage of workers, many poultry companies use migrant workers to fill their processing lines. Recent reports suggest that these migrant poultry workers are in danger of harsh working conditions and labor exploitation.

Issues with Poultry Processing Plants in the U.S.

Although poultry processing plants use machinery, much of killing, deboning and packaging of chicken still depend on human hands. The processing rooms’ temperature is usually at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to reduce microbial growth. However, this cold temperature makes it harder for the line workers to safely use their sharp cutting tools since their hands get stiff from the cold temperature. The factories’ demand to process chicken at a faster pace further compounds this hardship. The U.S. Department of Agriculture caps the speed of these processing lines at 140 chickens per minute. However, reports suggest that many processing plants increase their line speed in order to meet their company’s quota. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data further reflects these dangerous conditions. In addition, line workers repeat the same motion while performing their job of disassembling a chicken. Some reports suggest that 86 percent of line workers suffer from wrist pains, swollen joints and chronic pain in their hands and arms.

Migrant Poultry Workers in the U.S.

Migrant poultry workers fill the labor demand of the poultry industry. The EB-3 visa allows poultry companies to hire migrant workers. As long as a company places two want ads seeking American workers in a local newspaper and a notice on the state jobs board, poultry companies can justify hiring an immigrant instead of an American. Many migrant poultry workers, if documented, agree to what might be less-than-ideal working conditions for a promise of green-sponsorship by their employers.  Responding to this high demand, there are migration consultants outside of the U.S. who charge between $20,000 and $130,000 to help a migrant worker immigrate to America. This high fee can be a cause of poverty for many migrant poultry workers since the majority of them will make less than $20,000 a year.

According to the Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report, nearly 30 percent of meat and poultry workers were foreign-born non-citizens in 2015. Among this number, an estimated one-fourth of the migrant workers were undocumented. This visa sponsorship by poultry companies makes it harder for the migrant workers to protest against the harsh working conditions of poultry processing factories. Whether a migrant worker is documented or undocumented, the recent rhetoric of the U.S. government toward migrants is making many workers in the poultry industry nervous. In 2019, for example, accusations emerged that multiple poultry companies conspired to keep the wages down for their immigrant workforce.

Improving the Poultry Industry in the U.S.

There are many people and organizations that are striving to improve the working conditions in the poultry industry. Many human rights groups encourage the consumers to voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of working conditions in poultry processing plants. By voicing their dissatisfaction, humanitarian groups believe that this will give more power to the migrant poultry workers to voice their plights.

Tyson, one of the biggest poultry meat suppliers in the U.S., made a pledge in 2017 that it will improve the working conditions in its factories. In the pledge, Tyson stated its commitment to reduce worker injury rate by 15 percent until it reaches zero, increase employee retention by 10 percent each year and improve the transparency between the public and its factories. In 2020, the Humane Society of the U.S. and other groups sued the USDA for increasing the line speed at U.S. poultry processing plants. In its 2019 report, The Human Rights Watch encouraged the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take charge of improving the work conditions.

The harsh working conditions and treatment of migrant poultry workers in the poultry industry certainly presents a complicated picture. Chicken is becoming America’s favorite choice of protein as it is surpassing beef in terms of per capita consumption. However, behind every piece of chicken, there are migrant workers who must face constant hardships on a daily basis. The cold temperature of the factories causes numerous physical ailments for the workers, while many forego voicing their plight in fear of deportation. The solution is not to stop eating chicken. Instead, as many human rights organizations have demonstrated, consumers must voice their dissatisfaction with the poultry industry. With the recent surge in the public interest for the working conditions of the poultry industry, many hope that better and more fulfilling working conditions are coming for the poultry workers of the U.S.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Overseas Domestic Workers
In the 16th century, Ferdinand Magellan claimed the islands of the Philippines as the property of Spain. For hundreds of years, colonizers exploited the people of the Philippines. Though the Philippines became an independent nation in 1946, the effects of long-term colonial rule are still clearly present. Today, many Filipino people, and in particular women, must become overseas domestic workers to provide for their families.

The Philippines in Numbers

The Philippines’ economy is highly dependant on the global market. Over a fifth of the country lives in poverty and one-third of children grew up with stunting from malnutrition. Though the government attempted to expand access to education, children in the Philippines only live to achieve 55 percent of their potential productivity, according to the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. Wealth in the Philippines also does not have equal distribution, and it is nearly impossible for those in lower classes to become financially stable. This leaves them desperate for any opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty.

Because of this bleak economic situation at home, millions of workers in the Philippines seek jobs elsewhere, then send the money they make to their impoverished loved ones at home. While the country celebrates this practice, the government endorses it and it may provide families with some economic security, this system leaves both overseas domestic workers and their families vulnerable to trauma. It also frequently perpetuates cycles of poverty.

The Horrific Treatment of Domestic Workers

In wealthier places like Kuwait, Hong Kong and Italy, domestic labor is in high demand. Millions of Filipino workers – mostly young, able-bodied women – travel thousands of miles from their homes to become maids, nannies or housekeepers for the foreign elite. These women often have a good education but lack the resources necessary to successfully navigate the global marketplace. They frequently find themselves vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at the hands of their privileged and well-connected employers.

A 2011 report from the Philippines’ Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs detailed the horrific treatment of domestic workers from the Philippines in Saudi Arabia. The report noted that physical abuse and rape of overseas workers was rampant in Saudi Arabia. Seventy percent of Filipino women working as domestic helpers in Saudi Arabia endure both physical and psychological violence. Despite this, until very recently, workers from the Philippines continued to enter the country as domestic servants. In January 2019, Saudi authorities executed a Filipino woman for killing her employer after he had allegedly attempted to rape her. After this event, both countries barred Filipino workers from employment in Saudi Arabia.

While the treatment of these women is absolutely deplorable, their families in the Philippines also suffer due to this system of labor. Mothers are often unable to return to their young children for several years. This leaves families with deep scars from which it is wildly difficult to recover. While many initially believed that this may lead to increased gender parity in parenting, with fathers being more involved in their children’s lives, the burden of childcare usually falls on poor female relatives, who must sacrifice their time and education to care for their younger siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews.

What to Do to Protect Workers and Their Families

Countries can enact legislation to ensure that workers have protection from abuse at the hands of their employers. In 2016, Singapore enacted the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act in order to protect the well-being of foreign employees. This law ensures that employers give them a salary, work hours and overtime, rest days, holidays, annual leave and sick leave.

Beyond legislation, non-governmental organizations can do plenty to ameliorate the lives of domestic workers. KAKAMMPI (the Association of Overseas Filipino Workers and Their Families) is one of these organizations. Its mission is to “empower Overseas Filipino Workers and their families through integrated services and programs such as organizing, advocacy, campaign, gender responsiveness and partnership projects.”

The organization provides workers with several different types of support. It provides counseling for those working through the stress from either themselves or their loved ones being overseas. It assists victims of abuse in acquiring legal services and welfare. KAKAMMPI also focuses on capacity building projects throughout the Philippines so that vulnerable people no longer feel that they have to jeopardize themselves to ensure the safety of their loved ones.

Ultimately, people have done little research on how effective overseas domestic workers from the Philippines are at lifting their families out of poverty. However, most accounts indicate that few actually succeed, and most have little money and psychological wounds at the end of it. The best way to prevent the trauma that workers feel after leaving their families for years while facing potentially brutal and abusive employers is to work toward bettering the economic status of the Philippines. Improving educational systems and health care in the nation are other important steps. If there are jobs and opportunities at home, families will not have to make the difficult choice to separate and put their safety at risk.

– Gillian Buckley
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Patriarchy
While poverty and patriarchy may seem like separate issues, the two connect deeply. As long as poverty exists, women’s rights and livelihoods will suffer. Likewise, women’s oppression leads to their inability to contribute to the economy and prevents a family’s escape from cycles of poverty. Here are some examples from around the world of poverty and patriarchy reinforcing each other, and some ways humanitarian aid can improve these situations.

Microcredit in Bangladesh Has Left Millions of Women At High Risk For Domestic Violence

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, people thought that micro-loans would be the future of international development. In Bangladesh, most of these loans went to women on the belief that women could handle money more responsibly than their male counterparts. They received a small amount of money to invest in materials to start a business and earn an independent livelihood in order to bring their families financial stability. Unfortunately, when these women were unsuccessful at lifting their families out of poverty and their families plunged into greater debt as a result of the loans, they often suffered spousal abuse. For other women, as soon as they received the money, the men and their families took it and used it, leaving them to pay off the loans by themselves. As a whole, micro-credit has not had the intended impact on the people of Bangladesh that the international community once hoped for, and rates of violence against women have climbed, increasing the correlation between poverty and patriarchy

Solution: Investing in women’s education will provide them with the knowledge they need to become financially independent and ensure greater legal protection for victims of domestic violence could greatly combat this issue.

Poverty As a Weapon Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixty-one percent of women living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo live in poverty, compared to only fifty-one percent of men. This is because people have systematically excluded women from peace-building efforts in the country. Because there are no women’s voices at the decision-making table, countries set policies that prioritize men, often at women’s expense. Disturbingly, women’s rights activists in the country are often a target for violence. Many think that those who advocate for women-centered poverty-relief efforts are distracting from larger issues within the country.

Solution: Studies that researchers conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that in areas with high levels of poverty, there are high levels of violence against women. Providing food security, as well as funding institutions and organizations to empower women, are important steps in relieving both poverty and oppression in the DRC.

Time Poverty Makes it Nearly Impossible for Indian Women to Contribute to the Economy

In India, the average man works seven hours per day. Although women usually work for nine hours a day, the vast majority of their labor is unpaid housework and childminding. This means that they have little time to earn any outside wages, and therefore, remain financially dependent on the men in their families.  The power dynamic that this situation creates is extremely dangerous. Women lose any agency they may have because they depend on their fathers, husbands or brothers for everything. This means that they have no power to go against their male relative’s wills. It also hurts the Indian economy, as women have little ability to contribute to it.

Solution: In rural India, women spend upwards of four hours each day gathering fuel and cleaning utensils to cook with. Providing them with solar or electric cookers could save them three hours of unpaid labor, giving them more time to do what they want to do or contribute to the economy as an untapped workforce.

These examples display just how poverty and patriarchy intertwine and push women and their families into poverty. If women could gain an education, receive food security or use alternative cooking equipment to limit labor, they might be able to improve their situation and lift themselves out of poverty.

Gillian Buckley
Photo: Wikimedia

fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.

Sweatshops

People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay