‘PAKISTANI manpower ensures maximum production.’ ‘Bangladeshi workers are well-known for their honesty and sincerity.’ Newspaper advertisements in the oil-rich Gulf tout their wares with all the gusto of an Eastern bazaar.
Selling cheap labour is big business. There are at least 20 million migrant workers in foreign countries today — and that includes only those working legally. Many millions more have walked, swum or flown across the frontiers without papers, and live in fear of the tap on the shoulder from an immigration official. The largest number of illegal migrants — between four and five million — is believed to be in North America, drawn from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean in two of the richest countries in the world.
Migrants now make up a ‘substantial proportion of the global workforce’ says the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. Migration to the United Arab Emirates, for example, has been such that bona fide citizens now make up only 24 per cent of the total population.
The workers send a lot of money home. Around 80 per cent of the export income of countries like Egypt and Pakistan comes from the pay packets of migrant workers. And in Yemen and Jordan their earnings are practically the only source of foreign exchange. Indeed, some governments insist that their workers overseas send money back: the Philippines, for example, requires construction workers and seamen to send back 70 per cent of their earnings.
This all sounds very equitable, but doubts are now being raised about this trade in people. Those same newspapers advertising the virtues of hard-working labourers also carry appeals for help tracking down those who have run away from the job. Migrants sometimes find that an employer says one thing when the forms are being signed — but quite another once they are in the country and on the work site
And there are second thoughts about the financial benefits too. The money sent home is often used for conspicious consumption of imported goods from cars to video recorders. Migrants seem to want to enjoy the benefits of their exile as soon as they come home. ‘There is little evidence, says the UN survey, ‘that the governments of the sending countries have succeeded in channelling remittances into productive investment.’
This trade in migrant workers amounts to an aid programme from poor countries to rich. Pakistan loses at least half its medical school graduates each year and India sees 30 per cent of its graduate engineers disappear overseas. According to one study it would have cost West Germany $33 billion to rear and educate the number of workers gained by immigration between 1957 and 1973.
As a result, developing countries are beginning to seek compensation for their losses. King Hussein of Jordan was one of the first to raise the issue publicly. ‘Unless this imbalance is discouraged,’ he said ‘the gap between rich countries and poor countries is bound to widen further’ - Not surprisingly this suggestion met with a cool response from the rich countries.
POOR MEXICANS have become professional ‘bleeders’ - As often as twice a week they might swim across the Rio Grande to sell their blood to one of the 50 or so commercial laboratories that have sprung up in Texas.
But the blood is not for emergency transfusions. What the laboratories are after is the plasma — the liquid left behind when the blood is centrifuged. Indeed the donors get their own blood cells injected right back into them.
The plasma is used as a source of albumin and coagulation factors which are the basis of much drug manufacture. Among the leading pharmaceutical companies using plasma are Bayer and Hoechst in West Germany and Armour and Alpha Therapeutics in the USA.
The US has become the world’s centre for plasma collection because donors are paid there — unlike most other developed nations where donation is purely altruistic. A large number of collection points are along the border with Mexico, with Mexicans being paid $10 a time.
But the Third World has its plasma centres too. You’ll find them in Mexico itself as well as Brazil, Colombia and South Korea. Business in Brazil is reckoned to run at 2,500 gallons a day and one clinic in the slums of Rio is located outside a railway station — donors often pop in to get the money for the fare.
Such regular plasma donations may be nsky even for healthy well-nourished people. For the undernourished in the Third World it is feared that protein loss through plasma donation could have serious consequences.
A West German coalition of pressure groups called BUKO is now campaigning against the commercialisation of human blood. They argue that increased reliance of blood bought by multinational pharmaceutical companies is going to push up the price of drugs for everyone as well as cause harm to the donors. Such voluntary donation schemes as exist in the UK and other Western European countries should, they believe, be extended to other countries.
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Backed by Britain
BRITAIN is one of the most significant trading partners with a country which the UN has determined to be illegally occupied. Namibia is supposed to be administered by the United Nations but in fact is ruled by South Africa as ‘South West Africa’ - And a UN decree makes companies presently exploiting that territory’s natural resources ‘liable in damages by the future government of an independent Namibia’.
This would hit Rio Tinto Zinc very hard if it ever came about. The company has a 53 per cent stake in the world’s largest uranium mine at Rossing, which presently supplies about half Britain’s nuclear energy requirements.
British banks feature strongly, as always. in Southern Africa. Barclays and Standard Bank SWA between them control over 70 per cent of bank deposits and are the country’s main financiers.
In the transport sector. British Petroleum and Shell account for much of Namibia’s fuel imports and distribution with their oil tankers travelling in South African Army convoys. The military hardware itself is of course often of British origin too. Centurian tanks. Land Rovers and Canberra bombers help keep the country under control, while a new electronic system supplied by Marconi is used to co-ordinate ground-to-air strikes, not just in Namibia, but also in neighbouring Mozambique.
Many other companies, from engineering to insurance, are also active in helping maintain the occupation. The list includes GKN, British Steel Corporation, Consolidated Goldfields, British Leyland, British Oxygen, Chloride Lucas, Sun Alliance, Commercial Union and Legal and General.
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HAITI must win the booby prize for the anti-development aid project par excellence. A $15 million aid project to eradicate African swine fever has itself caused losses of at least $60 million to the country’s impoverished peasants, according to the Paris-based French Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Haiti.
The project, funded by the US, Canada and Mexico, began with a mass propaganda campaign. Peasants were exhorted to slaughter or sell their own pigs (even if healthy) because swine fever was said to be ‘dangerous for human beings’ (not true). The result was panic, as thousands of peasants tried to sell their pigs and market prices plummetted. But there was worse still to come.
The army, the police and the notorious tontons macoutes joined forces to terrorise peasants into disposing of their pigs — or risk beatings or jail sentences. The month of March 1982 was marked by an orgy of pig blood-letting, as tens of thousands of peasants sacrificed their animals.
Finally, in May last year, government teams began moving from village to village, systematically slaughtering any pigs they found — but promising compensation in the form of chickens. (Needless to say, these promises were virtually empty. In one area 7,000 disgruntled peasants were offered a grand total of nine chickens.)
The second phase of the project, which aims to start a ‘profitable pig industry’ using imported varieties, has yet to begin. Since these improved breeds require heavy capital investment (clean water, pig sties etc), high maintenance costs (feed, vaccines, medicines) and skilled veterinary care, they have no place in the Haitian peasant economy. When this phase of the project starts, the beneficiaries will include North American agribusiness firms (who will supply the pigs and equipment) and their counterparts among Haiti’s elite ‘200 families’.
But for hundreds of thousands of Haitian peasants things look very different. The loss of their pigs — one of the mainstays of the fragile peasant household economy — is an unmitigated disaster. They have become the hapless victims of an ‘aid’ project thrust upon them by foreign agencies in collaboration with their own government. The economic effects are already making themselves felt. In the deprived north-west of the country, where the hillsides are ravaged by erosion, there has been a sudden resurgence of tree-felling for making charcoal —the only way now left to make a little money when the food runs out.
THE Australian Labour Party’s policy on East Timor, drawn up in opposition, always had the faint look of a paper tiger about it. Now it has effectively been torn up by the Leader of the Labour Government, Mr. Hawke.
Seven years after Indonesia’s invasion of the former Portuguese colony. East Timor remains an emotive issue for some sections of the Australian population: the left of the Labour Party and Australian WWII servicemen who remember the help given and sacrifice made by East Timorese in the battle against the Japanese.
Last year’s Federal Conference of the Labour Party took a brave stand on East Timor, It said it recognises the inalienable right of the East Timorese to self-determination and independence and condemns and rejects the Australian (Liberal-National Party) Government’s recognition of the Indonesian annexation’.
The conference also opposed all defence aid (currently running at $Aust 10 million) to Indonesia until there was a complete withdrawal of Indonesian occupation forces from East Timor. It pledges continuing support for United Nations resolutions which promote the rights of East Timorese.
But Mr. Hawke, as Prime Minister, has now dumped this policy and dashed the hopes of sympathisers with the East Timorese when he made his first visit to Indonesia in June. Gone was any mention even of the right of the East Timorese to self-determination. Instead there was a nod towards what Mr. Hawke termed ‘a setback in our relations’ and an expression of ‘confidence in our ability to resolve those differences and put them behind us so they will present no obstacle in the future development of our important relationships’.
Defence aid is to be continued and Mr. Hawke’s other comments have been interpreted as paving the way for a support by Australia of Indonesia in the United Nations.
INVESTIGATIONS by the Bombay-based feminist group, the Women’s Centre, have revealed the persistent mis-use of the ‘amniocentesis’ test to abort female foetuses — despite assurances by Health Minister, B Shankaranand, that the test would be allowed only for the detection of genetic defects. The Minister’s statement had come after revelations about an Amritsar clinic which was advertising sex-selection as a solution to the Indian obsession for having only sons. Daughters in this country are considered a liability because of the exorbitant dowry system.
According to the Women’s Centre, one general hospital in Bombay alone has dealt with 7,800 cases in five years, of which only five per cent sought amniocentesis to detect genetic defects. Most of them merely wanted to know the sex of their unborn babies so as specifically to abort female foetuses. A government hospital which had discontinued the test in 1976 openly tells patients to have it done elsewhere and to return for free abortion if the foetus is female.
What is now causing serious concern to feminist groups is the emergence of arguments defending the selective abortion of female foetuses. Such opinions have. alarmingly, come from doctors and social scientists as well as women who regard female ‘foeticide’ as more humane than giving birth to unwanted daughters. There has been a steady increase in bride-burning and dowry deaths in India among all social classes.
Sex-selection is now being cited as a family planning measure to ‘balance’ the family, helping parents not to go on having babies in order to have a son. Ominously, it is also being defended as a lesser evil than female infanticide (rampant in North India tn earlier times) and as an expression of the woman’s right to choose’.
The Women’s Centre and other feminist groups plan to launch a joint campaign against the continued misuse of sex-determination tests — a difficult task because the aversion for daughters in India is deep rooted.
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