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Friday 20 April 2012
Letters: Ending sweatshops costs money
Controversy about worker exploitation in countries with low wage costs, especially your report of 16 April by Meredith Alexander ("The scandal of our Olympic sweatshops"), prompts me to raise points about which there appears to be much ignorance.
The wages paid to workers in any country are determined by what the majority earn. As far as I am aware, none of the countries which are cited as the most exploitative (China, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, etc) have a majority of the workforce engaged in the manufacture of goods for export. Most workers are employed in the domestic sector. So the domestic sector sets the standard.
Having worked in garment manufacturing in several of the relevant countries (as a chief executive) for more than 20 years, I can honestly say that for a customer in a developed country to try to bring pressure to bear on his supplier to increase the wages of the workers, without offering to pay more for the goods bought, has no chance at all of success, especially without the co-operation of the country's government.
The largest company I managed had 2,000 employees and made an average profit of £340,000 a year. This equates to only £170 per worker, so an increase of £3.50 per week/per worker would wipe it all out.
The reality of the situation is, despite the well-intentioned but naïve suggestions of Ms Alexander and the Locog committee, that we are here faced with free-market capitalism, which is fully supported by most western governments and is, unfortunately, the only system tried so far with a remote chance of success. It does, of course, require more rigorous control.
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
May's judgement on trial after Qatada confusion
Reports indicate that the Home Office was aware of ambiguity over the deadline for Abu Qatada lodging an appeal against his deportation to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.
In these circumstances even if, as you report (19 April), Home Office lawyers had been advised that time expired at midnight on 16 April, not 17 April, the prudent course would have been to wait a further 24 hours before arresting Mr Qatada and commencing the deportation proceedings. It is Theresa May's political judgement that should be the focus of criticism, not Mr Qatada's lawyers or the European court.
It may be, as you report, that the court's own guidelines on calculating the time-limit are not explicit, but this surely made a cautious stance on the part of the Home Office all the more essential.
Responsible for rendition
Your leading article on Jack Straw and rendition (19 April) says: "If ministers are to be held personally accountable before the courts for their... decisions, the risk is that no significant decisions – right or wrong – will be taken at all."
This is a very strange opinion. Each member of the population is held responsible if they commit crimes. This does not stop them from making decisions. No individual can be above the law and it is a sad day when a newspaper of your standing opines otherwise.
Furthermore, heads of government as well as cabinet ministers must be held accountable under the law, both domestic and international. It is for this reason that Tony Blair and George W Bush must take care, for the rest of their lives, which countries they visit.
An avoidable drought
Half of Britain is now "in drought", with the constant reminder that lack of rainfall in previous months is to blame.
What about managers at incompetent water companies who have failed to manage our water supplies adequately, allowing an unacceptable number of leaks, and explanations from so-called experts insulting people's intelligence about the "impracticality" of a national water grid for piping water around this relatively small island to regions of need?
And down here in Devon I am paying over £100 a month for a domestic water supply with substantial rainfall over the weekend and today.
Laws against forced marriage
We are grassroots activists and professionals working in two countries where forced marriage is a criminal offence – Germany and Belgium – and Sweden, where the government is likely to make a proposal to criminalise forced marriage in May.
Dr Aisha Gill and others argue (Letters, 6 April) that sufficient protection for victims of forced marriage is available under the existing criminal code, which punishes kidnap, violence and gross violations of women's rights etc. This does not take account of the fact that forced marriage involves very much more than any one of these individual offences. Victims are often threatened with violence by people close to them and regularly within the home for months or even years. The law does not protect victims from the emotional coercion that this involves.
Dr Gill et al also argue that criminalising forced marriage will deter victims from reporting incidents. While the criminalisation laws are relatively recent in Germany and Belgium and comprehensive statistics are not yet readily available, there is evidence that criminalisation has led to an increase in reporting in Denmark, which criminalised forced marriages in 2008.
One of the key successes of criminalising forced marriage in Germany and Belgium has been to strengthen the resolve of families or individuals who need help to resist pressure from others to marry a family member or other whom they have not themselves chosen. The penal provision provides them with the confidence to be better able to withstand these pressures and maintain their right under the law not to be subjected to coercion.
Finally, we believe that criminalising forced marriage has educated relevant practitioners and increased knowledge among relevant authorities for the benefit of the victims, who would not necessarily receive the physical protection that they very often need in these situations.
Bahrain Grand Prix
In response to comments made by Archie Bland in the article "Turning a blind eye in Bahrain is an act of complicity" (18 April) I would say that while there is an obvious temptation to vilify Bernie Ecclestone for his insistence that the Bahrain Grand Prix should go ahead, when focusing upon some of the distressing scenes that continue to be played out on the streets of Bahrain, one should not lose sight of some the more positive steps being taken elsewhere - such as the extensive implementation of the recommendations raised by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.
The speed which the BICI recommendations have been implemented is remarkable in itself; and of greater importance is the implementation of an array of recommendations that have sought to bring Bahrain into line with international human rights standards and obligations.
Dr Omar Al-Hassan
Has the time now come to set up the Pontius Pilate Prize for evading personal responsibility?
Should the Bahrain Grand Prix go ahead, a hand-thrown terracotta bowl, suitably inscribed, together with a hand-woven towel, embroidered with the initials of the recipient, would be an appropriate award for one of the organisers of, or participants in, this race.
John Peter Hudson
Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire
Wind madness will ruin coast
It beggars belief that during these difficult times the world's biggest wind farm is being planned for the south coast of England. This 200 wind generator farm will earn the Dutch company Eneco billions in government subsidies, and will effectively industrialise the Jurassic Coast in Dorset and East Devon, a designated World Heritage site. The wind farm, to be called Navitus Bay, will consist of 670ft-tall offshore wind generators covering an area between Swanage, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.
This is madness as wind farms cannot offer security of supply – this engineering folly being compounded by the ruination of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while damaging tourism, safe boating, diving and fishing.
Deaths at the Grand National
William Simpson (letter, 19 April) states that injuries to animals are a "far from inevitable consequence of National Hunt Racing". Apart from two deaths each in 2012 and 2011, there have been 14 horse fatalities in the Grand National since 1996, an average of just less than one per year. In addition, there have been a further 39 deaths, including five in two days at Cheltenham in March, on race courses so far this year. To me, the consequences appear to be fairly inevitable.
Charlotte Robinson (letter, 17 April) says that "a jockey's death is just as possible as a horse's". As far as I know, there has only been one jockey fatality at the Grand National: in 1862.
Please let's not allow emotions and self-interest, on both sides, to cloud the facts.
Gatley, Greater Manchester
Michael Gordon (letter, 19 April) rightly points out that many horses would not be alive today if not for National Hunt racing. Surely not breeding animals for the sole purpose of betting with a high risk of death or injury would be a good thing.
Cellos on a plane
My cello does not get drunk before boarding, does not carry hand luggage, has no ability to answer back or complain, eats very little on the flight and tends to be a rather easy passenger to deal with. Therefore could Lufthansa please explain why they changed their booking rules in February to the effect that it is now more expensive to fly alone with a cello than it is for two people to travel?
Artistic Director, Northern Chords Festival
Newcastle upon Tyne
Let sabre-rattling India pay its way
I was interested to read your report on India's successful trial of its missile to deliver warheads as far as cities in China. Is this the same India which receives considerable sums from our overseas aid budget? This means India is in receipt of benefits from the UK's hard-working tax payers which it does not need. Will our government apply its policy of cutting benefits in order to encourage hard work to foreign governments as well as its own citizens?
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