Export Processing Zones and ‘economic wellbeing’

In Open University module DD301 Critical Criminology we learned about Export Processing Zones or EPZs.  These are where a government sets aside a piece of land near an airport or other transfer terminal and designates it outside the normal employment legislation.  This means manufacturers can set up in that region to process goods more cheaply than they otherwise would.  It attracts business to the country and so is seen as a good thing.  Governments charge lower tax rates and sometimes pay for the building of factories.

The downside is that the legislation that is set aside is health and safety, minimum wage, working hours, rights to union membership and strike and other protections of employment rights.  Also, environmental legislation and tax collection can be set aside.  The companies can operate more cheaply because they are not competing on a level playing field; they can treat the workers there differently.

What tends to happen is that companies play one government off another to get better and better conditions for themselves and so there results a ‘race to the bottom‘ as governments compete to give the most favourable terms.  The flip side to this is that it results in the work going to those countries most willing to remove employment rights and environmental protection.  And when something goes wrong, the parent companies are rarely held accountable.  From my DD301 essay TMA02:

Collaborations occur between corporations and states for economic reasons that cause social harms, such as in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) where developing countries are obliged to lower regulatory standards to compete for businesses to move there, resulting in people working there having fewer human rights than they would otherwise have had (Tombs and Whyte, 2010, p. 161) showing corporations have negotiating power over supranationally recognised human rights. In 2011 the International Labour Organisation described Nigeria’s eleven EPZs as “veritable theatres of abysmal disrespect for workers’ rights” (ACTRAV, 2012). One Chinese iron-foundry was found to be using slave labour but the company threatened to pull out if the information was disclosed. Slave labour was found in other EPZs and they received reports of violence by management against staff. They concluded the working practices were contrary to Nigerian Labour Law but Nigeria’s Decent Work Country Programme—set up to improve employment rights and counter human rights abuses such as human trafficking and child labour—disregards what happens in the Nigerian EPZs.

The International Labour Organisation points out EPZs often do not meet ILO required standards.  The International Labour Rights Forum highlights many instances of human rights abuses in EPZs; .  According to The Balance these include low wages, high work intensity, unsafe working conditions, suppression of labour rights, long hours, excessive noise and heat, unsafe manufacturing equipment, un-inspected buildings and no access to union representation.

When people die in large numbers in these environments, it is then seen it is high profile Western brands being produced in these conditions.  People are working in the worst conditions to maximise profits for what can be premium brands.

As the UK is in in Europe, we are protected by legislation from these conditions.  Or we were.

BBC News: “Treasury ‘to rewrite rules to favour the North’

The Treasury is reportedly planning to rewrite rules governing public spending…  It could help boost investment in infrastructure, business development projects and schemes like free ports.

A free port is a form of EPZ. and the government intends to convert ten UK ports to free ports.  Note there are no free ports in the EU because they are legally not possible.

According to The Times:

The Treasury is planning to rip up decades-old public spending rules in an effort to boost economic wellbeing in the north and the Midlands.  Under proposals being drawn up before the spring budget, ministers will reassess how officials calculate the value for money of government investments in transport infrastructure, business development and initiatives such as free ports.

Economic wellbeing‘ – what a charmingly contradictory oxymoron.  They mean ‘profitability’.  They offer ‘unnecessary checks and paperwork‘ (there go the H&S and employment checks) and ‘customs and tax benefits‘ (because we don’t have enough corporates not paying tax) and ‘liberalised planning laws‘ (such as intended to allow fracking to re-start).  The example they give of a successful free port is Miami.  How many other cities in the developed world need their own Human Rights Watch division to fight for the rights of workers in the city?

It hasn’t taken long for the government to shaft the North.  Those in the North who voted for Boris can look forward to working 6 days a week of 12 hours a day in dangerous conditions that are detrimental to the environment and contrary to EU-upheld human rights and no right to complain.

TMA02 essay references:

ACTRAV (2012) The State of Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations practice in Nigeria’s Export Processing Zones [Online], Geneva, International Labour Organisation. Available at http://www.ilo.org/actrav/info/fs/WCMS_183546/lang–en/index.htm (Accessed 10 January 2018).

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2010) ‘Chapter 5: Crime, harm and corporate power’, in Muncie, J., Talbot, D. and Walters, R. (eds) Crime: Local and Global, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 137-72.

Annan: “The State is the servant of its people”

Kofi Annan in his UN Secretary-General’s 1999 annual report:

The State is now widely understood to be the servant of its people, and not vice versa. At the same time, individual sovereignty — and by this I mean the human rights and fundamental freedoms of each and every individual as enshrined in our Charter — has been enhanced by a renewed consciousness of the right of every individual to control his or her own destiny.

This was a call for a ‘responsibility to protect’, meaning going in to prevent a new Holocaust.  Other said it should be used to intervene in natural disasters if the government won’t.  Tony Blair took it to mean sovereignty no longer mattered, so it is OK to go to war with Iraq.

The Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

I noticed this on the 1974 entry on Wikipedia’s page Timeline of women’s legal rights (other than voting):

Article 1 of the declaration specifically prohibits bombing of civilian populations.

Article 5 of the declaration requires countries to recognise the destruction of dwellings as a criminal act.

This applies to all member states of the United Nations and has since 1974.

Think on that when you see news stories of wedding parties being hit by drones or see destroyed apartment blocks and homes in the Middle East.

If these are war crimes, who are the criminals and where are the trials?