Working for better

Issue #17 of Think Magazine brought attention to the upcoming invasion of Gap stores in Singapore which we all know is a top target for boycotts because the harsh truth about Russian workers earning 11 cents an hour will not sit well with us.

stop sweatshop labor

Sweatshops are everywhere because the demand for cheap goods are inevitable. Big multi-national corporations may not directly produce their products in their own factories, but subcontract it out to places which offer cheaper production costs.

Normally, these cheaper alternatives are found in Asian countries with minimal human/employee rights supervision hence laying down a red carpet for greedy businesses looking to save more than a buck for themselves. In this issue, Thinknovation brings to you a noble effort by a Singaporean awareness initiative bent on bringing the issues to the heartlands. Member Amin Suwari advocates about what IAS does and why we should take the matter seriously.

The initial confusion

Initiative Against Sweatshops (IAS) was formally known as Us Against Sweatshops (USASS) as ‘US’ signifies that anybody who believes in our cause is one of us. But we were always mistaken for another anti-sweatshop organisation from the states called United Students Against Sweatshops also with the initials USASS or more commonly mistaken for United States Against Sweatshops. To avoid further confusion, we collectively decided to change our name to Initiative Against Sweatshops (IAS).

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IAS is a collective aimed at creating awareness about the atrocities and unethical practices of sweatshop labour happening in neighbouring developing countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and also around the world.

Why they started It started when I got more interested in issues of globalisation and its effect on third world nations, especially in Asia. The issue that influenced me the most in regards to globalisation were sweatshops.

Inspired to know more, I started doing a lot of research on sweatshops and how it contributed to poverty and suffering in developing countries. I then started to look around for an organisation here that voiced such issues so I could contribute my time and efforts, but there were none.

I felt there was an urgent need to bring forward the voices of these sweatshop workers to Singapore, otherwise known as the ‘Shopping Paradise’. That’s why I decided to start IAS. I approached a close friend of mine who is an activist himself particularly on issues like the environment and animal rights, to join me.

From there IAS grew and we now have five members who include students and professionals involved in the decision-making process and creative organising of their respective areas. We also have a growing mailing list of members in our database mostly young Singaporeans.

On international/local partnerships

We are friends with organisations from all around the globe like the Clean Clothes Campaign (Netherlands), China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong), Thai Labour Campaign (Thailand), Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour: SAKOM (Hong Kong),Yokohama Action Research Network (Japan), Committee For Asian Woman(Thailand) just to name a few. We are also hoping to work with other student groups or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Singapore in the near future.

Events and weird incidents…

“We opened up a stall at Lime’s flea market earlier this year in January and February. At the market, we sold IAS merchandise like sweatshop free shirts, buttons, patches, stickers and most important of all our messages.

lime magazine's flea marketKeeping to the spirit of flea markets, we also sold our old clothes and shoes, as IAS promotes a sustainable-conscience-living by buying clean used clothes.

Since flea markets always attract the young, especially one that is organised by Lime Magazine, we feel that it’s a great platform for us to interact with the youths directly on a personal level, and talk to them about what sweatshops are and how they affect our fellow Asians in developing Asian countries.

The response for both days was surprisingly excellent. They are very keen to listen, ask questions and show concern about the situation in sweatshop factories. Some of the kids that we talk to actually know about sweatshops and were excited that we are doing such work. They showed their solidarity by signing up to our mailing list and some bought our merchandise to show support.

As for weird incidents, there were hardly any, except for some who think that we are asking for donations in which we could use some actually 😉 There are some people who say Singaporeans are apathetic, well from the way we see how our youths responded to our cause, lets not marginalise them… our future certainly looks bright.”

The thing about the Gap

We have no problems with GAP opening its stores in Singapore, as it will create more jobs in the service sector, but the problem we have is that the GAP uses sweatshops to make its clothing, and that needed to be addressed to our youths as well as consumers as a whole. They need to be aware of the implications that are behind the label, and then it’s up to them to make the choice whether to buy or not.

Future plans

We will have an event coming up in April (if everything goes well) and it’s called “Underneath The Radar” (UTR). As the World Bank and IMF meetings are to be held in Singapore this September, UTR will give youths and Singaporeans in general an alternative view of what the World Bank and the IMF are doing to developing nations.

Five documentaries, directed by activist filmmakers from countries like America, Canada and Europe, that highlights important issues on globalisations will be screening once a month from April to September this year. Full and final details will be released mid March, keep a lookout for it!

Common misconceptions

We have lots of encouragement from people of all walks of life especially our friends, and that really inspired us to push ourselves even further and to keep doing what we do. As for misconceptions, we do have people coming up to us saying that having to work in sweatshops is better than having no work at all. Yes, we agree, but we are not here to deny job opportunities or to stop these workers from working.

We are here to raise awareness about the conditions these workers have to work in, the physical and verbal abuse they go through, and most important of all, the less-than-minimum wage issue, and all that is only scratching the surface. IAS will bring all these concern and the voices of the exploited to the hearts and minds of young Singaporeans. We have to get these workers out of misery first, then we can talk about making poverty history.