A core-periphery economic microcosm formed with the queue outside Loaded in High Street last Friday - young male Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Hongkies, lining up from 8am. At 5pm the doors opened on 40 pairs of a new line of Nikes likely made in Mainland or Southeast Asian sweatshops.
The boys were pretty, but the shoes were kind of ugly.
Across the street at a cafe, four girls of a more typical sweatshop-worker demographic laughed their asses off in horror. Young women, two Southeast Asian Chinese, a Guji and an Afghan (we really needed a Mainlander to fit the sweatshop bill), three of whom happened to be current or former workers for the New Zealand Immigration Service. I don't know if the boys heard us bitching at them from across the street...
- Oh man, that's not hip-hop!
- D-d-don't believe the hype!
- Some call it street style, I call it... ignorance.
We also recalled the Singaporean Hello Kitty Riots of 2000.
The burgeoning sneaker-freak scene in Auckland has been building an interesting network of young east-Asian guys, some of whom are feeling their way towards a new intercultural political and cultural consciousness. But pan-Asianism for rich Asian boys built around exploitation of poor Asian women? Hmm... nah sorry guys. Try again.
Then again, is Nike getting a bad rap? Since they 'fessed up to sweatshopping and started listing their factory locations earlier this year, here's what the last Corpwatch report said.
What they've eliminated is super exploitation, and now they're just down to plain exploitation.
Look, let's be real here. It's not just foreign corporations who benefit from turning a blind-eye to undemocratic labour conditions in undemocratic regimes. The hosts themselves benefit in return. For example, multinationals actually collaborate organically with certain developing-world regimes to put troublesome dissidents away - bonus! Glutter dropped me a line last week - she has been busy with Reporters Sans Frontieres busting Yahoo's sorry snitching ass on this count. It's been discovered that Yahoo collaborated directly with the Chinese government to incriminate cyberdissident Shi Tao, who was imprisoned for ten years in April. Says RSF:
We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well. Yahoo! obviously complied with requests from the Chinese authorities to furnish information regarding an IP address that linked Shi Tao to materials posted online, and the company will yet again simply state that they just conform to the laws of the countries in which they operate. But does the fact that this corporation operates under Chinese law free it from all ethical considerations? How far will it go to please Beijing? ...It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government's abuses and it is quite another thing to collaborate.
It's as good a time as any to close down your Yahoo account. Will Gmail and Google be any better? As previously discussed, Will it really do no evil?
It can be quite a complicated and lengthy affair to ask a human rights worker who also happens to be Chinese, who has lived in China, and has family there who don't work in sweatshops, but who have doubtless benefited from the economic growth that has been built upon those sweatshops, what they think of Free Trade agreements with China. There's an election on, and you are probably wanting to skip to the Mark Sainsbury gag. So I'll keep it brief.
Screw free trade with China. And if you're interested, though my Mainlander associates are doubtless unconventional, they don't want the West to support China's sweatshop culture either. They also don't want to be named. It's too dangerous.
But it's not as if any of us expect that we can stop it. Even Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights didn't hold out much hope when she was asked her opinion on the agreement, on her visit to Auckland earlier this year. Business gets its way, we know that.
Her angle was interesting, in that she seemed to believe that New Zealand would be able to drive a hard bargain with China on labour and human rights standards, if it only goddamn tried. She said that a country like New Zealand can make a difference precisely because we are not America or the UK. If we voice criticisms of human rights and labour conditions, China will accept that they are genuine and not about political points-scoring - because New Zealand is not waging an illegal war, has nothing to gain from standing up for what it believes, and has no power. It's just like the UN! And from her experience, the Chinese government respects that, oldskool style.
The Chinese government's behaviour though, is a constant, it is a given. What the Yahoo collaboration shows is that the behaviour we should be most concerned about, and which we should actually have a shot at changing, is that of businesses from the holy democratic West.
While mulling this sorry state of affairs and watching the lengthening Nike line, Dr Drasnor dropped by, affirmed that the queue for the Nikes was 'out of it', and then made my night at the Food Asia foodcourt downtown when he said: 'See that white guy behind you? Isn't that the guy who hosted the Leaders Debate?'
You guys do all look the same!