In his comment to my last post Luan highlighted something that we tend to forget - corruption and bad governance is by no means restricted to the developing world. Neither is undue exploitation. The Gulf spill provides aan excellent example - 11 human beings paied with their lives for neglected security - 11 human beings who worked in the world's richest country for one of the world's most profitable corporations.
Is BP's behaviour the norm or the exception? Only in Sweden around 10 building workers lose their lives every year. It is hard to imagine that it is impossiblw today, 2010, to build a house without risking people's lives. It would be very enlightening to see similar statistics for poorer countries , so if any of you readers have such statistics I would be glad to read them.
How can this happen in countries that are generally seen as well managed, and not corrupted? It all happens throught he power of knowledge - the power of not knowing. Corporations are aware that by not knowing what they pay for, they can press the cost down below the line where people risk their lives. Let me give two examples.
-- Three wise monkey, courtesy of Flickr. --
The first example is from when I was working in Bulgaria. I used to come early to work, and most often met the cleaning ladies in the stairs. After some monts we started chatting with each other, and one day we talked about vacations. I told her about my plans, and she told me that she had no vacation at all. I am sure that that did not mean that she works every day - it meant that she had no paied vacation.
She seemed to be happy enough to be paied at all, but the fact remains - it is illegal. According to Bulgarian labour legislation paied labour gives you the right to paied vacation. And she would for sure not be dissapointed if someone could enact that legislation.
How could this happen? The company I worked for was in many ways a great employer. They treated employees fair, ensured that there were career oppurtunities and offered interesting work compared to many others. The CEO ran his own philantropical projects in South Africa, and he was a very amiable man. I am sure that he truly believed, and still believes, that free market capitalism will bring wealth to everyone. Did he know that the women who cleaned our offices didn't get vacation?
Probably not. Our offices were just one floor in an office building, and the cleaning ladies were hired by those who managed the building. So it was qutie easy not to know that - simply don't ask. But it was also quite easy to know.
The second example is almost identical, but from Sweden. A few hours ago I had my breakfast, and through my window I saw some people cutting down dead branches from the area between the blocks where I live. What surprised me was the way they did it - they just climbed up the tree without any kind of safety measures, sawing and cutting while balancing on the branches. Pretty much like I tried to do it when I was a kid. But there is one thing how work is done in your backyard when your mother doesn't watch, it is quite a different thing when it is done professionally.
How can this happen in a welfare state like Sweden? Again - it is the power of not knowing. The block of flats is managed by the flat-owners organisation. They hire a company called Avbytarna Skåne to manage the lawns and trees between the houses. These people are also probably happy enough to be paied, and the company has surprised me before. The other day I had a chat with one man spraying Round-up and vinegar on the tiny weeds outside of my terace. That isn't illegal, but hey... I would prefer to root them up myself by hand. What I witnessed through my window today was illegal.
There are laws in Sweden regulating this kind of labour, and they were not followed. The flat-owners organisation is, of course, consisting of nice and well-raised people, who probably help funding a great number of fantastic NGO's with monthly subscriptions. But do they know how their greena reas are managed? I guess they didn't ask.