Bangladeshi workers should not have to trade their poverty for their safety

The death of more than 300 people due to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh which contained factories producing clothes for Western companies such as Primark, has triggered the usual debate about working conditions in such facilites and about “sweatshops” in developing countries, and as usual there are people defending those working conditions and criticising those who demand standards more in line with those we expect in the West.

For example, Alex Massie in his Spectator blog points out that

…sweatshops in the developing world have, on balance, been a good thing. And it is not even close.
For most of human history most life has been brutal, nasty and short. This is not something to celebrate but nor can it be avoided. Working conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories may often remain pretty dreadful. But they are better than life toiling in the fields. Some 45% of Bangladeshis work in agriculture, many of them still, alas, on terms little better than subsistence farming. By contrast, working in a clothing factory is, relatively speaking, an attractive option.

and Matt Yglesias in Slate says

Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.

Well as Corey Robin at Crooked Timber points out, the people of Bangladesh are making their feelings very clear on this matter, but I want to look at the wider principles.

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From the Primrose Hill Times

Neighbours reported a disturbance yesterday at the residence of local family the Milibands. A source close to the family said that things had finally come to a head following the tensions which had been evident since Christmas Day 2010 when younger brother Ed was given the train set which his brother David had long coveted. Ever since then five year old David has been sulking in his room and refusing to take part in popular family games such as “shadow cabinet”, but when this failed to have the desired effect he announced that he had finally had enough and flounced out of the house saying, “I’m off to my mate Barak’s house, they’ll appreciate me there”. The source said “I guess the family will probably miss him, but to be honest they had kind of forgotten about him anyway”.

Another Climate Change Catastrophe from the Mail

It seems that no Sunday is now complete without another pile of nonsense about climate change from David Rose in the Mail on Sunday (see my previous post here for example) and this week was no exception.

Rose has found a graph which he claims contains

…irrefutable evidence that official predictions of global climate warming have been catastrophically flawed.
The graph on this page blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Typically for Rose the whole piece is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions – for example he completely misrepresents the views of climate scientist James Annan and repeats the easily debunked myth that scientists in the 1970s were just as concerned about global cooling as global warming. But the main problem with Rose’s argument is more fundamental. The graph that he shows in order to support his argument simply doesn’t show what he claims it does. His “smoking gun” is not only not smoking, it is not even warm. Here is the graph in question

dailymail

The graph itself is genuine – it has been taken from the blog of climate scientist Ed Hawkins and shows projections of surface temperatures from climate models going back to the early 1950s and forwards to the mid 21st century with different certainty levels, and actual observations to date. Rose is wrong about the certainty levels they actually represent 50% and 90% but I’m betting that this is an innocent mistake because (as we will see) he just doesn’t understand statistical terminology very well.

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Animal rights and wrongs

“AlanA” at Harry’s Place takes great exception to posters from animal rights campaigners Animal Aid which encourage people not to donate to charities which fund animal experiments. In particular he objects to a lady called Joan Court who appears in this poster, calling her ”a stupid woman who apparently believes that a human life – her life, indeed – is equal in value to a that of her carnivorous cat.” This post is based on two comments which I made there in response.

In my younger days I was a member of Animal Aid and took a keen interest in Animal Rights issues generally, and I did occasionally come across people like Joan Court who opposed vivisection despite having serious conditions themselves. Labelling such people as “stupid” for making a particular moral judgement which they are entirely entitled to make is pretty pathetic IMHO.

At the time I was completely opposed to vivisection but I reluctantly came believe that the benefits from using animals in experiments outweighed the moral objections, so I accept that there is a justification for a limited amount of such experiments (subject to tight controls) where it can be demonstrated that there are likely to be real benefits and there is no feasible alternate method. That doesn’t mean that the moral objections themselves are invalid and it’s an area where I still feel some discomfort, so I don’t agree with those who seem to dismiss such concerns entirely. Continue reading

It’s that time again…

Having been away for a year or so for no good reason other than laziness I thought I would return with something suitably trivial.

And I happened to notice that today is…. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so in the true spirit of the occasion here are my contributions.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh”

 ”Shiver me timbers”

 ”Avast ye blustering bilge rat”

“Give me a million dollars and you can have your oil tanker back.”

The last acceptable prejudice

Liberal Conspiracy had an excellent piece earlier this week about the discrimination and persecution suffered by Romani citizens of various EU countries. I won’t quote excerpts here as it really is worth reading the whole thing, but I am glad to see that this rarely publicised issue is finally starting to get the attention it deserves (I’m not trying to claim any moral high ground here, this is my first post on the subject).

Two contrasting pieces in Saturday’s newspapers sum up the problem perfectly and show that even if this country does not have the kind of instututionalised discrimination seen in others bigotry towards the Roma is seemingly the last acceptable prejudice. Firstly, here is the Guardian

The European Union was today accused of “turning a blind eye” as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma.

Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe’s largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them.

And here is the Express.

Now it has to be said that the Express is happy to display its own brand of racism towards all sorts of minority groups, immigrants and (especially) asylum seekers, so it would be unfair to accuse it of specifically targetting Roma, but it is still not unusual to hear people expressing views about “Pikeys” when they would never use phrases such as “Pakis” or “Yids”, and it is unlikely that the Express headline raised many eyebrows. This needs to change.

Election – 7.25am update

So it will be a hung parliament, we know that much. The biggest story (apart from the problems with the vote itself) is the collapse in LibDem support, their overall share of the vote is about the same as last time and they are currently 5 seats down – a desperately disappointing night for them. Two small causes for comfort – it was good to see Caroline Lucas win a seat for the Greens and the Tories won’t get an overall majority which seemed possible when the early results came in.
Cameron has of course been staking his claim to form a government, stressing that the results so far demonstrate that the voters have given a clear message that they want change, but given that the Tories have lost a number of seats they were hoping to win and the LibDems have faded I’m not sure that really holds up.
There has been much talk of Labour and the LibDems doing a deal but they are not going to have enough seats between them to have a majority. And much as I hate to say it, given the Tories considerable lead in the share of the vote they do probably have a moral case to try to form a government.

Labour in the dock (again)

Even in its (probable) dying days of power Labour is still being taken to task by the courts for railroading civil liberties under the pretence of protecting national security.

As the Guardian reports

The court of appeal has dismissed an attempt by MI5 and MI6 to suppress evidence of their alleged complicity in the torture and secret transfer of British residents to Guantánamo Bay.
In a devastating judgment, it ruled that the unprecedented attempt by the security and intelligence agencies, backed by the attorney general and senior Whitehall officials, to suppress evidence in a civil trial undermined deep-seated principles of common law and open justice.

MI5 and MI6 said evidence in the case, in which the Guardian, the Times and the BBC intervened, should be kept secret from everyone except the judges and specially appointed and vetted counsel.

The case concerns six Guantanamo detainees, including Binyam Mohamed, who has already won a separate case to make public information regarding his mistreatment. They have taken out a civil action against the government in respect of various abuses including torture and false imprisonment. The government was attempting to have the entire case heard in secret with evidence used in the government’s defence withheld from the claimants, a flagrant breach of natural justice. One of the judges who made the ruling, Lord Neuberger, put it perfectly –

The principle that a litigant should be able to see and hear all the evidence which is seen and heard by a court determining his case is so fundamental, so embedded in the common law, that, in the absence of parliamentary authority, no judge should override it … [it] represents an irreducible minimum requirement of an ordinary civil trial,

This follows a ruling last week by the European Court of Justice that restrictions on the payment of benefits to the wives of individuals who have had their assets frozen due to suspected terrorist activity are illegal. The restrictions included only being allowed to withdraw £10 a week in cash for each member of the household and having to regularly submit detailed reports of their finances to the Treasury. Right to the very end Labour has refused to learn that these kind of spiteful and vindictive measures do nothing to combat terrorism and do everything to undermine public support for the fight against it.

Taking Brown to task on child detention

An excellent piece at OurKingdom by Clare Sambrook, who takes apart Gordon Brown’s defence of the detention of the children of asylum seekers.

We believe that history will judge the administrative detention of children to be a moral stain on the reputation of this country, akin to slavery and child labour. One day we will look back in horror at the fact that innocent children, no different from our own, and capable of experiencing the same joy and wonder at the world and feeling the same anxiety, fear and pain were imprisoned in our name.

This issue, and the treatment of asylum seekers in general, is the great unsung scandal in this country. Meanwhile the leaders of our political parties bicker over who can be “toughest” on immigration.

H/T Justin @ Chicken Yoghurt