By Michael Winship
Thursday, 30 May 2013
A few days ago, I was listening to a radio talk show discussion of the bill passed on May 7 by the New York City Council, requiring some businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees.
The first caller was indignant. “This bill is anti-consumer!” he bellowed because, he insisted, it would raise prices. I thought, no, this bill is pro-citizen, helping out people, many of them in extremis — and just when did we stop being citizens and become merely consumers? When did access to material goods and low prices become a right more important than public health and welfare? When did our celebration of profit take precedence over fundamental fairness and justice?
I thought of this again the other night while attending the ceremony for the Hillman Prizes in Journalism, named after the late union leader Sidney Hillman, once the influential president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. One of the awards went to ABC News for its coverage of a deadly fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh where Tommy Hilfiger clothing was being manufactured. Deliberately locked in and unable to escape, 29 died.
Confronted with the evidence, Hilfiger and his parent company finally pledged over $2 million to improve fire safety at dozens of other facilities in Bangladesh, but six months later, another fire took more than 100 lives. According to the Sidney Hillman Foundation, an ABC News producer “obtained evidence that showed clearly that Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other retailers’ labels of clothes were being made there at the time of the fire, and written warnings from Wal-Mart’s own inspectors that the factory was not safe.” All in the name of cheap clothing made by workers in a country that has the lowest minimum wage in the world, $37 a month, while exporting $18 billion worth of apparel yearly, second only to China.
The Hillman Prize came just weeks after the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,127 workers, and indeed another award was given by the Hillman Foundation in the name of the workers and in honor of labor activists fighting for safer factories in that country, many of whom have been intimidated, beaten and even murdered.
Continue reading at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/16665-good-consumers-bad-citizens