Sweatshops, Iraq and others

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The Independent Online

Ever-lower high street prices trap workers in sweatshop misery

Ever-lower high street prices trap workers in sweatshop misery

Sir: I read with interest David Usborne's article "Gap draws up a map of unfair working practices" (13 May). In January this year I visited factories in Bangladesh with the National Labor Committee from the USA. I spoke to many sweatshop workers, not in their factories, where they are often intimidated, but back in their slum dwellings. What I did learn from these workers is that the answer is definitely not to revoke contracts.

What is needed is a moral energy to stop this huge wave of economic slavery. Huge global companies are putting a gun to the heads of local factory managers and telling them to accept their demands for constantly lower prices or lose the desperately needed work. Behind the garment industry's low price high-street strategy the workers are trapped in slave labour conditions, paid starvation wages and living in utter misery.

The only way the Wal-Marts of the world can help is to stop insisting on price competition. It is that which makes companies look for ways of cutting costs - and the easiest and fastest way to do it is to use sweatshop labour. So don't look for the easiest way to cut costs and shut the factories. Reform and educate them.

Founder, The Body Shop, Chichester, West Sussex

Shoulder to shoulder with Bush in Iraq

Sir: Tony Blair says in his interview with The Independent ("I will remain shoulder to shoulder with George Bush", 14 May) that he "would not get into the business of seeing the relationship with America as a list of gains you have made. That is not the way I look at it."

Surely though, this is exactly the way Tony Blair approaches relationships with our European partners? He talks constantly of Britain winning the arguments, British victories and British influence at the heart of Europe.

Is it any wonder that our partners question our commitment to the EU and are, with good reason, convinced that in any conflict of views we will ultimately side with the United States?

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir: Blair says Iraqis do not want the country to be left at the mercy of "religious fanatics" and "former Saddam loyalists". That rules Bush and Rumsfeld out then.

Whitton, Middlesex

Sir: Is Blair your prime minister or our proconsul to the UK?

Groton, Massachusetts, USA

Sir: Victor Harman writes (letter, 14 May) that he is ashamed to be British, as he opposes the war against terror in Iraq. I agree with him. I also am ashamed that he's British.

Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Sir: Why is it barbaric to decapitate an innocent man with a knife but civilised to do it with a laser-guided bomb?

Maidstone, Kent

ME research trials

Sir: The story of 13-year-old Ben Bryant's ME is difficult to read without sympathy for Ben and his mother ("Why won't they believe he is ill?", 10 May). Unfortunately Jerome Burne's article went on to include inaccurate criticisms of two large research trials of treatments for adults with CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis), of which we are the principal investigators.

Both these trials are designed to test different treatments for CFS/ME. These will be delivered by occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses and doctors, and do not represent a "psychiatric approach". Nor do they make any assumptions about the original cause of the illness.

We intend to exclude as few people with CFS/ME as possible, and will use protocols approved by international and independent scientists. As Jerome Burne has been told, patients with ME will, of course, be included. Indeed, one of the trials will reach patients with the most severe ME, by treating patients in their own homes.

The majority of people with CFS/ME and their carers, many of whom have lived for years with this misunderstood condition, will welcome research that will answer important questions about the treatment of CFS/ME.


London University

Edinburgh University

Manchester University

Sir: Jerome Burne's article does not represent a fair picture of the quality of the trials and MRC's commitment. Our mission is to improve human health and we recognise that CFS/ME is a serious, real and debilitating illness, as stated in the independent MRC review of CFS/ME published in 2003. We have designated it a research priority.

It is precisely because the various rehabilitative treatments for CFS/ME might work for some patients and not others that definitive trials are needed. MRC is supporting the PACE and FINE trials because the findings will allow patients and their GPs to make more informed choices about an individual's care and because the science has been judged to be of the highest quality by international experts.

Neither trial excludes patients with ME. Once enrolled into the trial the participants will also be assessed using other criteria for CFS and ME as part of the study, to see which treatment may work best for which patient.

Both trials are also testing treatments that have proved popular with patients, adaptive pacing therapy in the PACE trial and pragmatic rehabilitation in the FINE trial. Patients have helped shape the treatment manuals for those options in each trial while the PACE trial protocol has been developed with the help of the leading charity Action for ME.

We are always open to applications for high-quality research and have actively encouraged the submission of other proposals for CFS/ME - from biological research to treatment studies. We are currently reviewing a number of applications.

Chief Executive
Medical Research Council
London W1

Sir: As an ME sufferer since 1987 I was very pleased to read this article by Jerome Burne which explained the controversy in the medical profession about my illness.

ME is a serious disease with a physical cause and the issues which Mr Burne raised are important to myself and the estimated 240,000 sufferers in the UK as well as doctors who treat us. I cannot write any more as I am too ill, but felt I had to say, "Well done!"


Romanian fascists

Sir: Rich Cookson and Phil Chamberlain ("The Tory who's the toast of Transylvania", 12 May) are unfair to the Iron Guard, unprepossessing fascists as its members were. It was never in a position to murder more than a handful of Romanian Jews.

Of the several hundred thousand who perished, more than half did so in camps operated by the Romanian occupation regime in Transdnistria (currently shared between Moldova and Ukraine) during the first 18 months of the invasion of the Soviet Union. The principal cause was culpable neglect by the military regime of Marshal Antonescu, which had suppressed the Iron Guard in Transdnistria and the delay in improving conditions there contributed to his successful prosecution for war crimes and subsequent execution in 1946.

The others who perished were the Jews of Northern Transylvania (including Ruscova), which had been transferred to Hungary under the Vienna Award of 30 August 1940. Like other Jews in Hungary, they were not exposed to deportation or worse until the Germans occupied it on 17 March 1944. After then they were indeed moved into ghettos and then dispatched to Auschwitz. However, the local fascists involved would have been the Hungarian Arrow Cross, not the Romanian Iron Guard.

London SW15

Hellfire for gays

Sir: Your Christian youth-worker correspondent Nigel Roberts is not telling the whole story. Even if (a big if!) everything he says about waiting for sex until marriage were true for heterosexual young people, it would still leave gays nowhere.

The subtext to his belief is that gays don't actually exist, but are really heterosexuals gone wrong, who can be therefore be terrorised into hetero-sex by guilt and condemnation in this world and threat of hellfire in the next. As a gay man who grew up in an evangelical home, I experienced this soul-destroying belief painfully at first hand.

Sorry Nigel, your wedded bliss won't work for those of us who feel no sexual attraction whatever for the sex opposite, without which man-woman marriage makes no sense. Gay marriage might, but I don't see you or your church advocating that somehow.

Milton Keynes

Arts on the BBC

Sir, "Why can't Radio 3 simply play classical music", Janet Street Porter asks us (Opinion, 6 May). She objects that "the increasing amount of drama and arts programming is a real cause for concern".
Au contraire, it is the recent narrowing of the remit of Radio 3 that, to my mind, represents the greatest single loss to British culture. A few years ago Radio 3 was an arts network that was not uncomfortable with the term "high culture". I have recently been examining the schedules for the Seventies. There was always plenty of good music. A fair amount could be called "classical", although there was also western music from medieval to a good leavening of new commissions.

In its heyday, Radio 3 would broadcast significant chunks of poetry several times a week, modern, classical and translated (when we would expect, often, to hear the original, before or after). World drama was at the heart of the schedule.

There were varied and deep examinations of the humanities in an era when the BBC was not frightened to let the experts speak for themselves. Science was covered by the incomparable John Maddox who, naturally, interviewed the experts directly. Listeners became well informed on the issues that would really matter, such as global warming and genetic engineering, years before they filtered out through non-specialists.

I started listening to Radio 3 as a teenager wanting to hear classical music. I ended up with a broad education.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sir: Philip Hensher's views on the BBC's arts programming are very interesting (Opinion, 30 April), but you won't be surprised if I question what appears to be a rather élitist view of what the BBC should be offering.

The BBC's public purpose is to serve all audiences - from the passionate aficionados like Philip to people whose interest has yet to be stirred - and as the majority of UK homes now have access to digital channels, we are able to offer all of those audiences real choice across all of our channels. We cannot just offer high-end arts coverage - although we do that too.

Our strategy is three-fold: to introduce mainstream audiences to visual, literary, architectural and musical arts, such as Rolf on Art and Brilliantly British; to offer landmark series of impact, such as Leonardo and The Genius of Mozart, and new styles of performance programmes such as Eroica and the animated version of The Cunning Little Vixen; and topical arts journalism as exemplified by the forthcoming new series The Culture Show.

There is room for all of this - and more - across our four adult and two children's television channels. But it's sad that Philip Hensher would not celebrate BBC television's ability to inspire and grow new audiences for the subject he is obviously passionate about.

BBC Director of Television,
London W12

Abortion question  

Sir: In the case of the 14-year-old who had an abortion without the assent of her mother, surely the question the mother should be asking is not why the school did not inform her, but why her daughter didn't?

Colne Engaine, Essex

Pictures of reality

Sir: Presumably the Piers Morgan who said that the "pictures accurately illustrated the reality" about the conduct of British troops in Iraq (report, 14 May) and the accompanying photograph of him are not the actual words and photograph of the editor of the Daily Mirror but those of an actor who "accurately illustrates the reality" of Mr Morgan?


Passengers return

Sir: The Midland Mainline train company refers to rail travellers as "passengers" in its publicity for its new trains. This is a significant improvement on calling everyone "customers". To be a passenger means that the purchase of a ticket confers far more rights than the purchase of a newspaper. And the train company accepts far more responsibility for its passengers than does a shop for its customers. Where Midland Mainline goes, will other train companies follow?

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Take no notice

Sir: My favourite road sign is the one in Co Kerry that reads: "Inch, 1 mile".