Plotting my upcoming journey, Im looking at a map of Thailand, seeking the cities or towns that I will want to visit in my short time there. Among other places, the Burmese border has my interest. The internets tell me that I could normally take a day trip from one of these border locations, into Burma for a quick look around. As a person who is critical of the government there, and concerned for the state of its people, naturally I’m interested.
Meanwhile I’m listening to radio netherlands’ The State We’re In, and my friend Jonathan is talking about Burma and the aftermath of the terrible Cyclone Nargis. The theory they’re discussing, as millions of people have been affected by the aftermath of the storm, is that it is the responsibility of UN members to provide aid to victims. Furthermore, according to his guest – Jan Egeland (former relief coordinator of the UN) the Burmese junta does not have the right to block aid or decide if people can be helped or not.
On the one hand Im thinking about how it may not be possible to get into Burma with all this going on. And more importantly, on the other hand, I’m listening to Egeland and I’m thinking about the fact that there are governments who actively block their people from getting essential help after a disaster. Like when the US rejected doctors from Cuba and food from the EU, after hurricane Katrina. Or when China says no to foreign aid workers on their soil (but yes accepts money and other donations). Yet on the same hand we live in an era where military forces are used to change governments and bring what is referred to as freedom and democracy by force. It is seen by many as a legitimate way to do things.
Imagine they felt the same way about aid? Wouldn’t it be something to behold, a NATO force that feels so strongly about feeding starving victims of a hurricane or US marines pulling out buried people after an earthquake. And even if a government told them no, imagine they would still arrive, in an organized and determined fashion, in numbers and efficiency that the government could do very little to stop. Militant relief, there’s a doctrine for a future president or prime minister.
During my time in Portugal I was of course constantly accompanied by my podcasts. Among the programs that I found fairly interesting, On Point Radio was doing their program from Shanghai for a week. At a time where I’m fairly disgusted and often confused about what China is doing to its people and the world, it was of particular interest to hear Tom Ashbrook interviewing various Chinese guests on the topic of the Environment in Crisis and China, Dissent in China, and even China at the Movies.
I imagine many of you also have questions and a desire to better understand what is happening. Questions like, is a boycott the right move or not, and is the situation in China as terrible as it often seems.. etc etc. After listening to these shows I can say, though I may not have the answers, I definitely have a better idea.
With any luck, one day I too can be like Tom and go on my own to someplace in China (Macau for me, in honor of my Portugueseness) and to my own series of podcasts about life and society in China.
Imagine having no rights, no home, and no country. Now imagine that on top of that, you live amongst hundreds of thousands of other people in a makeshift camp for over 30 years. This is just part of the story that the people known as Bihari’s endure everyday in Bangladesh. My guest, documentary film maker Shafiur Rahman has made a film on this very topic, helps explain the past, present, and all the details that the world seems to ignore on a regular basis, of how an entire population can be declared stateless and without rights.
Over the weekend, while Max and Stacy were over for soup and podcasting, I popped in Shafiur’s documentary about the garment workers of Bangladesh. Probably should have said this earlier but it is a very good film, with excellent information and images mixed with testimony that are VERY telling about what is happening with the textile manufacturing industry there, and tying it back to the very clothes we are purchasing in shops around the world.
At one point in the film, they mention their fears of the big changes that will come once Europe elimates tarrif’s on Chinese textiles. They didn’t say exactly when this would happen, but Max mentioned that the authority of the European Union on trade has long been going back and forth on actually doing this. Which means it may not be soon… but it could very well be.
In all the images of the textile workers, you get the very clear feeling that their quality of life is not what it should be… it is below what any reasonable person could call humane living conditions. Yet they work for brands, as much of the world has come to know, that charge big money for their prestigious label.
So what if we add another complication to the equation. A country of a few billion people who can do everything for even cheaper, outbid, underprice, and out produce Bangladesh. What will happen to people already walking the tightrope of poverty and death? People who have scraped out a living, even in conditions that make it seem unlikely to be able to do so?
I’m yet to do more extensive research into this topic.. but Im curious to learn about the proposed rules.. or lack of rules.. that the free trade proponents want to adopt. Instead of running around shopping for new clothes for cheap prices, the European public should already be asking their retailer — who made this? Where is it from? And how are workers treated? But after learning these answers, they must take the next step.. and NOT buy those items until basic demands are met for a living wage and human rights for workers, regardless of where they are, are respected.