Free Trade, Fair Trade and Women

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TAKE A LOOK AT THE LABEL ON YOUR t-shirt or jacket - chances are it was made in China, Hong Kong, Korea, India or Bangladesh. According to Sonia Singh, of the Maquila Solidarity Network, more than half the clothing purchased in Canada is imported.

Singh addressed a forum on Free Trade/Fair Trade at the Older Women's Network (OWN) Co-op on January 27 in Toronto. She said that under the North American Free Trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, jobs in third-world countries such as Mexico have increased. Most of these jobs are held by women, who endure low wages, long hours, poor safety conditions and high production quotas. If they try to organize, they face violence from police or hired thugs.

"We are all linked to garment workers around the world," Singh said. "Free trade has impacted garment workers in Canada. Many unionized factories have had to close down."

Singh's concerns were reiterated by another panelist, Marnie Girvan of the Canadian organization MATCH, which supports women's groups around the world. "When the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization decides to implement changes, women and children take the brunt of the economic results," she said.

Girvan emphasized that developing countries must be given the freedom to make strategic choices in trade and investment policies. Their indebtedness causes cutbacks in education, medical services and infrastructure. "We have islands of wealth in a sea of poverty. We need globalization of responsibility," she said.

Further clarification was given by panelist Ann Emment, of the Committee on Monetary & Economic Reform. "The world is made up of systems," she explained. "Ecosystems are diminishing in the goods and services that they can provide and in their capacity to maintain the level we are going to need."

"Corporate capitalism is our new world order," she said. "International capital is running the world. What we now have is a global police state. …