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How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty

How the U.S. Employs Overseas Sweatshops to Produce Government Uniforms | A Lightning War for Liberty.

The following article from the New York Times is extraordinarily important as it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it comes to overseas slave labor and human rights. While the Obama Administration (and the ones that came before it) publicly espouse self-important platitudes about our dedication to humanitarianism, when it comes down to practicing what we preach, our government fails miserably and is directly responsible for immense human suffering.

Let’s get down to some facts. The U.S. government is one of the largest buyers of clothing from overseas factories at over $1.5 billion per year. To start, considering our so-called “leaders” are supposedly so concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, why aren’t we spending the money here at home at U.S. factories? If we don’t have the capacity, why don’t we build the capacity? After all, if we need the uniforms anyway, and it is at the taxpayers expense, wouldn’t it make sense to at least ensure production at home and create some jobs? If a private business wants to produce overseas that’s fine, but you’d think the government would be a little more interested in boosting domestic industry.

However, the above is just a minor issue. Not only does the U.S. government spend most of its money for clothing at overseas factories, but it employs some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the process. Child labor, beatings, restrictions on bathroom brakes, padlocked exits and much more is routine practice at these factories. Even worse, in the few instances in which the government is required to actually use U.S. labor, they just contract with prisons for less than $2 per hour using domestic slave labor. Then, when questions start to get asked, government agencies actually go out of their way to keep the factory lists out of the public’s eye, even going so far as denying requests when pressed for information by members of Congress.

Sadly, as usual, at the end of the day this is all about profits and money. Money government officials will claim is being saved by the taxpayer, but in reality is just being funneled to well connected bureaucrats.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — One of the world’s biggest clothing buyers, the United States government spends more than $1.5 billion a year at factories overseas, acquiring everything from the royal blue shirts worn by airport security workers to the olive button-downs required for forest rangers and the camouflage pants sold to troops on military bases.

But even though the Obama administration has called on Western buyers to use their purchasing power to push for improved industry working conditions after several workplace disasters over the last 14 months, the American government has done little to adjust its own shopping habits.

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories. Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

In Bangladesh, shirts with Marine Corps logos sold in military stores were made at DK Knitwear, where child laborers made up a third of the work force, according to a 2010 audit that led some vendors to cut ties with the plant.Managers punched workers for missed production quotas, and the plant had no functioning alarm system despite previous fires, auditors said.Many of the problems remain, according to another audit this year and recent interviews with workers.

At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.

“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.

And there is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.

Why am I not surprised…

“It doesn’t exist for the exact same reason that American consumers still buy from sweatshops,” said Daniel Gordon, a former top federal procurement official who now works at George Washington University Law School. “The government cares most about getting the best price.”

Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.

As usual, it is all about the money. You think average Americans are seeing any of that massive profit? Believe me, someone is and it’s not you.

At Manta Apparels, for example, which makes uniforms for the General Services Administration, employees said beatings are common and fire exits are kept chained except when auditors visit. The local press has described Manta as one of the most repressive factories in the country. A top labor advocate, Aminul Islam, was organizing there in 2010 when he was first arrested by the police and tortured. In April 2012, he was found dead, a hole drilled below his right knee and his ankles crushed.

Conditions like those are possible partly because American government agencies usually do not know which factories supply their goods or are reluctant to reveal them. Soon after a fire killed at least 112 people at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh in November 2012, several members of Congress asked various agencies for factory addresses. Of the seven agencies her office contacted, Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, said only the Department of the Interior turned over its list.

Federal officials still have to navigate a tangle of rules. Defense officials, for instance, who spend roughly $2 billion annually on military uniforms, are required by a World War II-era rule called the Berry Amendment to have most of them made in the United States. In recent years, Congress has pressured defense officials to cut costs on uniforms. Increasingly, the department has turned to federal prisons, where wages are under $2 per hour. Federal inmates this year stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

The Marine Corps and Navy still do not require audits of these factories. The Air Force and Army exchanges do, but the audits can come from retailers, and defense officials fail to do routine spot checks to confirm their accuracy.

For now, Bangladesh’s garment sector continues to grow, as do purchases from one of its bulk buyers. In the year since Tazreen burned down, American military stores have shipped even more clothes from Bangladesh.

This is the human equivalent of factory farming and every decent American citizen should be appalled that this is happening on multiple levels. Please share this post to raise awareness.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Mike

Looking Back at 2013: Photos of Climate Chaos, Natural Disasters, Heartache and Hope | DeSmogBlog

Looking Back at 2013: Photos of Climate Chaos, Natural Disasters, Heartache and Hope | DeSmogBlog.

Looking Back at 2013: Photos of Climate Chaos, Natural Disasters, Heartache and Hope

Today, we wrap up 2013 with a slideshow of photographs taken this past year by DeSmog contributor Julie Dermansky. We’re grateful to have Julie on our team, and as you can see from her photographs, she witnessed some awe-inspiring and awful scenes in 2013.

A self-described Accidental Chronicler of Climate Change, Julie lives in New Orleans and has traveled the globe reporting on some of the most important stories of our times through her photojournalism and writing — Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, Superstorm Sandy, earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the BP Gulf oil disaster, war-torn Iraq, genocide in Rwanda and lots more.

She joined DeSmogBlog in August, and quickly became an invaluable member of our team with her in-depth multimedia coverage of the Louisiana sinkhole, the battle over the southern half of Keystone XL, the fracking bonanza in Texas, the ongoing fallout of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and more.

Sit back and take a journey through Julie’s lens as we remember some of the biggest disasters and climate stories of 2013.

Over 100,000 defy protest ban in Ukraine – Europe – Al Jazeera English

Over 100,000 defy protest ban in Ukraine – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

The opposition rally is by far the biggest seen in the Ukrainian capital since the Orange Revolution nine years ago [AP]
More than 100,000 demonstrators have chased away police to rally in the centre of Ukraine’s capital, defying a government ban on protests in Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president’s refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union.

Chants of “revolution” resounded across a sea of EU and Ukrainian flags on the square, where the government had prohibited rallies starting on Sunday.

A group of protesters used a tractor to try to break through police lines near the office of President Viktor Yanukovich, eyewitnesses said.

People use a tractor while trying to break through police lines near the president’s office [Reuters]

The approach to the entrance to the presidential administration building was blocked by a line of buses as well as several metal barriers.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, addressing the protesters, called on Yanukovich and his government to resign, saying they had “stolen” Ukraine’s dream of European integration.

‘They stole the dream’

“The government and the president should resign,” said the heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition politician.

“They stole the dream. If this government does not want to fulfill the will of the people, then there will be no such government, there will be no such president. There will be a new government and a new president,” he said to cheering crowds.

We are furious. The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom.

Mykola Sapronov, protester

 

The opposition rally, by far the biggest seen in the Ukrainian capital since the Orange Revolution nine years ago,  came a day after a police crackdown on protesters which inflamed demonstrators further after Yanukovich’s U-turn on Europe.

In a bid to defuse tensions ahead of the rally, Yanukovich issued a statement saying he would do everything in his power to speed up Ukraine’s moves toward the European Union.

In a sea of blue and gold, the colours of both the EU and Ukrainian flags, protesters flooded the streets of central Kiev, angered by Yanukovich’s decision last month to forego signing a landmark EU deal in favour of closer ties with Kiev’s former Soviet master, Russia.

“We are furious,” said Mykola Sapronov, a 62-year-old retired businessman. “The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom.”

‘We will respond’

The crowds then moved on to Independence Square, the site of the pro-EU rally that police violently broke up on Saturday.

The interior minister warned that police would respond to any disorder and said Ukraine had no place among the ranks of countries like Libya or Tunisia, where popular uprisings overthrew old guard leadership.

“If there are any calls to disorder, we will respond,” Interfax reported Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko as saying.

But riot police, who had sealed off part of Independence Square following Saturday’s crackdown, withdrew as the marchers approached the square.

Sunday’s rally also marked the anniversary of a 1991 referendum that ushered in Ukraine’s independence from the then-crumbling Soviet Union.

 

Egyptians on streets to defy new protest law – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptians on streets to defy new protest law – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Since he was toppled in July, Morsi’s supporters have been staging near-daily protests [AP]
Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Egypt and clashes erupted when police tried to break up some of the demonstrations, days after a hotly-disputed protest law was adopted.

At least 86 people were arrested across the country on Friday, according to the interior ministry, which added that clashes raged in several areas.

Protesters in the city of Giza threw Molotov cocktails at one police station where clashes raged for hours, the interior ministry told Al Jazeera.

Violence between police and protesters also broke out in the country’s second largest city, Alexandria, after Muslim prayers, with security forces firing tear gas to disperse hundreds of people.

The Mediterranean city has been tense since a court handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, many of them juveniles, for holding a peaceful protest.

The office of the president on Friday, however, said the women and girls would be granted a full pardon by the interim president once their cases had gone through the appeal and cessation courts.

They have been held for weeks after being arrested during a protest demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was ousted by the military on July 3. The youngest girl is 15-years-old.

One person was killed and several injured on Thursday during a crackdown on students protesting the harsh sentences – which have infuriated many Egyptians – in the capital Cairo.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners joined the funeral procession for the dead man, Mohamed Rewda, who studied at Cairo University.

Near-daily protests

Since July, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been staging near-daily protests calling for his reinstatement, with Friday’s weekly Muslim prayers a key time for mobilising their largest numbers.

The rallies have often descended into street clashes with security forces or anti-Brotherhood protesters.

In an effort to quash the rallies, authorities adopted the controversial law restricting the right to protest.

Among other rules, it requires organisers to notify the Interior Ministry three days before holding a demonstration, while also setting prison terms and high fines for violators.

 

Gaza: Life and death under Israel’s drones – Features – Al Jazeera English

Gaza: Life and death under Israel’s drones – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Drones killed an estimated 36 of the 162 Palestinians who lost their lives during Operation Pillar of Defence [AP]
Jerusalem – There are many things to fear in Gaza: Attacks from Israel’s Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, the coastal enclave’s growing isolation, the regular blackouts from power shortages, increasingly polluted drinking water and rivers of sewage flooding the streets.

Meanwhile, for most Palestinians in Gaza the anxiety-inducing soundtrack to their lives is the constant buzz of the remotely piloted aircraft – better known as “drones” – that hover in the skies above.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveillance and extra-judicial execution in parts of the Middle East, especially by the US, but in nowhere more than Gaza has the drone become a permanent fixture of life. More than 1.7 million Palestinians, confined by Israel to a small territory in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are subject to near continual surveillance and intermittent death raining down from the sky.

There is little hope of escaping the zenana – an Arabic word referring to a wife’s relentless nagging that Gazans have adopted to describe the drone’s oppressive noise and their feelings about it. According to statistics compiled by human rights groups in Gaza, civilians are the chief casualties of what Israel refers to as “surgical” strikes from drones. 

“When you hear the drones, you feel naked and vulnerable,” said Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza City. “The buzz is the sound of death. There is no escape, nowhere is private. It is a reminder that, whatever Israel and the international community assert, the occupation has not ended. We are still living completely under Israeli control. They control the borders and the sea and they decide our fates from their position in the sky,” said Shaqura.

The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

Suffer the children

The sense of permanent exposure, coupled with the fear of being mistakenly targeted, has inflicted deep psychological scars on civilians, especially children, according to experts.

 “There is a great sense of insecurity. Nowhere feels safe for the children, and they feel no one can offer them protection, not even their parents,” said Ahmed Tawahina, a psychologist running clinics in Gaza as part of the Community Mental Health Programme. “That traumatises both the children and parents, who feel they are failing in their most basic responsibility.”

From a political perspective, there is a deep paradox. Israel says it needs security, but it demands it at the cost of our constant insecurity.

– Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Shaqura observed: “From a political perspective, there is a deep paradox. Israel says it needs security, but it demands it at the cost of our constant insecurity.”

There are no statistics that detail the effect of the drones on Palestinians in Gaza. Doctors admit it is impossible to separate the psychological toll inflicted by drones from other sources of damage to mental health, such as air strikes by F-16s, severe restrictions on movement and the economic insecurity caused by Israel’s blockade.

But field researchers working for Palestinian rights groups point out that the use of drones is intimately tied to these other sources of fear and anxiety. Drones fire missiles themselves, they guide attacks by F-16s or helicopters, and they patrol and oversee the borders.

A survey in medical journal The Lancet following Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, found large percentages of children suffered from symptoms of psychological trauma: Fifty-eight percent permanently feared the dark; 43 percent reported regular nightmares; 37 percent wet the bed and 42 percent had crying attacks.

Tawahina described the sense of being constantly observed as a “form of psychological torture, which exhausts people’s mental and emotional resources. Among children at school, this can be seen in poor concentration and unruly behaviour.” The trauma for children is compounded by the fact that the drones also disrupt what should be their safest activity – watching TV at home. When a drone is operating nearby, it invariably interferes with satellite reception.

“”It doesn’t make headlines, but it is another example of how there is no escape from the drones. Parents want their children indoors, where it feels safer and where they’re less likely to hear the drones, but still the drone finds a way into their home. The children cannot even switch off from the traumas around them by watching TV because of the drones.”

Israel’s ‘major advantage’

Israel developed its first drones in the early 1980s, during its long occupation of south Lebanon, to gather aerial intelligence without exposing Israeli pilots to anti-aircraft missiles. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, said drones help in situations where good, on-the-ground intelligence is lacking. “What the UAV gives you is eyes on the other side of the hill or over the border,” he said. “That provides Israel with a major advantage over its enemies.”

Other Israeli analysts have claimed that the use of drones, with their detailed intelligence-collecting abilities, is justified because they reduce the chances of errors and the likelihood of “collateral damage” – civilian deaths – during attacks.

The advantage from Israel’s point of view is that using a drone for these tasks reduces the risk of endangering a pilot’s life or losing an expensive plane. That is why we are moving towards much greater use of these kinds of robots on the battlefield.

– Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University

But, according to Inbar, the drone is no better equipped than other aircraft for gathering intelligence or carrying out an execution.

 “The advantage from Israel’s point of view is that using a drone for these tasks reduces the risk of endangering a pilot’s life or losing an expensive plane. That is why we are moving towards much greater use of these kinds of robots on the battlefield,” he said.

‘Mistakes can happen’

According to Gaza human rights group al-Mezan, Israel started using drones over the territory from the start of the second intifada in 2000, but only for surveillance.

Israel’s first extra-judicial executions using drones occurred in 2004, when two Palestinians were killed. But these operations greatly expanded after 2006, in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza and the rise to power of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

Drones, the front-line weapon in Israel’s surveillance operations and efforts to foil rocket attacks, killed more than 90 Palestinians in each of the years 2006 and 2007, according to al-Mezan. The figures soared during Operation Cast Lead and in its aftermath, with 461 Palestinians killed by drones in 2009. The number peaked again with 199 deaths in 2012, the year when Israel launched the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defence against Gaza.

Despite Israeli claims that the intelligence provided by drones makes it easier to target those Palestinians it has defined as “terrorists”, research shows civilians are the main victims. In the 2012 Pillar of Defence operation, 36 of the 162 Palestinians killed were a result of drone strikes, and a further 100 were injured by drones. Of those 36 killed, two-thirds were civilians.

Also revealing was a finding that, although drones were used in only five percent of air strikes, they accounted for 23 percent of the total deaths during Pillar of Defence. According to the Economist magazine, the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, which triggered that operation, was carried out using a Hermes 450 drone.

Palestinian fighters report that they have responded to the constant surveillance by living in hiding, rarely going outdoors and avoiding using phones or cars. It is a way of life not possible for most people in Gaza.

Gaza’s armed groups are reported to be trying to find a way to jam the drones’ navigation systems. In the meantime, Hamas has claimed it has shot down three drones, the latest this month, though Israel says all three crashed due to malfunctions.

Last week, on the anniversary of the launch of Pillar of Defence, an Israeli commander whose soldiers control the drones over Gaza from a base south of Tel Aviv told the Haaretz newspaper that “many” air strikes during the operation had involved drones. “Lt Col Shay” was quoted saying: “Ultimately, we are at war. As much as the IDF strives to carry out the most precise surgical strikes, mistakes can happen in the air or on the ground.”

Random death by drone

It is for this reason that drones have become increasingly associated with random death from the sky, said Samir Zaqout, a senior field researcher for Al-Mezan.

 “We know from the footage taken by drones that Israel can see what is happening below in the finest detail. And yet women and children keep being killed in drone attacks. Why the continual mistakes? The answer, I think, is that these aren’t mistakes. The message Israel wants to send us is that there is no protection whether you are a civilian or fighter. They want us afraid and to make us turn on the resistance [Palestinian fighters].”

Zaqout also points to a more recent use of drones – what has come to be known as “roof-knocking”. This is when a drone fires small missiles at the roof of a building to warn the inhabitants to evacuate – a practice Israel developed during Operation Cast Lead three years earlier, to allay international concerns about its repeated levellings of buildings with civilians inside.

In Pillar of Defence in 2012, 33 buildings were targeted by roof-knocking.

Growing market for US drones

Israel says it provides 10 minutes’ warning from a roof-knock to an air strike, but, in practice, families find they often have much less time. This, said Zaqout, puts large families in great danger as they usually send their members out in small groups to be sure they will not be attacked as they move onto the streets.

One notorious case occurred during Cast Lead, when six members of the Salha family, all women and children, were killed when their home was shelled moments after a roof-knocking. The father, Fayez Salha, who survived, lost a case for damages in Israel’s Supreme Court last February and was ordered to pay costs after the judges ruled that the attack was legitimate because it occurred as part of a military operation.

A US citizen who has lived long-term in Gaza, who wished not be named for fear of reprisals from Israel, said she often heard the drones at night when the street noise dies down, or as they hover above her while out walking. “The sound is like the buzz of a mosquito, although there is one type of drone that sometimes comes into view that is silent,” she said.

She added that she knew of families that, before moving into a new apartment building, checked to see whether it housed a fighter or a relative of a fighter, for fear that the building may be attacked by Israel.

Shaqura said the drones inevitably affect one’s day-to-day behaviour. He said he was jogging early one morning while a drone hovered overhead.

“I got 100 metres from my front door when I started to feel overwhelmed with fear. I realised that my tracksuit was black, the same colour as many of the fighters’ uniforms. I read in my work too many reports of civilians being killed by drones not to see the danger. So I hurried back home.”

Reports: US spied at Canada conferences – Americas – Al Jazeera English

Reports: US spied at Canada conferences – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to comment on spying allegations. [EPA]
Canada let the US spy agency conduct widespread surveillance during the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto in 2010, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower.Reported exclusively by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday, the documents reveal that American officials turned the US embassy in Ottawa into a security command post during a six-day, NSA spying operation as US President Barack Obama and other world leaders met in June 2010.

The CBC report said the documents did not reveal the precise targets of the NSA operation, but described part of the US mandate during the Toronto summits as “providing support to policymakers”.

The spying operation was reportedly “closely coordinated with the Canadian partner”, according to a leaked NSA briefing note.

A spokesperson for Stephen Harper, Canadian prime minister, declined to comment on Wednesday on the report’s allegations.

“We do not comment on operational matters related to national security,” spokesperson Jason MacDonald said.

A spokeswoman for Canada’s equivalent of the NSA, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), said they could not comment on the operations of Canada or its allies.

“Under the law, CSEC does not target Canadians anywhere or any person in Canada through its foreign intelligence activities,” Lauri Sullivan, spokesperson, said.

“CSEC cannot ask our international partners to act in a way that circumvents Canadian laws.”

OpenMedia.ca, a Canadian civil liberties group, condemned the spying.

“It’s… clear this spying was aimed at supporting US policy goals during a highly contentious summit,” Steve Anderson, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“This is sure to cause huge damage to Canada’s relationships with our other G20 partners.”

Harper came under fire last month after a report by a Brazilian broadcaster alleged the CSEC spied on a Brazilian government ministry, straining ties between the two countries.

Snowden began leaking top-secret documents detailing the NSA’s collection of millions of US communications records earlier this year.

Reports coming out of the leaked materials allege the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, scanned millions of French telephone records, and hacked the computer network of Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras.

 

Canada Spying In Brazil Allegations Puts Military Ties At Risk: Experts

Canada Spying In Brazil Allegations Puts Military Ties At Risk: Experts. (FULL ARTICLE)

OTTAWA – A carefully cultivated military relationship with Brazil could be damaged by the unfolding spy drama involving Canada’s super-secret eavesdropping agency, defence and diplomacy experts say.

Since late spring, a platoon of Canadian soldiers has been embedded with a Brazilian army unit as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

The deployment is slated to run until Christmas, but the entire exercise has been considered an important bridge-building effort with South America’s biggest military power.

The Conservative government attempted to contain the damage Tuesday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is “very concerned” and that Canadian officials are “reaching out very proactively” to their counterparts in Brazil.

But experts say the relationship of trust built up by the joint mission and over the last few years by the country’s top military commanders has been badly damaged.

The government in Sao Paulo actually sought out Canadian participation in the Haiti operation because of the country’s reputation as a peacekeeper, said Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto….

 

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