Monday, February 1, 2010

Cambodia, sweatshops, and the cost of a cheap T-shirt

Good article in the January issue of Harper's Magazine about the human costs of sweatshop apparel manufacture in Cambodia (link is to a blurb about the article; full article available through university library's e-journals). Posing as a representative of a U.S. apparel manufacturer, Ken Silverstein does a nice job of highlighting the problematic incentive structures facing the ILO (as a monitoring organization), the individual sweatshops, and of course apparel workers.

It is worth noting that this is not an issue that affects only poor countries such as Cambodia. The challenges are not so different from those facing migrant workers (and those who employ them) in the U.S. See, for example, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Dealing with the past in Dresden

Another excellent issue of the New Yorker (Feb. 1). It includes an interesting article on Dresden's troubled confrontations with its own history (full text available through university library's ejournals). Dresden is well-known as the victim of the best known (and likely most lethal) fire-bombing campaign by the allied forces in WWII, killing 25,000-40,000 people. By most any definition, the campaign (Feb. 13-15, 1945) qualifies as a war crime. This has made it easier for some to paint Dresden as some innocent victim, which of course it was not.

The article offers some interesting thoughts on the implications of architecture for the way a city confronts its past. Berlin certainly offers a striking contrast to Dresden, as Packer points out. However, the implications are more general. Tony Horwitz's Blue Latitudes similarly offers some insightful musings on how different Pacific islands remember/commemorate their connection to captain James Cook. And what does Athens, GA's own double-barreled cannon say about Athens' institutional memory of the Civil War? It is worth noting that this cannon became a tourist attraction almost as soon as the Civil War ended.

Inflation- and corruption-proof currency?

I just learned that an Indian NGO, 5th Pillar, has been distributing zero rupee notes since 2007. The Economist has a brief write-up about them in the Jan. 30th issue. The front of the notes looks like a real banknote; the back has information about its inspiration. The idea is to shame corrupt officials demanding bribes into doing their jobs. Anecdotally it appears to work, the Economist suggests. Perhaps an idea for other countries rife with corruption?

Additional benefit: no amount of inflation is going to reduce the value of this banknote! Perhaps Zimbabweans could use some of their old, now worthless, banknotes the same way?