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Slavery – abolished or reinvented?

Is exploitation just another form of slavery?  This question has crossed my mind a few times today. The borrower I just visited (who will remain anon) uses her loan to buy materials to make a product. After a fair bit of questioning and digging. Here’s the dirt.

   * The product she makes costs around $1.50USD in materials PLUS 7 hours of labour time.

   * She sells each item for $2.50 – which translates to a profit of $1 per item sold.

   * She ALWAYS sells her goods as there is ALWAYS a demand.

THE QUESTION THEN IS …Why doesn’t she sell these items for more than $1?

Unfortunately, the answer is that she can’t.  This lady has little control over the income from her work.  She is limited by the fact that;

   * She can make a maximum of 7 items per week (1 item/day)

   * The person who sells her the material is THE SAME person who buys and exports the product.  They enforce a maximum of 120PhP ($2.50) for the finished item otherwise she won’t receive materials in the future.  On the local market she knows her product is worth 500Php.

I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like exploitation of labour.  This lady is earning around 15cents/hour, $1/day.  Minimum wage in this part of the country is around $5/day.

So let us consider how free she really is.  Does she have the ability to increase her profits over time?  No.  Does she have the ability to increase her production? No.  Is she earning less than minimum wage? Yes.  Is her cousin employed in the same industry? Yes. Are there others like them?  Of course.  Where are these products going? Overseas.  What are they sold for overseas? I don’t know – but I can guess that is more than $2.50.  Is she a “slave” to this system? I think so.  What are her chances to improve her living conditions, and the living conditions of her four children?  Slim to none.

So where does the one buck stop?  I guess I’m throwing this question at anyone who cares about a Filipino lady who lives in a small house, in a small village, on a small island – a lady inevitably like many others around the world.

2  21st  February 2010

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