Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Do Corporations Need Conscience or Freedom? It Appears That Calls to Help Workers Don't Apply beyond US Borders

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Do Corporations Need Conscience or Freedom? It Appears That Calls to Help Workers Don't Apply beyond US Borders

Article excerpt

PAT BUCHANAN'S stirring attacks against free trade and corporations have earned him the label of "economic populist" and the votes of many displaced American factory workers.

Somehow, a former acolyte of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan became the only candidate to have noticed that many Americans feel insecure about the economy. By attacking NAFTA and GATT, he offers a simple explanation for why the stock market has soared while many people work harder and harder for less.

Mr. Buchanan's pitch as a friend of the working man, however, like much in presidential politics, has been heavier on rhetoric than on substance.

Though he rails at corporations and tailors his message to working people, you won't hear him promoting concrete steps to make companies treat their workers better.

At home, Buchanan strongly opposes ideas like raising the minimum wage. But although he promises to scrap free-trade agreements because they hurt workers, he never talks about pushing multinational corporations to respect labor laws and human rights abroad.

Sweatshops for US goods

Take Haiti, for example. The conditions in 15 Haitian factories that produce garments for US companies are detailed in a startling new report by the National Labor Committee (NLC), a New York-based group that monitors workers' rights here and abroad. Among them is the Quality Garments shop in Port-au-Prince, where workers earn as little as 12 cents an hour while producing Mickey Mouse pajamas for the Walt Disney Company. The pajamas are sold in the United States at Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, and Sears.

At 10 of the shops examined by the NLC, workers earn less than Haiti's 30-cents-per-hour legal minimum wage, which is itself the lowest wage rate in the hemisphere. What happens inside the factories smacks of the 19th century.

At Quality Garments, for example, the workers, most of whom are women, hunch over antiquated sewing machines, laboring eight to 10 hours a day, Monday through Saturday (Sunday as well if there are orders to fill) in a dimly lit factory choked with dust and lint because of poor ventilation.

Though a virulent critic of free trade, Buchanan does not harp on such matters. …

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