The writing on the wall

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 1:00
  • Filthy lucre
  • No (frills) workers' rights
  • RESPECT your cleaner
  • Defending secularism?

Filthy lucre

The tabloid obsession with celebrity/family values/soccer took a turn for the worse recently when the News of the World claimed David Beckham had been having an affair with a former PA. The story behind the soccer (genius?) is sordid, but not in a way the tabloids would care about. Brand Beckham now has a logo - four wavy lines and a circle. It's all worth a quite a few million, as the logo adorns goods made by Adidas, whose boots grace Beckham's expensive feet.

Adidas is not a business that cares a great deal about family values. Many of the Indonesian workers who make Adidas goods hardly ever see their families - they cannot afford to keep their children with them, instead they are cared for by relatives many miles away from the sweated labour factories that employ them.

No (frills) workers' rights

According to Swedish business magazine Veckans Affarer, the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, is now richer than Bill Gates of Microsoft, being worth nearly £29 billion. The most recent Forbes magazine rich list put Gates at £25.5 billion.

Although the figures are disputed there is no doubt that Kamprad is an extremely rich man. How did the self-confessed (and, to be fair, self-critical) former Nazi sympathiser get so rich?

By producing high quality no-frills modern furniture? No.

By saving his pennies always travelling second-class? No.

By getting workers in the Third World to work themselves into early graves? But of course.

According to a 2003 report commissioned by a Dutch trade union, Ikea's furniture is made by workers in some of the worst conditions around the world. This despite the formally good Codes of Conduct adopted by the firm.

For example, in Indian factories researched by the Dutch study some of the workers were captive (or indentured) workers. Workers were discouraged from joining unions. They earned less than the minimum wage and were over-worked. There was no protective gear and there was evidence of physical abuse by managers.

RESPECT your cleaner

On the subject of frugality, it was a treat to read Deborah Ross's interview with George Galloway in the Independent (5 April). Most of the interchange between Ross and Galloway consisted of Galloway defending his spending habits and claiming to be a spendthrift.

He doesn't buy the Montecristo No 2s anymore (that's a cigar, by the way) because they are too expensive. His Mercedes isn't new. Well, neither of his Mercedes are new. And his Range Rover is third-hand, as well.

Galloway reports a combined salary (as an MP and as a columnist for that progressive paper, the Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday) of just £150,000. But he did not tell Ross what his income was from his company Finjan Ltd. But he must be feeling the pinch.

He certainly isn't feeling humble. Ross asks Galloway if anything ever fazes him. He says: "Calamity has hardened me and turned my mind to steel." Poetic, says Ross. "Ho Chi Minh," he says.

Does he feel working-class, asks Ross? "I'm absolutely working-class," says Galloway. A good test of whether or not you are working-class is whether or not you have a cleaner, says Ross. And Galloway agrees: "I can't bear the throught of somebody being given orders to clean things in my house."

But, yes, he does have a cleaner (well, he is a busy man). Galloway has a way of easing his conscience, though: "I try to be out when she comes."

Defending secularism?

From an article defending the new law against the wearing of hijab in French state schools (Open Democracy, 25 March) by Patrick Weil, one of the members of the commission that proposed it.

"I admit that the law passed by the French parliament has one unfortunate consequence: the right of Muslim girls who freely want to wear the scarf in public schools, without pressuring anyone else, is denied. What will happen to them if, after the period of dialogue established by the law, they do not want to remove their scarf? It is most likely that they will be offered the opportunity to attend private religious schools - probably Catholic, Protestant or Jewish (there are only three Muslim schools in France). These schools, if they are under state contract (as 95% are), have an obligation to accept applications from pupils of other faiths.

"More Muslim schools under state contract (which entails authority over the curriculum) will develop in future. The Muslim community, like other faiths, has the right to establish schools where the customs and holidays of its faith are observed, and where religious instruction exists alongside the national curriculum."

Hardly a great defence of secularism.

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