Argentina is one nation that suffered from increasing debt load in the early s, as the country tried to fight hyperinflation by fixing the peso to the U. By , so much money was leaving the country that there was a financial panic, leading to riots and ultimately, the resignation of the president U. Department of State a. Most of us do not pay too much attention to where our favourite products are made.
And certainly when you are shopping for a cheap T-shirt, you probably do not turn over the label, check who produced the item, and then research whether or not the company has fair labour practices. In fact it can be very difficult to discover where exactly the items we use everyday have come from.
Nevertheless, the purchase of a T-shirt involves us in a series of social relationships that ties us to the lives and working conditions of people around the world. On April 24, , the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1, garment workers. The workers at Rana Plaza were in fact making clothes for the Joe Fresh label—the signature popular Loblaw brand—when the building collapsed. But over the last two decades of globalization, Canadian consumers have become increasingly tied through popular retail chains to a complex network of outsourced garment production that stretches from China, through Southeast Asia, to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The early s saw the economic opening of China when suddenly millions of workers were available to produce and manufacture consumer items for Westerners at a fraction of the cost of Western production. Manufacturing that used to take place in Canada moved overseas. Over the ensuing years, the Chinese began to outsource production to regions with even cheaper labour: Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
The outsourcing was outsourced. The result is that when a store like Loblaw places an order, it usually works through agents who in turn source and negotiate the price of materials and production from competing locales around the globe.
Most of the T-shirts that we wear in Canada today begin their life in the cotton fields of arid west China, which owe their scale and efficiency to the collectivization projects of centralized state socialism. However, as the cost of Chinese labour has incrementally increased since the s, the Chinese have moved into the role of connecting Western retailers and designers with production centres elsewhere.
In a global division of labour, if agents organize the sourcing, production chain and logistics, Western retailers can focus their skill and effort on retail marketing.
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It was in this context that Bangladesh went from having a few dozen garment factories to several thousand. Unfortunately, although there are legal safety regulations and inspections in Bangladesh, the rapid expansion of the industry has exceeded the ability of underfunded state agencies to enforce them. The globalization of production makes it difficult to follow the links between the purchasing of a T-shirt in a Canadian store and the chain of agents, garment workers, shippers, and agricultural workers whose labour has gone into producing it and getting it to the store.
Our lives are tied to this chain each time we wear a T-shirt, yet the history of its production and the lives it has touched are more or less invisible to us. It becomes even more difficult to do something about the working conditions of those global workers when even the retail stores are uncertain about where the shirts come form. There is no international agency that can enforce compliance with safety or working standards.
Why do you think worker safety standards and factory building inspections have to be imposed by government regulations rather than being simply an integral part of the production process?
Why does it seem normal that the issue of worker safety in garment factories is set up in this way? Why does this make it difficult to resolve or address the issue?
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The fair trade movement has pushed back against the hyper-exploitation of global workers and forced stores like Loblaw to try to address the unsafe conditions in garment factories like Rana Plaza. Organizations like the Better Factories Cambodia program inspect garment production regularly in Cambodia, enabling stores like Mountain Equipment Co-op to purchase reports on the factory chains it relies on.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, Loblaw signed an Accord of Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to try to ensure safety compliance of their suppliers. Not surprisingly, the consequences of poverty are often also causes. The poor experience inadequate health care, limited education, and the inaccessibility of birth control. Those born into these conditions are incredibly challenged in their efforts to break out since these consequences of poverty are also causes of poverty, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage.
According to sociologists Neckerman and Torche in their analysis of global inequality studies, the consequences of poverty are many. They have divided the consequences into three areas. As mentioned above, poverty exists in a cycle where the consequences and causes are intertwined. The second consequence of poverty is its effect on physical and mental health.
Poor people face physical health challenges, including malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. Mental health is also detrimentally affected by the emotional stresses of poverty, with relative deprivation carrying the strongest effect. Again, as with the ongoing inequality, the effects of poverty on mental and physical health become more entrenched as time goes on.
Cross-nationally, crime rates are higher, particularly with violent crime, in countries with higher levels of income inequality Fajnzylber, Lederman, and Loayza While most of us are accustomed to thinking of slavery in terms of pre—Civil War America, modern-day slavery goes hand in hand with global inequality. In short, slavery refers to any time people are sold, treated as property, or forced to work for little or no pay.
Just as in pre—Civil War America, these humans are at the mercy of their employers. Chattel slavery , the form of slavery practised in the pre—Civil War American South, is when one person owns another as property. Child slavery, which may include child prostitution, is a form of chattel slavery. Debt bondage , or bonded labour, involves the poor pledging themselves as servants in exchange for the cost of basic necessities like transportation, room, and board.
In this scenario, people are paid less than they are charged for room and board. When travel is involved, people can arrive in debt for their travel expenses and be unable to work their way free, since their wages do not allow them to ever get ahead. The global watchdog group Anti-Slavery International recognizes other forms of slavery: human trafficking where people are moved away from their communities and forced to work against their will , child domestic work and child labour, and certain forms of servile marriage, in which women are little more than chattel slaves Anti-Slavery International As with any social issue, global or otherwise, there are a variety of theories that scholars develop to study the topic.
The two most widely applied perspectives on global stratification are modernization theory and dependency theory. According to modernization theory, low-income countries are affected by their lack of industrialization and can improve their global economic standing through:. Critics point out the inherent ethnocentric bias of this theory. It supposes all countries have the same resources and are capable of following the same path.
There is no room within this theory for the possibility that industrialization and technology are not the best goals. There is, of course, some basis for this assumption. Data show that core nations tend to have lower maternal and child mortality rates, longer lifespans, and less absolute poverty.
It is also true that in the poorest countries, millions of people die from the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, which are benefits most of us take for granted. At the same time, the issue is more complex than the numbers might suggest. Cultural equality, history, community, and local traditions are all at risk as modernization pushes into peripheral countries. The challenge, then, is to allow the benefits of modernization while maintaining a cultural sensitivity to what already exists.
Dependency theory was created in part as a response to the Western-centric mindset of modernization theory. It states that global inequality is primarily caused by core nations or high-income nations exploiting semi-peripheral and peripheral nations or middle-income and low-income nations , creating a cycle of dependence Hendricks In the period of colonialism, core or metropolis nations created the conditions for the underdevelopment of peripheral or hinterland nations through a metropolis-hinterland relationship.
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The resources of the hinterlands were shipped to the metropolises where they were converted into manufactured goods and shipped back for consumption in the hinterlands. The hinterlands were used as the source of cheap resources and were unable to develop competitive manufacturing sectors of their own. Dependency theory states that as long as peripheral nations are dependent on core nations for economic stimulus and access to a larger piece of the global economy, they will never achieve stable and consistent economic growth.
Further, the theory states that since core nations, as well as the World Bank, choose which countries to make loans to, and for what they will loan funds, they are creating highly segmented labour markets that are built to benefit the dominant market countries. At first glance, it seems this theory ignores the formerly low-income nations that are now considered middle-income nations and are on their way to becoming high-income nations and major players in the global economy, such as China. But some dependency theorists would state that it is in the best interests of core nations to ensure the long-term usefulness of their peripheral and semi-peripheral partners.
Globalization theory approaches global inequality by focusing less on the relationship between dependent and core nations, and more on the international flows of capital investment and disinvestment in an increasingly integrated world market. Since the s, capital accumulation has taken place less and less in the context of national economies.
Rather, as we saw in the example of the garment industry, capital circulates on a global scale, leading to a global reordering of inequalities both between nations and within nations. The production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services are administratively and technologically integrated on a worldwide basis. Effectively, we no longer live and act in the self-enclosed spaces of national states. According to globalization theory, the outcome of the globalization project has been the redistribution of wealth and poverty on a global scale. The anti-globalization movement has emerged as a counter-movement to define an alternative, non-corporate global project based on environmental sustainability, food sovereignty, labour rights, and democratic accountability.
How might a symbolic interactionist approach this topic?
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Chang, provides this opportunity. Chang follows two young women Min and Chunming who are employed at a handbag plant. They help manufacture coveted purses and bags for the global market. As part of the growing population of young people who are leaving behind the homesteads and farms of rural China, these female factory workers are ready to enter the urban fray and pursue an income much higher than they could have earned back home. As a symbolic interactionist would do, Chang examines the daily lives and interactions of Min and Chunming—their workplace friendships, family relations, gadgets, and goods—in this evolving global space where young women can leave tradition behind and fashion their own futures.