Letters: Textile workers

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Forty million textile workers deserve legal protection

Sir: We must put an end to child labour in the garment industry (report, 11 October). Corporations have won legal protection for their trademarks, labels, logos and products. However, no laws have been extended to protect the fundamental human, women's and worker rights of the teenager who made the product. Voluntary corporate codes of conduct can never replace legally enforceable rights.

I urge the European Parliament and the EU Commission to immediately begin discussions leading to anti-sweatshop legislation which would hold corporations accountable to respect core United Nations/International Labour Organisation worker rights standards - no child labour, no forced labour, freedom of association, the right to organise and to bargain collectively, and decent working conditions.

We owe such legislation to the 30 to 40 million garment and textile workers, mostly young women, who are locked in sweatshops across the developing world. We owe this to working people in the UK and Europe, who are drawn further into the race to the bottom in the global economy, in which corporations are pitting workers in Europe against desperately poor workers in other countries, competing over who will accept the lowest pay, the least benefits and the most miserable conditions.

The UK and EU were right to grant duty-free market access to garments made in Bangladesh, which is among the least developed countries. Since 2000, Bangladesh's garment exports to Europe have risen an average of 8 per cent a year, reaching €3.6bn last year.

But not one penny of our tariff breaks has reached the garment workers in Bangladesh, whose wages have actually fallen over the last 12 years. Duty-free access to the UK and EU markets must be linked to concrete and measurable improvements in respect for human, women's and worker rights and in real wages. Otherwise, our tariff breaks just flow into the pockets of the multinationals and the factory owners in Bangladesh.



Sir: Your article regarding Channel Four's exposé on the use of child workers highlights a fundamental problem in corporate Britain. At the moment, people are left in the dark about big business's impacts on suppliers, employees, communities and the environment until a journalist or campaigning group exposes corporate malpractice. Such issues come as a nasty shock to shareholders and others who care about responsible business behaviour.

On 19 October MPs have a golden opportunity to vote for measures that would lift this veil of secrecy. ActionAid has backed amendments to the Companies Bill which, for the first time, will legally require all medium and large companies to report honestly and comprehensively on their social and environmental impacts. MPs must take this chance to prevent British companies from concealing practices in poor countries that would never be tolerated in our own back yard.



Veil puts fashion slaves to shame

Sir: Oh dear, what a huge palaver about the Muslim veil. For everyone, it touches some little flame of anxiety.

For Jack Straw it concerns his ability to read the mind on the human face. Can the voice alone not carry infinite shades of meaning? Was poor blind Mr Blunkett that much less capable of reading the inner thoughts of others? For the articulate Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (9 October) it carries an unending proliferation of horrors from sexual repression and slavery to the inability to go swimming. If that is what they wish then let them be, since I have to admit that they are still far more elegant and dignified than some Western women whose sense of self-respect and dignity has long been eroded by their slavish following of the most absurd iniquities of fashion. When I see young women in the street with their buttocks hanging out and their thongs almost obscenely exposed, it hardly inspires admiration, more, I'm afraid, a feeling of revulsion.

I have to admit that the veil does not do this. Archaic it may be but certainly not sluttish or repulsive. There are so many abominations of human dress in the West that we may have just become adjusted to our own slovenliness. I would certainly put the fashion police on our own tacky style but I suppose everything's up for grabs now in our terror-ridden society.



Sir: In the UK, if not more widely, the masked face carries the cultural baggage of untrustworthiness - be it the black balaclava of the terrorist, or the elegance of the adulterer at the masked ball. Even the masked heroes - Zorro or the Lone Ranger - used the mask as a sign that they acted outside the law.

The worry that people express about a veiled woman's face is in some part a rationalisation of unease attached by UK culture to that symbol. It is as if the woman is walking round with a big badge saying "Don't trust me."

The problem is not that the UK cannot respect the culture of the Middle Eastern women who choose to wear a veil, but that they are acting in a culture for which the hidden face has a different significance from the one they are used to.



Sir: I recently walked in to a large department store wearing a balaclava to protect my face against cold weather. The security guard immediately pounced and told me to remove it. Strange behaviour?



Sir: With regard to Jack Straw's comments about Muslim women wearing a veil, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says, "As an MP he has an obligation to express his concerns to his constituents" (Opinion, 9 October). Surely, as an MP his main obligation is to serve his constituents whatever dress they choose to come in. This must be the only situation where the servant tries to place constraints on what the master wears when entering the servants' quarters.



Sir: I seem to remember that back in 2004 Jack Straw offered as his excuse for shaking Robert Mugabe's hand, during a visit to the UN, the fact that he couldn't see Mugabe's face clearly. Maybe this explains why he's making a special effort to identify everybody he meets these days. Won't get fooled again.



Out-of-hours GP service

Sir: I sympathise with Mr Mac-Kinnon and the family of Penny Campbell (Extra, 10 October). At the inception of the NHS, the typical GP was male, working in a single-handed or small practice. Working in the day and being on call at night, supported by an unpaid wife acting as his receptionist through the night, it was an onerous existence. Today a new GP is more likely to be female, often trying to juggle work and family commitments.

Other major changes have taken place. GPs have seen a five-fold rise in the number of out-of-hour contacts made. The intensity of the work they do in the day has also increased, whilst hours worked by hospital junior doctors have decreased as the European Working Time Directive has been instituted. These factors made general practice a less popular career choice a few years ago and led to a severe recruitment crisis, with many practices struggling to provide a satisfactory daytime service, when over 95 per cent of contacts occur.

The inception of the new GP contract reversed the recruitment crisis and GPs have exceeded government expectations in the measurable aspects of the quality of the service they provide. The option to give up out-of-hours responsibility was a key factor in the acceptance of this contract. Of course out-of-hours care needs to be of a high standard. However, calling for doctors to take back their out-of-hours responsibility will only bring about another recruitment crisis.



Nuclear hypocrisy over North Korea

Sir: North Korea's nuclear bomb test poses a grave threat to peace, stability and respect for international law, not just in North-east Asia but globally. But the Pyongyang regime has been encouraged in its nuclear ambitions by the very nations that are clamouring to criticise the test most loudly: the nuclear states of Britain and the US.

By maintaining their nuclear arsenals and refusing to implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's requirements to disarm, Blair and Bush have weakened the NPT significantly, to the point where North Korea was able to simply walk away from it and develop its nuclear weapons beyond the reach of international law. That the UK and US are now leading international criticism of North Korea is hypocrisy of the worst kind - nuclear hypocrisy which could be responsible for hastening the deaths of millions.

The way to defuse North Korea's ambition to equip its military with nuclear arms is for the UK, US and other nuclear states to reinvigorate international non-proliferation law by starting to dismantle their own nuclear arsenals, as a first step to banishing hypocrisy from international efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime, negotiations and condemnation should be left to those states that have demonstrated their respect for international law and desire to see a nuclear-weapons free world.



Blaming Americans won't save climate

Sir: Your front page "Supersize Nation" (11 October) must be offensive to US citizens, and totally misses the point. It is the wealthy of the entire world who are destroying our planet, not US citizens by virtue of their nationality.

It is too easy for smug Europeans to point the finger at the US on the basis of national statistics - it just happens that a preponderance of wealth is concentrated in the US, but if you take a trip through our wealthy suburbs you will find large SUVs, swimming pools, long distance commuters and frequent flyers who are just as destructive as their American equivalents. In even the poorest country there are rich people treating the planet as an inexhaustible resource. Conversely, many US citizens are poor, and do not have the capacity to do such damage.

Given that The Independent is a British newspaper, if you want to campaign on national behaviour, you should do so on our own - lecturing the Americans is not going to have any positive effect and merely panders to the knee-jerk reactions of some of your more prejudiced readers.



Childhood idyll of a world without cars

Sir: I write in support of Jonathan Kebbe's challenge to car drivers to "bin the beast" (letter, 3 October). We have allowed the car to threaten our communities and our health more effectively than any invading army or virus. It's time for those of us who enjoyed the rich adventure of a childhood spent out of doors to take up the cause of those who are the victims of a car-owning culture.

Today I saw a mother with one child at her elbow and another in a buggy waiting on a traffic island the size of a large doormat while cars, vans and trucks swirled all around her, preventing her from reaching the dubious safety of the pavement on the other side. If she was taking her children to school, who would blame her for using a car to get them there if she could?

We who experienced it must bear witness to the precious freedom we had in playing out of doors, before the idea that such freedom ever existed becomes extinct. Drastic action needs to be taken. We have a duty to give the world back to our children.



Sir: May I invite all your readers to join in a conspiracy with me to rid the country of these tax-collecting speed cameras once and for all? Let us all drive below the speed limit. That should see them off.



Over the Moon

Sir: In Jane Thynne's "The Week in Radio" (11 October) she refers to Frank Zappa's sons Moon Unit and Dweezil. Surely she must know that Moon Unit is a girl's name.



Proud to be French

Sir: You report (9 October) that a fifth of British people wish they were French. But the allure is not merely wine and cheese. Ever since the invasion of Iraq, I have felt that there must have been some elderly Italians who looked on in horror as their Leader - in thrall to a powerful ally - led them into an unjust war. If so, I have sympathy for them. Being French would, at least, relieve me of some of the shame that I feel as a result of our Government's ill-judged intervention in Iraq.



Mobile pioneer

Sir: Your report ("The Book of Firsts", 11 October) of Dr Martin Cooper first demonstrating his Motorola mobile phone in 1973 was a reminder of a further significance. Soon after that time the exhibition designer Jim Downer rang me, while travelling through Clapham Junction, on one he had bought directly from the US company. He excitedly explained that he was on the train.



The cost of canals

Sir: Your report "Fears grow for waterways as canal jobs are cut" (11 October) makes a sobering contrast with the same day's waterside property supplement. Canalside homes command a 20 per cent premium over average prices. Yet for the most part, this extra cost goes back into the pockets of the developers - not to British Waterways, which maintains the sought-after canal view. Who would want to live next to a derelict canal? It is time the Government recognised the waterways' benefit to UK plc - either through general taxation or through a precept on waterside homes.



Pass the Marmite

Sir: Can we give Marmite stories a rest? I was reading a paper on the weekend that mentioned the International Maritime Organisation and at first sight thought that it must address itself to cross-border jar-emptying activities.