Montana Model United Nations 2001
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Commission on Human Rights

TOPIC II

American Violations of Human Rights

1. Sweatshops:

Definition: ...unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, often including locked exits and poor ventilation ... low wages or no wages, long hours of work with no overtime pay, and retaliation against workers who stand up for their rights. www.heartsandminds.org

Causes: (Remember everything is debatable. As a representative of your country, you might argue that sweatshops don’t exist, they are a neccessary evil, or they aren’ t really a problem. None of these causes are a “fact” that cannot be disputed at the MMUN conference.)

  • Corporate greed
    U.S. and multi-national manufacturers have found that they no longer need to operate their own factories. In a world virtually free of borders, they look for subcontractors in countries where regulations are weak and labor and operating costs are lowest.
  • International policies
    Governments, international trade regulatory agencies like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank and other foreign lenders create international trade laws and lending policies requiring developing nations to bolster their economies by creating export industries regardless of implications for social justice and environmental sustainability. And Third World countries desperately need the foreign money
  • The hunt for the lowest price
    Corporations flood stores with a staggering variety of goods made in every corner of the world. Retail giants put pressure on their suppliers to keep the cost down, while encouraging consumers to buy more at discounted prices.
  • The muddle in the middle
    As the playing field has shifted overseas, the number of middle merchants has increased. Contractors, importers, agents and others are each trying to make a profit from those directly below them on the supply chain. Consequently, factories may not know where their goods are headed, just as U.S. manufacturers and merchandisers often don’’t know the product’’s source.
  • Squeezed at the bottom
    All these factors pressure factory owners to cut costs. And where does the price squeeze end? At the bottom, with the laborers, who are pushed to produce goods as quickly as possible. This is where forced overtime, low wages, punishments and fines for slow work and mistakes, child labor, and other abuses come www.coopamerica.org

Possible Solutions:

  • Public Disclosure
    Full corporate disclosure backed with independent monitoring and punishment for violations are not only the way to prevent labor abuse, but social injustice and environmental damage as well.
    (coopamerica.org)

    Drawbacks: Very expensive and difficult to monitor thousands of factories in more than a hundred countries on 6 continents. Can only be done properly with the employment of tens of thousands of moniters.

  • Right to Organize
    Workers can be made aware of their rights and any company code of conduct. They should be able to freely associate; to advocate for those rights and improvements in their workplace conditions, pay and benefits without fear of reprisal.
    (coopamerica.org)

    Drawbacks: Perhaps the most realistic solution, b/c it allows workers to monitor themselves without the need for an extensive international beauracracy that must be everywhere at once. Still rights to organize must be guaranteed by the country in which the workers work, for this solution to work.

  • Living Wage
    Companies must pay workers a living wage. That means enough money to meet basic monthly necessities in the community where the worker lives.
    (coopamerica.org)

    Drawbacks: Again, enforcing this will be difficult. And money for increased living wages must come from somewhere, meaning decreased profits for corporations at some level, possible loss of jobs in third world countries, and increased cost for consumers. It is important to remember that there is no “solution” without trade-offs.

Which side is your country on?

Many third world countries support sweatshops because they need foreign investment at any cost. And developed countries like America waver between support for sweatshops, under pressure from corporations, or opposition to sweatshops under pressure from protestors in their own countries. At the MMUN conference your country may support sweatshops even though your citizens are victimized by them! Remember you represent a country, and must support its views even if they contradict your own.

Sites to Check Out:
www.coopamerica.org
www.caa.org.au/campaigns/nike/
www.state.gov
www.house.gov/georgemiller/sweatshops.html
www.sweatshopwatch.org/ www.theherald.org/issues/101498/giunta.f.html
www.capitalismmagazine.com

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