Sexual Predators and Serial Rapists Run Wild in Free Trade

Thom Hartmann Program |  By Thom Hartmann | June, 21 2011 |  Share  | Source Article

June 13, 2011

One hundred years ago this year a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in downtown Manhattan. The fire killed 146 employees at the factory - mostly women who were burned alive or jumped out the windows because the exit doors on their floors - the 8th, 9th, and tenth floors - were locked so the women couldn't take breaks without management's permission.

It was the deadliest event in New York City at the time - a mark that stood for 90 years until the attacks of 9/11 - and it goes down as the fourth deadliest industrial incident in US History.

What the fire highlighted was just how dangerous workplaces in America are when they lack safety regulations. Without regulations - corporations can make enormous profits by paying workers very little - and cutting corners when it comes to things like safety.

And for most of American history - up until the Shirtwaist factory fire - that's just what corporations did - operating mostly free from government interference and regulation.

But the fire changed everything - it shocked America.

The funeral for the dead workers was viewed by nearly a half million people who were outraged at factory owners all across America who put profits ahead of the lives of their workers.

From that point on - our nation pressured politicians to pass regulations to make sure something like this never happened again. It led to the creation of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union - which by the late 1970s was on the ropes when outsourcing started picking up steam.

To fight back, that union produced a series of ads, about how their wages were going to "feed the kids and run the house" - here's one from 1978:

Man: There used to be more of us in the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, but a lot of our jobs have disappeared. A lot of the clothes Americans are buying for women and kids are imports; they're being made in foreign places. When the work's done here we can support our families and pay our taxes and buy the things other Americans make. That's what it means when the label says union.


Look for the union label
when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.

Remember somewhere our union's sewing,
our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.

We work hard, but who's complaining?
Thanks to the I.L.G. we're paying our way!

So always look for the union label,
it says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.!

From the 1920s until the Reagan presidency, that union grew and lobbied hard in state capitols and here in washington, DC.

And lawmakers listened - passing a bunch of new workplace safety measures in the years after the incident - and today - factories have to abide by strict fire codes and employee safety standards.

Although today - Republicans are trying to do away with many of those restrictions - cutting, for example, $99 million out of the Occupational and Safety Health Administration that will lead to 8,000 fewer safety inspections every year.

Republicans are also introducing legislation that requires all government regulations to expire every 2 years - that way they can use a filibuster when it comes time to extend regulations - and kill them off for good.

They've already killed off the International Ladies Garment Workers Union - we no longer make clothing in the United States.

In the meantime - corporate CEOs have found a NEW way to increase profits in an unregulated work environment.

Enter Free Trade.

Thanks to Free Trade - CEOs can now just look overseas to set up new factories in places where there are fewer of those pesky regulations.

In other words - they just ship their "Triangle Shirtwaist factory firetraps" elsewhere - out of sight and out of the mind of the American people.

For example, in 2001 - President George W. Bush signed into law the Jordanian Free Trade Agreement - opening the door to set up shop in Jordan - and import products into the US without any tariffs - no taxes - as if they were produced right here in the United States.

One business taking advantage of this new Free Trade agreement was a garment company named "Classic" that specializes in making clothes mostly for Wal Mart - but also Hanes and Kohls and other products.

And what goes on behind closed doors at the Classic factory will shock you.

new report by the "Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights" details rampant human rights abuses at the Classic factory in Jordan.

The report is titled "Sexual Predators and Serial Rapists Run Wild At Wal Mart Supplier in Jordan" - and you can probably take a guess at what the report is talking about from its title.



This factory is filled mostly with women - of mostly Sri Lankan origin because the company doesn't want to pay Jordanians who would likely ask for higher wages and safer working conditions.

And these Sri Lankan women have to work 13 hours a day - 7 days a week - for 61 cents an hour. Their passports are taken away and they are forced to live in cramped dorm rooms that don't have heat or hot water and that are infested with bed bugs.

But that's not even the worst of it.

They are also routinely subject to sexual violence.

They are rounded up on a weekly-basis and forced to have sex with managers of the factory at a nearby hotel.

If they refuse - then they're beaten and raped and deported back to Sri Lanka where they become outcasts in a culture that values virginity in order to be eligible for marriage.

On a daily basis, women are selected by the male managers for rape within the factory.

Those who become pregnant are force-deported back to Sri Lanka, usually after being violently beaten.

And their lives are literally destroyed - in every sense of the word...take a look at this interview with one of the female workers at the Classic Factory...

I was molested in every way. I couldn't concentrate on work because I was psychologically and emotionally distraught... I had to fulfill everything he desired because I was placed in an extremely vulnerable situation and intimidated. My whole body is in pain. I have teeth marks on my body. That man destroyed me...

I am going to Sri Lanka today. But it is not a happy return. I cannot face my mother or father. I am destroyed.

Not only has the Minister of Labor in Jordan been made aware of these abuses - but so too has Wal Mart and the other companies that buy from Classic - and yet no one has done anything to stop the regular sexual assaults.

That's because the Jordanians are afraid if they speak out - then Classic will shut down the factory - costing Jordan millions in economic activity as the factory moves to some other country that allows raping employees - at this moment, about half the countries in the world fall into that category.

You see, the regular rape of these women actually helps improve profits, because the women know that if they complain about working hours or wages, they themselves will be the next one raped.

This is the ugly truth about Free Trade that people like Thomas Friedman and other globalists don't want you to know.

Not only has it promoted corporate human rights abuse as we are seeing in Jordan - and in Bangladesh and in dozens of other low-wage labor hot spots around the world - it's made American small businesses unable to compete in a global market.

How can small American-based businesses compete against transnational corporations that use rape to maximize profits?

That includes companies like Hanes that made over a billion dollars last year - or Wal Mart that made more than $14 billion last year - thanks in large part to buying cheap products from factories like that Classic factory in Jordan that uses rape to keep its employees in line.

Free Trade has created a race to the bottom around the world - where the most in-demand labor force is the least protected.

Though conditions in factories across America have dramatically improved in the one hundred years since the Triangle Shirtwaist factory went up in flames - we shouldn't sleep any easier at night just because employee abuse is out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

It exists all around the world in places like Jordan and Bangladesh where corporate power has overtaken sovereign governments and devoured the protections offered to average workers.

As long as so-called American corporations like Wal Mart are dealing in abusive labor practices around the world - then so too is America.

And the only way to put an end to the abuse - is for us to put an end to this so-called Free Trade.

That's The Big Picture.