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.

“Don’t be so modest. It is offensive.”

Many moons ago I was told off severely by a colleague for being modest. I had brushed off some praise and she was seriously angry at the rejection. I explained that was how I had been brought up, she said it was offensive.

A few months ago I had a 1-to-1 support session with someone in the Lancaster University Careers Team. She was helping me write a CV in the current fashion. When I told her about some of the entries and omissions she sat staring at me in silence, then asked why I did not have them in detail on my CV. I said they sound a bit like bragging, like showing off. She told me to stop being so modest and put down my achievements. But doing so does not come naturally.

I have had some more praise today. So this time I will document it.

My final Open University module, DD301 Critical Criminology, went well for me. I had an excellent tutor who was uncommonly wise about the module and happy to share his wisdom. But I also had some excellent guidance from a previous student of the module who dragged me from the wrong path I was taking into the light and showed me the way. Having received her insight into what the module was saying, and with the guidance I have had from OU students over the years, I got 90% in the final essay and 94% in the exam. This will not impress a STEM student, but this is social science at degree level where such marks are not common.

I returned the favour by joining the 2018/19 Facebook group for that module and passing on the advice I had received to the year that followed me. They sat their final exam today and it has been a glorious pleasure watching them take on board the material in the module, see the light and prepare themselves for the exam. They have worked together in an incredibly positive and mutually supportive way and I can tell from the what they say that they are going to get much higher exam marks than many of the people who attended the tutorials I went to when I was studying the module. They have not been asking silly questions but been buried deeply in the theories and how to apply them. When they have wandered off the rails or got confused, I tried to shine a torch toward the path I had followed.

I am no expert in the subject, much of it left me cold or did not ‘speak’ to me. But I got the concepts and could explain them and apply them, so I did. I also gave some of the essay tips and exam tips that students have been passing on for years – I cannot take the credit for any of that wisdom. I tried to tell them that after the exam:

I’ve been worried about all of you all afternoon.

However…

I am not the only one who has stayed around to help, others did too.

And I did not do the TMAs. You all did.

And I did not do the learning. You all did.

And I did not actually discuss the material here. You all did.

And I did not do the revision. You all did.

And I did not do the exam. You all did. (Well, actually I failed it numerous times through the night in my sleep!)

Any advice I have given was given to me by OU students who went before. I merely passed it on.

Any practical tips I have given came from my tutor, who was better than most.

Any insight I have given into the subject came from the year before me who showed me the way.

Feel free to pass it all on to others, it was all given to me freely. I’m just the messenger.

But you did the work, not me.

You deserve the credit. You and your families who have supported you.

And remember: you haven’t failed until you have given up trying. And OU students like you are tough, are resilient and not quitters.

Celebrate. You’ve earned it. Nobody else.”

But I got some lovely feedback today, hence this post. For once, I shall cease to be modest and repeat some of what I have been told.

  • “Simon Reed you’ve been such a star throughout this module and you’ve helped us all at one point or another”
  • “A special mention to Simon Reed who, I think you’ll all agree, has been an amazing source of insight this year… Props to you for having the brain power to stick around and help other people after having completed this module, I think it’s made me brain dead for life 🤣”
  • “I bet this afternoon was rather quiet for Simon. Just wanted to say a massive Thank You for all your input. You are a star x”
  • “Yes thank you Simon Reed🤗🤗 I think we all owe you a drink!”
  • “Simon Reed thank you sir! You dont realise the impact you have had but you have helped immeasurably! Mwah xx”
  • “Simon Reed I have thanked A and B on their posts…they are stars too. You are way too modest. Yes we did all the work… but you kept us on track, made essay questions look like a walk in the park. I actually sat my exam worrying about you worrying.”
  • “Simon. Top boy! Gracias Mon frere”
  • “Simon Reed, you are a star and may you continue to shine brightly.”
  • “Brilliant, thank you Simon for the help and support this year”
  • “Good advice, thank you Simon Reed 😀”

There was much more, through the year.   What lovely people.  🙂

I have a problem with Max Weber

Max Weber, an influential German sociologist, said in 1918:

the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

This statement is used as the argument for policing, criminal justice, prisons, war and all manner of violent acts initiated by the state that cause harm to its people.

Note that he said ‘territory’ not ‘people’, and that he said it immediately after Germany lost the Great War.

Weber, a Prussian by birth, was raised by a strict pro-Bismark politician and a strict puritan Protestant and grew up in Berlin surrounded by the political elite that were promoting the development and growth of a united Germany on the world stage.  He was a strong proponent of liberal imperialism: imperial expansionism that would allow Germany to compete with France and Britain.

He had identified a strong correlation between capitalist success in Germany and Protestantism.  This he attributed to predestination associated with protestant puritanism that was elsewhere suppressed by the Catholic Church.

During the Great War, Weber argued for strength and unity for Germany.  In 1916 he said the conquered nations of Europe should, in Germany’s long-term interests, remain as independent political countries within the greater German economy.  In 1917 he was one of those advocating ceasing the war, when Germany put the proposition to the Allies to leave the boundaries at their new positions based on the front line, that is, accept Germany had won.  This would allow the extended Germany to keep Belgium and other territories gained in the war to that point.  Unfortunately for Germany, the Allies decided to fight on.

During the Great War, Germany had committed ‘the Rape of Belgium’.  This was the taking from Catholic Belgium – at that time one of the world’s largest and most modern industrialised economies – of its machines and resources.  Its male population was transported to Germany to provide forced labour for the German war industry.  Belgium was stripped of its factories and experience and has never recovered from what Germany did.

After the Great War, discussions took place in Paris about what reparations Germany should be making for what it did in Northern France and Belgium.  It was during these discussions that Max Weber, pro-German, anti-Catholic, pro-capitalist gave his speech about the state being entitled to use violence within its territory.  That is, that Germany was perfectly entitled to do what it like to Belgium as it was German conquered territory.

That his quote “the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is still used today as an excuse for police brutality, the death penalty and genocide is beyond my comprehension.  Max Weber was an apologist for this worst atrocities Germany committed in the Great War and his defence of Germany in the context of a horrific war in which war crimes and genocide occurred is being used today in modern democracies to excuse immense social harms committed by states upon their citizens.

And yet he is considered a founding father of modern social science and this quote appears in text books as an essential foundation for functioning societies.

Some more of his statements from that period of the post-war German revolution:

The decisive means for politics is violence.

and

the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true.

and

Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation…lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.