Sunday, January 30, 2005
Published: January 29, 2005
Optimism and sex trafficking don't usually go together.
Yet despite the widespread belief that sex slavery is intractable and inevitable, it isn't. Look, prostitution itself will probably always be around, but we could largely stop the buying and selling of the teenagers who are routinely held in bondage in brothels from Calcutta to Belize.
If this is an optimistic column, one reason is that I had originally planned to use this space differently. I had thought I would find and write about whoever had replaced Srey Neth, the teenager I had purchased for $150 and then freed a year ago.
So I climbed to the top floor of the Phnom Pich Guesthouse (past the sign asking guests not to bring in their machine guns or hand grenades) and found the room that used to be Srey Neth's world. But now the entire floor is empty....
....With that aim in mind, the West should pressure nations like Cambodia to adopt a two-part strategy. First, such nations must crack down on the worst forms of flesh-peddling. (A U.N. report estimated that in Asia alone, "one million children are involved in the sex trade under conditions that are indistinguishable from slavery.")...
Second, they must crack down on corrupt police officers who protect the slave traders...
The entire article is available at nytimes.com.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
All right, some good news: L.A. favorite Dengue Fever's new album is finished, though it may not be released until August. In the meantime they are playing a dozen or so gigs in southern California over the next month. Last night at Temple Bar in Santa Monica they played a great set, including a few songs from the new album. They're hoping to find a way to make to Phnom Penh in the near future. Look and listen for songs from their new album -- you'll hear them first at Jungle Bar. Pick up the first album if you haven't already. If you haven't yet heard them, stop by Jungle Bar for a listen. You'll find more info about this great band at denguefevermusic.com.
An estimate suggests that 300,000 children in Cambodia are likely to lose their parents to AIDS-related illnesses this year. And these children will possibly face staggering problems with their childhood like drug use, poverty and lack of options. Vannaphone Sitthirath of Inter-Press Service brings us this feature from Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh (Cambodia): For six-year-old Samnang, life offers little hope. The Cambodian boy has been orphaned by the death of his parents due to AIDS-related illnesses and has recently tested positive for HIV. As many as 300,000 Cambodian children will become AIDS orphans in this country of 12 million this year, and face a whole lot of staggering problems with their childhood, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Already, UNAIDS documents call Cambodia ''the Asian country with the highest adult HIV prevalence''. More than 200,000 Cambodians, or more than four percent of the adult population, are living with HIV.
HIV prevalence remains high among groups such as pregnant women and sex workers, but statistics in recent years reflect a slight decline in these rates from 1996 to 2002. The epidemic is one among a series of risk factors for children in the country, linked to issues like drug use, poverty and lack of options. These factors also affect people in border areas and drive migration to other places in Cambodia and to neighbouring countries. Without support, the children face lives of begging, odd jobs, stealing, involvement in organised crime, drug addiction and sexual exploitation.
Samnang and his two sisters are being looked after by their grandmother, who makes a living as a fortune teller. But Sebastian Marot, coordinator of the outreach centre Mith Samlanh (Friends), predicted that Samnang would soon turn to the streets of Phnom Penh for survival. “His grandmother is old and cannot go on providing for him and his sisters. He will be forced to the streets,” says Marot. “Samnang will be treated with trepidation because he is sick and will be segregated. Other people in the community also treat him very badly. It really has an enormous impact,” he adds.
“HIV/AIDS is one of the main factors that push children into difficult circumstances like being street children, being beggars and so on,” says Marot. But even when AIDS orphans are treated well by relatives, they have much to deal with -- the grief of losing parents and having to adapt to a new household. Often some run away, says Prang Chanthy of Impact Cambodia, an AIDS prevention programme. “The population of homeless people, especially children continues to increase in the capital city,” says Marot. “Phnom Penh is the magnet for many Cambodian children but the city itself cannot cater to this huge influx of kids,” he adds. “Sixty-five percent of Phnom Penh’s population is under 18.”
“Seeking to survive and have fun at the same time in the city, many of them get into drugs, which offers them momentary escape from their problems,” Marot points out. Heroin and methamphetamines are the drugs of choice for many, with the latter - now produced in Cambodia - growing in popularity among children. According to a survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), some street children turn to drug trafficking to finance their addiction, making trips to and from Phnom Penh to the western town of Poipet on the Thai border, the point through where most drugs flow into Cambodia. This rampant use of intravenous drugs also makes these Cambodian street children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, since drug use is also risky behaviour in the epidemic.
Also among the substances abused by the children is glue that is used commercially in tire production in Thailand. Glue is cheap and easily available in Phnom Penh - and Laurence Gray of the non-government group World Vision says it has the immediate effect of making those who sniff it not feel hungry. Gray says that from glue-sniffing, children usually end up using more sophisticated drugs such as amphetamines. A number of organisations have set up programmes to help AIDS orphans. In Battambang, for instance, monks and nuns in a Buddhist monastery are trying to do what they can with very little money but creative approaches. “One monk can feed seven children,” says Muny Vansaveth, himself a Buddhist monk.
When he started caring for abandoned children in 1992, he alone was begging for food to feed those seven children. Now, there are 27 monks at Nor temple and 66 boys and girls, 46 of whom are AIDS orphans. “We try so hard,” says Vansaveth. “For 10 years, it was very difficult -- we had no funds. We wanted to protect them from being sold to prostitution.”
With the help of several organisations and private donations from people living abroad, Wat Norea Peaceful Children’s Home has cared for 358 children through the years. This is a safe haven for children, and 30 to 40 nuns help them in addition to the monks. Children can stay as long as they need. But despite such efforts, the vulnerabilities that Cambodian children face, including those coping with HIV/AIDS, are fast changing society. “Because of HIV/AIDS, the family structure in Cambodia is changing, as more orphans and grandparents head households,” says Lisa Garbus of the AIDS Policy Research Centre in the University of California San Francisco. “The percent of Cambodia's orphans that could be attributed to AIDS rose from 1.4 percent in 1995 to 10.9 percent in 2001; this figure will rise to 20.7 percent by 2005 and 27.5 percent by 2010,” she says in a recent report. Garbus adds: “Given years of genocide, civil war, and famine, the ability of Cambodian families to cope with AIDS orphans is severely strained.”
© Inter Press Service. The feature may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.
Peruvian Economist Hernando de Soto's ideas for helping the poor have made him a global celebrity. Now, if only those ideas worked. …
By John Gravois
Posted Friday, Jan. 28, 2005, at 10:55 AM PT
It's Davos week, which means it's time for the world's most influential people to bask in the catchy wisdom of Hernando de Soto.
Author of The Mystery of Capital and The Other Path, armchair consultant to numerous heads of state, and white knight for the cause of property formalization—Hernando de Soto is practically the patron saint of the global elite. At last year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Bill Clinton, the event's unofficial king, publicly declared that de Soto was "probably the world's most important living economist." For the left, de Soto has formulated the most seemingly practical ideas for reducing global poverty. For the right, de Soto offers the most compelling way to market capitalism to the poor.
Beginning with his first projects in Peru in the mid-'90s, de Soto's ideas have been packaged and peddled all over the Third World—by the World Bank, by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and by de Soto's own Lima think tank, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy—as the new conventional wisdom for fighting poverty. On the white board, de Soto's ideas flatter the imaginations and sensibilities of Davos-types (particularly the American ones). But on the ground, it turns out that de Soto's ideas are doing very little to solve the actual problems of poor people.
De Soto's vision of the Third World is instinctively appealing. He sees industrious, entrepreneurial slum-dwellers, toiling with boundless ingenuity, yet living in homes and owning businesses that are theirs only by de facto possession and jury-rigged local agreements, not by de jure deed and title. De Soto calls all this informally held property "dead capital," because it can't be leveraged to produce growth—it can't be mortgaged, because it lacks a proper title to guarantee it as collateral. He says there are gobs and gobs of this dead stuff out there: $9.3 trillion worth, by his estimate, skulking in the ghetto.
Mindful of the fact that "the single most important source of funds for new businesses in the United States is a mortgage on the entrepreneur's house," de Soto's plan is, quite simply, to make homeowners out of the world's poor squatters. Neighborhood by neighborhood, slum by slum, he wants to formalize the vast extralegal world by dotting it with individual property titles. Once that's done, he promises, the poor will have access to credit, loans, and investment, as their dead assets are transformed—voilà!—into live capital.
De Soto is right to point out the importance of legally sorting out who owns what in the Third World. Secure property rights probably are indeed, as he puts it, the "hidden architecture" of modern economies—or something like that, anyway. On the level of gee-whiz metaphors and moving rhetoric, de Soto deserves a lot of credit: He's brought an unprecedented degree of attention and funding to the vital and fascinating issue of squatters and informal economies. But he has botched the details, especially by pushing one solution—individual property titles—for all different kinds of poor people in all different kinds of poor places.
From the field, the verdicts are rolling in: In some corners of the world, the land-titling programs inspired by de Soto's work are proving merely ineffective. In other places, they are showing themselves to be downright harmful to the poor people they set out to help.
First, the merely useless:
In various parts of the Third World, newly legalized squatters on the outskirts of cities are discovering that a property title supplies little of the benefit de Soto projects. Government studies out of de Soto's native Peru suggest that titles don't actually increase access to credit much after all. Out of the 200,313 Lima households awarded land titles in 1998 and 1999, only about 24 percent had gotten any kind of financing by 2002—and in that group, financing from private banks was almost nil. In other words, the only capital infusion—which was itself modest—was coming from the state.
Reports from Turkey, Mexico, South Africa, and Colombia suggest similar trends. "In Bogota's self-help settlements," writes Alan Gilbert, a London professor of geography who has done extensive research on land issues in Colombia and other parts of Latin America, "property titles seem to have brought neither a healthy housing market nor a regular supply of formal credit."
This is probably because banks realize they don't stand to gain much from repossessing shanties in rotten locations. Faced with a massive surge in legalized but tenuous properties owned by poor people, banks have simply adjusted their criteria for lending, and in some cases care more about stable employment than a land title. Not only that, but the actual real estate markets in many of these shantytowns on urban outskirts are stagnant, which puts a serious damper on any potential gains on capital—live or dead.
"You cannot accumulate capital if there is no market in which to trade your asset," Gilbert writes.
Now for the downright harmful:
In places where real estate markets are buoyant, titles turn out to be quite a hot commodity. Too hot, in fact. In June of 2002, for example, the World Bank kicked off a several-year project to distribute over a million titles throughout Cambodia. In Phnom Penh, the capital, untitled land near the city center has been selling for about $20 to $30 per square meter over the past few years. Titled properties nearby have been selling for around 10 times that much. For a poor squatter in the middle of the capital city, the promise of a title would seem to be a road to riches. In practice, it's more like a sign taped to his back that says, "Kick me."
In the nine months or so leading up to the project kickoff, a devastating series of slum fires and forced evictions purged 23,000 squatters from tracts of untitled land in the heart of Phnom Penh. These squatters were then plopped onto dusty relocation sites several miles outside of the city, where there were no jobs and where the price of commuting to and from central Phnom Penh (about $2 per day) surpassed whatever daily wage they had been earning in town before the fires. Meanwhile, the burned-out inner city land passed immediately to some of the wealthiest property developers in the country. (Prominent among them was this guy, Cambodia's richest thug.)
Since then, a similar pattern has continued elsewhere in the city, says Alain Durand-Lasserve, a land-management expert who has worked in Cambodia during the last couple of years. Investors have been buying squatter-occupied state land from various government officials in Phnom Penh, who pocket the money, thus looting the land both from the state and from the poor. In other cases in Phnom Penh—and also in Manila, in the Philippines—speculators or middle-income groups went out before titling programs took effect and bought land at slightly better than informal prices directly from the squatters, who happily sold off for a bit of cash. Then the investors just waited for the titling program—and the attendant leap in value and legal security—to come their way.
It turns out that titling is more useful to elite and middle-income groups who can afford to bother with financial leverage, risk, and real estate markets. For very poor squatters in the inner city—who care most about day-to-day survival, direct access to livelihood, and keeping costs down—titles make comparatively little sense. These poorer groups either fall prey to eviction or they sell out, assuming they'll find some other affordable pocket of informality that they can settle into. The problem is, with titling programs on the march, such informal pockets are disappearing fast. So, the poor sell cheap or are evicted, then can't find a decent new place to settle, losing the crucial geographic advantage they once had in the labor market.
What to do? Here's one idea: Geoffrey Payne, a British urban planning consultant with years of experience working on land-tenure issues in Cambodia and elsewhere, recommends temporarily insulating slums from the commercial land market by granting informal neighborhoods groups land rights for some period of time. During that period, he says, the neighborhood can be upgraded and basic services brought in, allowing land values to inch up toward parity with the surrounding real estate market. Then, after a number of years, the neighborhood gets a full, group land title, which can then be subdivided into individual titles if people are willing to take on the costs. By taking these incremental steps, he says, you shelter the poor from the shock of a titling gold rush.
But sadly, the Davos set doesn't have a crush on Geoffrey Payne, and de Soto has never sat down for a debate with him. Nor, in fact, does de Soto seem to pay attention to any of the lawyers, urban planners, geographers, sociologists, or economic development experts who have catalogued the real-life flaws in his ideas.
I did catch up with de Soto myself just after Davos a couple of years ago, and I asked him for his own solution to the squeeze on poor squatters brought on by formalization. He told me wealthy land-grabbers should know that it's in their best interests to have the productive power of the poor brought into the economy. When I replied that those elites don't seem to be aware of that, de Soto simply offered: "I can make them aware."
John Gravois is staff reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education and a contributing editor at Sixbillion.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cambodian police lay charges over alleged killing of rare dolphin
Cambodian police have arrested three men and a woman after they allegedly killed a rare Irrawaddy dolphin by tossing an explosive device into a river.
The 86-kilogram freshwater dolphin was found dead in the Srepok River in north eastern Mondulkiri province, after the four used the explosive device to catch fish.
Seng Teak, country director for the World Wide Fund for Nature, told the Cambodia Daily that the river used to be home to the Irrawaddy dolphin but they disappeared 10 to 15 years ago.
Trade in the dolphin, which is famed for its dancing mating ritual and highly prized by Asian wildlife parks, was banned in October under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Fewer than 100 of the famous pink dolphins are left in Asia's Mekong River compared with the thousands that used to inhabit the river.
Now they are mainly found in a stretch of the river from the Lao-Cambodian border to Cambodia's north eastern Kratie province.
Investigations into the incident are continuing.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
After the Brothel
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
POIPET, Cambodia — When I describe sex trafficking as, at its worst, a 21st-century version of slavery, I'm sure plenty of readers roll their eyes and assume that's hyperbole.
It's true that many of the girls who are trafficked around the world go voluntarily or under coercion too modest to be fairly called slavery. But then there are girls like Srey Rath.
A couple of years ago, at age 15 or 16 (she's unsure of her birth date), Srey Rath decided to go work in Thailand for two months, so that she could give her mother a present for the Cambodian new year.
But the traffickers who were supposed to get her and four female friends jobs as dishwashers smuggled them instead to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. There, three of the girls, including Srey Rath, were locked up in a karaoke lounge that operated as a brothel and ordered to have sex with customers. Srey Rath indignantly resisted.
"So the boss got angry and hit me in the face, first with one hand and then with the other," she remembers. "The mark stayed on my face for two weeks."
That was the beginning of a hell. The girls were forced to work in the brothel 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and they were never paid or allowed outside. Nor were they allowed to insist that customers use condoms.
Back to the Brothel
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Poipet, Cambodia — After I purchased Srey Mom from her brothel for $203 a year ago and brought her back to her village, the joy was overwhelming. Her parents and siblings had assumed she was dead, and they shrieked and hugged and cried.
I had doubts about the other sex slave I had purchased, Srey Neth, whom I wrote about on Wednesday - and who in fact is thriving and is now preparing to become a hairdresser. But I was pretty sure that Srey Mom would make it.
So I'm devastated to say that a year later, I found Srey Mom back here in the wild town of Poipet, in her old brothel. She's devastated, too - when she spotted me, she ran away to her room in the back of the brothel until she could compose herself.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
$2,000: Amount FDR spent on the inaugural in 1945…about $20,000 in today's dollars.
$20,000: Cost of yellow roses purchased for inaugural festivities by D.C.'s Ritz Carlton.
200: Number of Humvees outfitted with top-of-the-line armor for troops in Iraq that could have been purchased with the amount of money blown on the inauguration.
$10,000: Price of an inaugural package at the Fairmont Hotel, which includes a Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon reception, a chauffeured Rolls Royce and two actors posing as "faux" Secret Service agents, complete with black sunglasses and cufflink walkie-talkies.
400: Pounds of lobster provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy" at the exclusive Mandarin Oriental hotel.
3,000: Number of "Laura Bush Cowboy cookies" provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy" at the Mandarin hotel.
$1: Amount per guest President Carter spent on snacks for guests at his inaugural parties. To stick to a tight budget, he served pretzels, peanuts, crackers and cheese and had cash bars.
22 million: Number of children in regions devastated by the tsunami who could have received vaccinations and preventive health care with the amount of money spent on the inauguration.
1,160,000: Number of girls who could be sent to school for a year in Afghanistan with the amount of money lavished on the inauguration.
$15,000: The down payment to rent a fur coat paid by one gala attendee who didn't want the hassle of schlepping her own through the airport.
$200,500: Price of a room package at D.C.'s Mandarin Oriental, including presidential suite, chauffeured Mercedes limo and outfits from Neiman Marcus.
2,500: Number of U.S. troops used to stand guard as President Bush takes his oath of office
26,000: Number of Kevlar vests for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be purchased for $40 million.
$290: Bonus that could go to each American solider serving in Iraq, if inauguration funds were used for that purpose.
$6.3 million: Amount contributed by the finance and investment industry, which works out to be 25 percent of all the money collected.
$17 million: Amount of money the White House is forcing the cash-strapped city of Washington, D.C., to pony up for inauguration security.
9: Percentage of D.C. residents who voted for Bush in 2004.
66: Percentage of Americans who think this over-the-top inauguration should have been scaled back.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
"Monsoon Wife", shot entirely in Cambodia in 2002(?) was yesterday's movie for me. It is not a very good film -- cardboard characters are especially annoying -- but the cinematography is pretty amazing for a film that iis alleged to have cost $95,000, and its great fun to see the Phnom Penh locations. The DVD is hard to find but is available from Candadian distributors such as DVDSoon.com .
Says the Portland Mercury:
Monsoon Wife's most compelling aspect is its documentary peek into Cambodia. The plot concerns itself with the sex trade and the unsavory brand of tourism and exploitation that is attracted by it, although it frequently gets away from itself with disjointed subplots that appear to exist in order to both create a fuller picture of this depravation and to present positive, unrelated aspects of the country. (An absurdly immature, rich, horny tourist exists entirely as a tool for the film's expository motives.) Visually, the film is beautifully shot, and seems to have made good use of its relatively low budget. It is a compelling subject, and the film is remarkable as the first American film to be shot entirely in Cambodia--a rarity that alone makes the film worthwhile. Still, it would have benefited from a tighter narrative focus."
...and from the Portland Tribune:
Captured by Cambodia
By JOSEPH GALLIVAN Issue date: 4/18/2003
The Tribune What comes to mind when you think of Cambodia?
Street cafes where schlubby expatriates are fawned upon by teeny Asian prostitutes? Army types in Toyota Land Cruisers and boys on mopeds toting AK-47s? Limbless beggars and shattered streets?
The correct answer would be all of the above. And Portland-based movie director Marlin Darrah knows it. His debut feature, “Monsoon Wife,” tells an engaging human story that remains sympathetic to the Cambodian people while hitting all the big targets.
Darrah, who usually makes travel documentaries and has been to 130 countries, is your typical been-there, done-that world citizen. But the little country between Thailand and Vietnam changed his life.
“I went to Cambodia in 2000 thinking about making a documentary, and soon realized it had to be a feature,” the 47-year-old says over tea at the Thurman Cafe. “Phnom Penh is a renegade city, full of bullet holes. There are a few gems of French colonial architecture, and the temples, monks in saffron robes, the brothels, the whole sacred and profane thing. … ”
So he wrote the story of Thomas McIntyre, an American man in Cambodia on the rebound. McIntyre has fallen in with a sleazy expat procuring country girls for “karaoke” bars in the capital, Phnom Penh. He then mends his ways, finds a local girlfriend, or “monsoon wife,” and starts selling his paintings to tourists.
Out of the blue, however, comes Cliff, an old fraternity brother. High on dot-com stock money, drunkenly toting his camcorder and obsessively checking his e-mail, Cliff is the updated ugly American abroad. He hires a reluctant Thomas for $5,000 to be his guide to the underbelly of city life for a week, including the notorious brothels with their underage girls. Cliff has brought his new wife with him, who happens to be Thomas’ ex, setting up a powerful love-hate quadrangle.
Darrah calls his first feature a “microindependent” because it had a budget of just $100,000, and almost everyone worked for “points,” or a percentage of any profits.
“We would have had to pay that again in shooting permits, so we went guerrilla,” the Eugene native says with a smile.
A wild corner of the world
Cambodia has only been on the tourist map for two or three years, according to Darrah, and it’s still the Wild West of Southeast Asia. You can rent a three-bedroom apartment in central Phnom Penh with a maid for $300 a month. Many of his cast and crew of 20 had never been outside the United States. Suddenly they were in a country where sex costs $2, a pound of pot $20, a machine gun $200.
Rob Stockton, another Eugene native, and lead actor McGeorge Robinson, from Prineville, are both now trying to make it in Los Angeles. Cambodia was their first trip abroad.
“I had culture shock on the very first day,” says Stockton, who brilliantly plays the obnoxious Cliff. “But I kept telling myself not to compare it to the U.S. and accept it on its own terms.”
Much of the filming was done in the street, without paid extras. “One time I saw this group of Khmers running at us with AK-47s, and I just froze. Luckily they ran right past us,” Stockton says.
Los Angeles-based actress Linda Shing (she regularly plays Nurse Corazon on “ER”) got sick as soon as she arrived. The wardrobe woman freaked out and confiscated the costumes, worried that she wasn’t going to be paid or get home. A film loader ran off with the camera because he thought the plot was exploitative of the prostitutes, even though the point of the movie is quite the opposite. Both were Los Angeles people, allegedly used to bigger productions.
‘Leftover men,’ like Lord Jim
The power of “Monsoon Wife” comes from the idea that Cambodia represents the flip side of the American dream: capitalism gone wild.
“There’s a lot of prostitution in Thailand, but this seemed more insidious, almost custom-made for men that would wash up in that part of the world — leftover men,” Darrah says. “They get cheaper deals there, they can be left alone. Essentially they can be pederasts if they want. They’re like, ‘Oh, my god, I’m a king here.’
“It’s the saddest idea, that they could be Lord Jim,” he says, referring to the 1900 novel by Joseph Conrad, an author who skewered the follies of imperialism.
Exterior scenes were filmed last, so as not to attract the attention of locals and officials seeking kickbacks. All the same: “We shot in a typical brothel where the girls sit on risers behind glass, like they’re under a heat lamp,” he says. “We paid the Chinese-Cambodian Mafia $600 for 45 minutes. Not negotiable.”
Guards at the famous Angkor Wat temples were paid off with $20 bills and cigarettes. The crew got two days’ work done before they were busted by a government official.
“You can look at ‘Tomb Raider’ and see the same locations,” says co-producer Skye Fitzgerald, 32, of the 2001 movie starring Angelina Jolie. “Only they paid five grand. We paid a pack of cigarettes. That’s how Cambodia works.”
Generally, according to Darrah, locals gathered to stare but didn’t ask questions: “My theory is that’s because in the Khmer Rouge era if you asked a lot of questions you could be killed or detained.”
International stories tell all
Aside from one scene in Portland, “Monsoon Wife” was the first American movie to be completely shot in Cambodia since Peter O’Toole’s 1965 “Lord Jim.” At exactly the same time Darrah’s crew was sneaking around Phnom Penh, Matt Dillon was helming his directorial debut, “City of Ghosts,” on the very same streets.
Both films look beautiful and wallow in the bustling urban experience. Dillon’s film, which cost $11 million to make, has more guns in it, but both portray the locals with a certain respect and tenderness. “Monsoon Wife” goes deeper into the tragedy of the country, showing prostitution as a desperate response to historical and cultural conditions.
“Cambodia is a place where morality was basically killed between 1975 and 1979 — everything right and just was killed,” Darrah says. “And it’s a Buddhist country, so they don’t like to carry baggage and don’t have a lot of guilt about sex. A parent will sell one kid to help the others, because it’s better than starving in countryside.”
Darrah has more stories up his sleeve. One is about two gullible couples who travel around India looking for enlightenment, guided by an opportunistic Sikh. Another is based on an Amazon riverboat captain that the director knows. In the story, the drunk and bankrupt seaman takes on some “loopy New Age tourists” who have heard about an island where natives are reincarnated as herons. It’s another Conradian scenario, this time from “Heart of Darkness.”
Darrah goes on: “Tourists want the authentic and the antique, while the locals usually want modernity: a plastic bucket rather than a clay jar. But we’re like, ‘This plastic bucket ruins the picture!’ I find that a great theme: Americans that get themselves into a cultural jam and can’t get out.”
Saturday, January 22, 2005
www.chinaview.cn 2005-01-21 20:48:06
PHNOM PENH, Jan. 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday suggested to halt the government talks on the future demobilization process to be engaged with World Bank.
"Due to the difficult and complicated work in dealing with the demobilization process, I have told deputy director of World Bank that any talks on the future demobilization process (to be engaged with World Bank) shall be halted," the premier told reporters after the routine weekend cabinet meeting.
"And as for the repayment to the World Bank, we have already returned even though I would use the term that it is unjust for Cambodia," Hun Sen added.
Hun Sen's remarks was a response to a recent World Bank threat that it would freeze its millions of dollars in assistance to the country unless the government repay 2.8 million US dollars already misused in a World Bank-funded demobilization project.
The Bank also sent two letters respectively to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Finance Minister Keat Chhon recently about the issue.
The Cambodia Daily reported on Friday that the money was originally part of an 18.4 million dollars World Bank package meant to assist a massive military demobilization project in Cambodia.
However, in 2003, the Bank declared misprocurement on a contract to provide motorbikes for the retiring soldiers and demanded the government repay 2.8 million dollars in what it said were misappropriated funds.
Moreover, the premier said that "the future demobilization to be involved with World Bank is finished. We are on position to seek assistance from other sources."
According to the World Bank Web site, the Bank currently has 15active projects in Cambodia, ranging from electrification to ensuring biodiversity. The Bank pledged 45 million dollars in aid at last month's Consultative Group meeting.
Lord Jim, The Perils of Peter O'Toole In Filming A Classic
LIFE, January 22, 1964
A violent storm in a Far Eastern sea lashes a ship, and a young seaman--portrayed by Peter O'Toole--struggles against two attackers: the elements and his own conscience. Finally, in a moment of panic, he leaps to safety, thereby disgracing himself. He becomes a drifter, wandering through the exotic Orient, searching for his honor. This is the story of Lord Jim, a classic novel by Joseph Conrad, now turned into a $10 million movie which provides a grueling workout for its star. For one who actually detests the great outdoors and whose idea of high adventure is "carrying a pint of bitters from one smoke-filled room to another," O'Toole does get himself into the darndest situations. His first major picture, Lawrence of Arabia, had him riding a camel for nine months on the blazing deserts of Jordan. "Almost went out of my flaming mind," he says. But compared to what he was to go through while filming Lord Jim many of his Lawrence troubles seemed like a holiday in Brighton.
Cobras, seasickness and an angry prince
Upon competition of his two years' work on Lawrence of Arabia, O'Toole had hurried back to London, vowing never to go near a camel again. There, in the city he regards as the most civilized in the world, the only perils he faced were the sword thrusts of a few critics who took offense at his Hamlet in the National Theatre. But during the play's run, adventure called in the form of a starting date for the starring role in Lord Jim.
On closing night he stayed up drinking until dawn and then raced out to the airport. Aching from 18 inoculations against tropical diseases, he caught the plane to Hong Kong, where the first location shooting was to take place. "The next bloody day," he says, "I'm in a blazing small boat, wearing a funny hat and paddling like a man possessed." In his six weeks there, O'Toole acquired an intense hatred for Hong Kong, which he called "Manchester with slanted eyes," and proceeded to make his displeasure known. Staying in a sedate hotel, O'Toole horrified the management by personally pulling a riksha and it's coolie driver into the elegant main lobby at 2 a.m. and buying the fellow a drink.
Then the company moved on to Cambodia. For all the anti-
Western ferment in the Southeast Asia country, producer-director Richard Brooks had managed to get permission to shoot location scenes in jungles and around the ancient temple ruins of Angkor Wat. To accommodate his large cast and crew, Brooks had to spend $600,000 to add a 47-room wing onto a little hotel near the location.
"That hotel!" rages O'Toole. "More expensive than Claridge's! Ten flaming quid a night [$28] and a poxy room at that. Nicest thing you could say about the food was that it was grotesque." Soon everyone was set upon by dysentery, giant stinging insects and prickly heat rash that made clothing unbearable. Then cam the snakes, which seemed to have a particular curiosity about show business. Walking down the middle of a jungle road, O'Toole came face to face with a huge black cobra.
"They say no snake can travel faster than a scared human," he recalls, "but I ain't so sure. The snake went like hell, but luckily away from me." Another cobra slithered onto the set and dropped to the floor of the makeshift ladies' rest room. As screeching pandemonium broke out, a grip rushed to the rescue, killing the snake and stretching it out to its awesome seven-foot length. Then, an almost identical cobra appeared, eluded its chasers and presumably lurked in the shadows through the night's jittery shooting. One feminine member of the crew discovered two snakes curled up inside the commode--but did not linger to figure out what kind they were. Of particular dread was a snake called the "two-step." "It bites you, you take two steps," explains O'Toole, "and then you die. One day there was a nasty cop around and he had one curled around his foot. Flaming lovely discretion shown by the snake. It didn't bite the guy, so justice isn't total."
Almost as annoying as the snakes were the Cambodian officials, many of whom seemed to think the movie company had come just for the privilege of paying bribes. One day Crown Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia's pro-Peking ruler, showed up. "He started yelling the usual anti-British crud," says O'Toole. "I walked up to him and said, 'I couldn't agree with you more. I'm Irish meself.'"
What bothered O'Toole the most were the shipboard scenes. He had warned the director, "I was in the Royal Navy two years and I was seasick every day we were at sea." Lord Jim went to sea for eight days and O'Toole was seasick every day. "He'd rush to the side of the ship and heave, then go before the camera as if nothing had happened," says Brooks. "In eight days he must have tried every known medical and nonmedical remedy. Nothing worked."
A mysterious Frenchman appeared on the location one day and darkly advised Brooks to get his company out of Cambodia by March 12. Unlike Caesar, who paid no heed to the soothsayer, Brooks for some reason believed the man. With O'Toole's concurrence, the work schedule was doubled and the daily shooting went on from noon until nearly dawn. The scheduled 12 weeks was thus cut to nine and the company left the country on March 3. One week later the U.S. and British embassies were attacked by mobs (O'Toole is convinced that some of the trouble-makers had worked in the film as extras.) Prince Sihanouk took to the national radio to denounce the movie company as "Western imperialist invaders."
"If I live to be a thousand," says O'Toole, "I want nothing like Cambodia again. It was a bloody nightmare. I really hated it there. How much so you can judge by the fact that after six months in the Orient I hadn't picked up a single work there, whereas after nine months in the desert on Lawrence I was speaking Arabic pretty well."
Friday, January 21, 2005
Leaving the brothel behind
BATTAMBANG, Cambodia — A year ago, a pimp handed me a quivering teenage girl. Her name was Srey Neth, and she was one of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who are enslaved by the sex trafficking industry worldwide.
Then I did something dreadfully unjournalistic: I bought her.
I purchased Srey Neth for $150 and another teenager, Srey Mom, for $203, receiving receipts from the brothel owners. As readers may remember, I then freed the girls and took them back to their villages.
Now I've come back to find out how they coped with freedom.
At first, it turns out, everything went well for Srey Neth. Our plan was for her to start a shop in her village, near Battambang. She invested $100 I had given her to build a shack and stock it with food and clothing. For a few months, business boomed.
The problem was her family. Srey Neth's parents and older brothers and sisters had a hard time understanding why they should go hungry when their sister had a store full of food. And her little nephews and nieces, running around the yard, helped themselves when she wasn't looking.
"Srey Neth got mad," her mother recalled. "She said we had to stay away, or everything would be gone. She said she had to have money to buy new things. "
But in a Cambodian village, nobody listens to an uneducated teenage girl. Indeed, the low status of girls is the underlying reason why so many daughters are sold to the brothels. So by May, Srey Neth's shop was empty, and she had no money to restock it.
"It was our fault," her father told me, looking ashamed. "It was not Srey Neth's fault."
Srey Neth worried about her father, who was coughing up blood from tuberculosis. She also worried about her older brother, who could not afford to get married, and about the family debts, which could cost her family its land.
It was that kind of concern for her family that had led her, at the suggestion of a female cousin, to sell herself to the brothel in late 2003 and send the proceeds home.
This time, she thought about looking for work as a dishwasher in neighboring Thailand for $1.50 a day. A trafficker said he could smuggle her into Thailand and get her a dishwashing job, but only if she promised him $100.
Some 700,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and that's often how they end up in the sex industry: They assume debts and then, when they cannot quickly repay the money, gangs force them into brothels — where they are stuck until they are dying of AIDS.
Fortunately, I'd arranged for American Assistance for Cambodia (www.cambodiaschools.com), an aid group, to keep track of Srey Neth. It offered her something less risky: a move to Phnom Penh to learn to be a beautician. So, with money sent to the group by New York Times readers a year ago, Srey Neth started in the beauty school.
That's where I met her again. She was beaming, and she proudly told how she has learned to give manicures and haircuts. She placed third in her class in applying makeup, and she's even studying English. She bubbles with happiness in the way a teenager should.
"I'm happy with Srey Neth," said the beauty school's owner, Sapor Rendall. "She studies hard."
Rendall added that there was only one problem with Srey Neth: "She doesn't want to do massage. I've talked to her about it many times, but she's very reluctant."
Massages are routine in beauty shops in Cambodia and are not sexual, but for Srey Neth, they scream danger. I'm delighted.
Srey Neth cut my hair — I was her first paying customer — and she is excitedly talking about starting her own beauty shop so she can support her family again. She says she'll call it Nick and Bernie's, after me and Bernard Krisher, the chairman of American Assistance for Cambodia.
Today Srey Neth steers clear of the boys trying to flirt with her — she's still deeply distrustful of boys and men — but she has learned to laugh again. She is a happy, giggly, self-confident reminder that we should never give up on the slaves of the 21st century. I couldn't be more proud of her.
That's the good news. In a later column, I'll tell you about Srey Mom.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The Associated Press
Published: Jan 19, 2005
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodia will repay $2.8 million that the World Bank said had been misappropriated from a demobilization project it financed, the government's finance minister said Wednesday.
The World Bank had warned Cambodia that it will freeze hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the impoverished nation if it did not repay the funds before Feb. 15.
In a letter sent to the Cambodian government earlier this month, the World Bank said $2.8 million of a $6.9 million contract between the government and China-based contractor Jiangmen Zhongyu Motor Group Co. Ltd. amounted to "misused funds."
The bank had also said Cambodia must complete overdue financial management and audit reports needed to close the project to fund the supply and maintenance of motorcycles for demobilized soldiers.
"The money has already been transferred to an account and it can be withdrawn at any time," Finance Minister Keat Chhon said Wednesday without elaborating.
Keat Chhon did not say if the government would seek reimbursement of that money from the contractor, and it was unclear who had profited from the alleged fraud.
Cambodia, which as one of the world's poorest countries relies heavily on foreign aid, was criticized at a recent international aid conference by donors for its failure to tackle rampant corruption.
Jemal-ud-din Kassum, the World Bank's vice president for East Asia and Pacific, had warned Prime Minister Hun Sen that if Cambodia failed to take urgent steps to repay the misused funds, the bank would "be obliged to suspend disbursements" for several projects it has funded.
At risk were more than a dozen active projects worth some $297 million in loans from the multilateral institution.
"It is regretful for me that such a problem has occurred. This was because there were loopholes in the implementation," Keat Chhon said. "We must work to build good governance, so others stop suspecting that corruption was committed."
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - The World Bank is threatening to freeze hundreds of
millions of dollars in aid to Cambodia unless it pays back money that a
contractor allegedly earned unlawfully from a bank project.
In two letters dated Jan. 11, the World Bank said US$2.7 million (2.1 million)
was fraudulently earned in a contract to procure 13,764 motorcycles for
soldiers being paid to leave the Cambodian military in a project financed by
The motorcycles cost US$6.9 million (5.3 million) in a procurement contract
that was awarded to China-based Jiangmen Zhongyu Motor Group Co. Ltd. The
letters also said the Cambodian government must complete overdue financial
management and audit reports that are needed to close the project.
"If urgent steps are not taken to resolve these issues, we will be obliged to
suspend disbursements on the whole of the World Bank's portfolio in Cambodia"
effective Feb. 15, Jemal-ud-din Kassum, the bank's vice president for East Asia
and Pacific, said in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he was unaware of the dispute and
declined comment, as did bank officials, who called the matter confidential.
The warning is an embarrassment for Cambodia's government, which depends
heavily on such aid and which was criticized at a recent international aid
conference by donors for its failure to tackle chronic corruption.
At risk are more than a dozen active projects worth some US$297 million (227
million) in loans from the multilateral institution, according to the World
Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries.
In a letter to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, Ian Porter, the World Bank's
Cambodia director based in Thailand, demanded that the government provide the
refund and audit reports to the World Bank "without further delay" or be barred
from further funds for those projects.
In November, the bank suspended the military demobilization project, which was
due to close Dec. 31, after finding fraud in the procurement process. At that
time, the World Bank also barred several foreign and Cambodian individuals and
firms, including the Jiangmen Zhongyu Motor Group, from bidding for future
contracts under its projects. The sanctions range from one to five years.
01/15/05 23:15 EST
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news
report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed
without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active
hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Fri Jan 14, 2005 07:51 AM ET
By Ek Madra
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - At least 20 garment factories in Cambodia have closed in the last four months, putting several thousand women out of work and possibly pushing them into prostitution, says the United Nations.
"The risk is that they would migrate to other countries as illegal and unskilled workers or that they would enter the sex industry," Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM, the U.N.'s women's agency, told a garment industry seminar.
Under a unique U.S. trade quota guaranteeing access to American markets, Cambodia's garment sector has grown rapidly over the last few years to employ around 265,000 workers, most of them young women from rural areas earning about $45 (24 pounds) a month.
However, the expiry of the U.S. deal on December 31, 2004 under global moves towards greater liberalisation of textile markets has cast a shadow over the future of an industry that forms the economic backbone of the war-scarred southeast Asian nation.
Unable to compete against giants such as China and India in terms of unit cost, Cambodia has tried to promote itself as a haven of worker rights, where the likes of Nike and Adidas can do business without the risk of child labour scandals.
However, labour minister Nhep Bunchin said at least 20 garment factories had closed since Cambodia joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in September, putting thousands out of work.
"We are very concerned that these women could pick up new jobs as sex workers. Even worse is that that could contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS," Nhep Bunchin said.
Some of the larger garment outfits were still looking to expand their operations, he said, although social problems are looming with police having to break up several demonstrations by laid-off workers demanding government help.
Cambodia has called on international donors, who provide more than half of all government income, to help to retrain the jobless in other lines of work, such as rubber planting or fixing televisions.
"We must protect and support women made redundant by factory closures, and ensure their access to alternative employment, training and skilled jobs within the government sector," said Heyzer, who is considering UNIFEM funding for such projects.
Clothes Will Cost Less, but Some Nations Pay
Consumers gain when textile quotas end and jobs move to China and India. Poor countries lose out.
By Tyler Marshall, Evelyn Iritani and Marla Dickerson
Times Staff Writers
January 16, 2005
As a poor nation struggling to compete in an increasingly globalized economy, Cambodia has little to offer factory owner Leon Hsu.
Electricity is erratic. Traffic along the road to the port of Sihanoukville includes the occasional elephant. If a truckload of men's shirts doesn't reach the port on time, it may be days before another vessel departs for Singapore, where goods are transferred to a larger ship for the voyage to the United States.
None of that much mattered over the years, because international quotas guaranteed Cambodia the chance to sell clothing and textiles to retailers in rich, developed nations. Designed to protect manufacturers in North America and Europe from foreign competition, the import quotas ended up working as a global version of Head Start, an affirmative action program for countries that had large, unskilled workforces and not much else.
The last provisions of the 30-year quota system disappeared at the beginning of the month, leaving Hsu few reasons to stay in Cambodia. Beckoning him are far more efficient venues — chief among them China — with modern factories, highways and ports, prolific workers and all the fabric, thread and buttons he could want.
Miss a shipping date out of southern China, and another vessel is leaving soon, often within 24 hours. And it's a direct shot to Los Angeles or Rotterdam, Netherlands.
"I'll be happy to go," Hsu said.
When he does, he won't be alone. The end of the quotas has triggered what trade experts believe could be one of the largest migrations of production in history, jeopardizing Cambodia's 220,000 apparel jobs. Hundreds of thousands more are threatened in Bangladesh, El Salvador, Lesotho and other countries that prospered under the quota system.
The massive manufacturing shift will be a windfall for billions of people, bringing huge savings to consumers and accelerating the transfer of jobs to engines of low-cost production in China and India. But it could cripple economies across Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Relative newcomers to the international commerce club risk losing their claim to an industry that lets them play in the big leagues. Millions of people whose jobs sewing knit shirts or jeans have meant schooling for their children or roofs over their heads could slide further into poverty.
In Africa, where manufacturers supply employees with condoms and healthcare, the battle against AIDS could be weakened. Illegal immigration from Latin America to North America may rise. Efforts to improve the economic position of women in predominantly Muslim countries are threatened.
The quota system "has been an extremely cost-effective method of bringing social and political stability to a very needy part of the world," said Peter Craig, a Washington-based trade commissioner for the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, which has lost 20,000 apparel jobs since 2003. When the full effects of its end are felt, "it'll be horrendous."
Already, the unleashing of free-market forces has begun to shake the foundation of a trading scheme that brought undreamed-of prosperity to millions and helped create the corporations that dominate international commerce. Now that the rules have changed, those corporations are likely to become even more powerful, and some of the poorest will see their short-lived gains slip away.
"Very few people understand, or they're just starting to understand, what this means," said Mark Levinson, a U.S. apparel union economist who estimates that as much as $40 billion of production will be transferred to China from the developing world. "It's going to be chaos in the global economy."
Advocates of free trade see it all very differently. They argue that the quotas' demise should be celebrated. In their view, governments no longer protected by quotas will be forced to get rid of the corruption and inefficiencies that, in fact, have held them back.
"This isn't punishment for those countries" that are losing factories and jobs, said Dean Spinanger, a senior researcher at the Kiel Institute for World Economics in Germany and an expert on the quota system. Instead, "it will make them aware that they have to shape up."
Supporters also point out that the full effect of the phaseout isn't likely to be felt immediately, because Washington has the right, under World Trade Organization rules, to reimpose restrictions on Beijing through 2008 if the United States is swamped with too many Chinese imports.
China has responded to the global angst. Last month, officials in Beijing said they were going to try to control their growth by imposing a small tax on apparel and textile exports and monitoring their factories' output.
For his part, David Spooner, the U.S. trade official in charge of textile policy, believes that the elimination of quotas will be far less disruptive than many predict. A small nation, he said, might be able to develop a niche market and flourish. In any event, he added, a lot of the anxiety is unnecessary, because not all the big buyers of cut-rate T-shirts and jeans will abandon their longtime suppliers and rush to China.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for one, says it isn't planning any dramatic moves. But of course Wal-Mart already is the leading U.S. importer of goods from China; it's expected to bring in $18 billion of goods this year. Spokesman William Wertz said the company expect to remain a major player in other countries such as Bangladesh, at least "until we see how things sort out."
The chief purchasing executive for J.C. Penney Co., Peter McGrath, said he couldn't imagine the giant retailer's supplier base falling below a dozen countries, in large part because it doesn't want to be too dependent on any one region.
On the other hand, J.C. Penney has in the last three years slimmed down its supply network from 5,000 manufacturing plants in 51 countries to about 1,800 in 23, which McGrath reckons will reduce import costs as much as 18%.
J.C. Penney's purchasing freedom had been curbed by a 1974 trade pact called the Multifiber Arrangement, or MFA. Its members — the United States, Canada and 13 countries in Europe — used quotas to regulate access to their clothing and textile markets.
The quota system was a bureaucratic headache. Every year, the United States and others in the MFA parceled out their quota allocations to various governments around the world, and those rights were distributed to companies that wanted to produce the goods covered by a particular quota. Manufacturing work was spread all over the world.
The MFA's network of quotas began to be phased out in 1995, and now buyers can shop wherever they like.
Oddly enough, many of the countries fretting about the consequences, such as Mexico and Egypt, were the very ones that pressured the WTO to do away with all the restrictions on trade in textiles and clothing.
Armed with huge pools of cheap labor, these countries figured they could grab even bigger shares of the North American and European markets if the J.C. Penneys of the world were not constrained.
What many failed to foresee was that the dynamics of global competitiveness would be turned upside-down with the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses.
Within their vast borders, the two countries — the most populous in the world — can offer the low wages of poor nations along with the efficiencies of modern economies. The advantages are perhaps most evident in the textile and apparel industry, which requires large pools of unskilled laborers but also depends on fast delivery and the ability to change production specs on a dime.
What's more, global trade has come to be dominated by huge multinationals such as Wal-Mart or Carrefour of France that can make or break entire economies with their orders.
Wal-Mart, for example, buys as much as one-third of the clothes made in Bangladesh, a major producer of men's dress shirts and khaki pants. In Cambodia, making clothes for Gap Inc. and other leading U.S. and European retailers accounted for one-third of gross national product in 2003.
Big retailers have always been able to leverage their huge orders into lower prices for raw materials, production and shipping. But now that they aren't bound by import quotas, it's far easier to funnel orders to the factories that produce the most, the fastest and the cheapest.
Yves Robert Lamusse, director of Palmar International Ltd., a struggling apparel factory in Mauritius, said it was impossible for a remote island nation to compete now that a "dictatorship of retailers" was pushing prices lower and lower.
"My generation, I don't know what war is," said the fifth- generation Mauritian, who recently invested in two factories in Mozambique because labor costs there are 15% lower than in his native land. "My kid's generation, they don't know what war is. But we are in a war."
The case of Cambodia illustrates how hard it can be to compete for clothing contracts against the likes of China, where the apparel and textile industry employs at least 15 million people and entire towns are devoted to the production of socks or neckties.
During the murderous reign of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in the late 1970s, Cambodia lost its business and intellectual elite, along with a generation of potential managers and entrepreneurs, when more than 1 million people were slaughtered.
Foreign investors have been reluctant to put money into a country plagued by political unrest and illiteracy. The cash-strapped government can't afford to build new highways, upgrade the energy grid or modernize the Sihanoukville port, where inspectors tracking container traffic use pens and stacks of paper layered with carbon paper in a flashback to pre-photocopier, let alone pre-computer, days.
Cambodia certainly doesn't boast the multilane freeways and high-speed telecommunications lines prevalent in the exporting zones of China. That infrastructure was paid for, in part, by the $52 billion in direct foreign investment China received in 2003 — compared with Cambodia's $251 million.
But for a few decades, the textile and apparel quotas let Cambodia be a contender.
Hsu, a native of Hong Kong, moved to Phnom Penh in the early 1980s and opened four factories. He counted among his customers J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart.
Because they were forced to order clothing from factories in more countries than they would have liked, Cambodia benefited. Another boon was a U.S. initiative that linked expanded import quotas to improved labor rights.
Then came the phaseout. At the end of 2002, quotas on nightgowns and baby clothes expired. J.C. Penney, which had bought $600,000 of baby clothes from Hsu's Cambodian factories in 2001, cut its order by two-thirds the next year and to zero in 2003.
Wal-Mart, a buyer of women's nightgowns, told Hsu in 2003 that it wouldn't order from him unless he could lower his price to $5.95 a gown from $6.20. Hsu said he couldn't afford to say yes.
"I lost 20% of my business right there," he said. "It's all gone to China."
Wertz, the Wal-Mart official, said he couldn't confirm the details of that transaction. But he said Wal-Mart was still buying nightgowns and other apparel from Hsu's Cambodian factories.
J.C. Penney spokesman Tim Lyons said his buyers couldn't find any record of business dealings with Hsu's factories in Cambodia.
Although Hsu sees all the business heading to China, there are other nations benefiting from the quota elimination. New business is going to India and Pakistan, for instance, because of their homegrown cotton supply and reputations for high-quality linens.
China, though, is drawing the bulk of the post-quota work.
Although retailers claim that they won't risk placing all their eggs in one basket, experts figure that China could capture at least half of all apparel production — and a far greater share of the U.S. market — within a few years. India could take much of the rest of the $681-billion global apparel market.
That could create a dangerous divide within the developing world, if China and India are seen as flourishing at the expense of their neighbors, said Auret van Heerden, president of the Fair Labor Assn., a coalition of leading retailers, nongovernmental organizations and activists interested in improving working conditions.
"You could end up with hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who start to question the basis of this new global economy," he said. And because the United States was a leading architect of the new trading system, "it would be naive not to anticipate a rise of anti-Americanism."
For the United States, the quota system was a useful foreign policy tool. The quota system gave Washington some leeway in divvying up its market every year, and the government used that — along with tariff rates — to bolster poor countries or reward those that were geographically or politically strategic.
By opening the doors wider for Lesotho in 2000, for instance, the United States sent the apparel industry in that African nation into overdrive. Since then, exports of clothing to U.S. buyers such as Gap, Wal-Mart and K-Mart have more than tripled to $400 million from $120 million.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration had done the same for countries in Central America and the Caribbean, which today supply two-thirds of the imported cotton undershirts, briefs, boxers and panties that Americans put on each day and 80% of the foreign-made cotton T-shirts cluttering U.S. closets.
But for its part, the Bush administration isn't fretting over the policy implications of the end of quotas. The White House, and other supporters of the phaseout, contend that the system simply exacted too high a price to be maintained, propping up uncompetitive producers.
What's more, it cost Americans $50 billion to $60 billion annually — an average of $500 per household — in higher clothing prices, according to the International Trade Commission. Part of the higher costs came from fees associated with the quota system.
"Quota charges are essentially a tax paid by American consumers on imported goods," said Skip Kotkins, president of Skyway Luggage Co. in Seattle, who moved all of his production in Thailand to a giant new factory complex in southern China when quotas were removed from luggage in 2002. Kotkins said his costs had been trimmed by as much as 20%.
The costs to the countries that are losing clothing and textile contracts have only begun to be counted. Many trade specialists see the post-quota era as every bit as potentially destructive as the unrestrained capitalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that spawned sweatshop conditions and price-fixing monopolies.
Already, gains in wage levels and working conditions are starting to unravel. In Lesotho, the government has agreed to give apparel and textile factory owners an exemption from paying a mandatory cost-of-living increase. Business leaders in El Salvador want to reduce the nation's $5.04-a-day maquiladora minimum wage in rural areas to stay competitive with China and its lower-cost neighbors in Central America.
Halfway around the world in the Philippines, a panel of business and government officials has proposed exempting garment makers from paying the minimum daily wage, which ranges from about $3.75 to $5.
It's clear to Rustam Aksam who the losers will be. "No job security, no income security," said the Indonesian labor leader, who figures his country could lose as many as 500,000 jobs.
Critics of the phaseout want world leaders to act now to ensure that the weakest countries — many of which are fragile democracies — are given the chance to reap the rewards of global trade, just as the United States acted to protect consumers in the late 1800s by passing antitrust laws to deal with the robber barons.
"Americans have short memories," said Stephen Lande, president of Manchester Trade Ltd., a Washington trade consulting firm. "To just sit idly by and let these countries take an economic shot and not do anything about it makes no sense."
Carving out space for the underdog is more complicated than it was a century ago, when Washington's major worry was that consumers would be gouged by the monopolists. Today, prices are still viewed as part of the problem — though not in the same way.
In an unregulated global market, the drive to shave costs places excessive pressure on employers to keep wages low and to jettison costly benefits, said Gary Gereffi, a Duke University sociologist who is an expert in global production systems.
"We need to find creative ways to reestablish the floor below which things aren't allowed to sink," he said.
The problem: There are no international organizations with the responsibility or power to regulate manufacturing practices or labor conditions, let alone the world's new concentrations of industrial and buying power.
The Geneva-based WTO is in charge of trade policy but has shied away from tackling contentious issues such as labor standards or environmental exploitation. The International Labor Organization, a United Nations body, has focused its limited resources on ridding the world of the most egregious abuses, such as child exploitation and prison labor, but lacks the teeth to have much effect.
"The world is sort of where it was at the end of the 19th century, when there were robber barons and ruthless competition and consolidation and then the pendulum swung back at the national level and governments stepped in to regulate capital," said Richard Appelbaum, a professor of international studies at UC Santa Barbara. "Businesses are multinational today. What is the framework for regulating businesses globally?"
There is no shortage of ideas. Some activists have pushed for the establishment of a global living wage that would vary from country to country but would guarantee workers a subsistence salary. Labor advocates also support the establishment of global standards for workplace safety, environmental protections and worker rights.
Others would like to see the WTO or another body enact regulations to prevent large countries or companies from dominating crucial industrial sectors or key markets within the global economy.
But in addition to opposition from the business community, resistance also comes from the nations that stand to benefit. Although governments recognize the threat to their economies and workers, they are loath to give up their ability to control labor rates, working conditions or competitive practices.
Poor countries, whose workers are the most vulnerable to exploitation, have fought efforts to include tougher labor and environmental standards in trade agreements for fear they would be used by wealthier countries as protectionist shields.
In any case, clothing factories are increasingly in the control of Asian conglomerates that operate with fewer restrictions on operations at home and abroad than their U.S. counterparts.
Multilateral agencies have begun stepping in to help. The World Bank is providing technical assistance and aid for the modernization of ports and highways in countries trying to boost exports, and the International Monetary Fund is helping governments that suffer a budgetary shortfall because of a sharp shift in trade patterns.
The Bush administration is taking steps to shore up vulnerable economies in Central America and the Middle East with trade pacts that provide expanded access for apparel. The United States also faces pressure to follow Europe's lead and remove tariffs on goods from struggling Muslim economies and low-income Asian countries such as Cambodia and Nepal that face tariffs as high as 32% on certain items.
In Cambodia, with U.S. support, the government is working with the International Labor Organization on a program to improve working conditions in apparel factories.
The hope is that big name brands will stay put and pay a little extra to support fair labor standards and reduce the possibility of becoming ensnared in a sweatshop scandal. That effort has won the backing of socially conscious U.S. retailers such as Gap.
If that fails, as many experts predict, the outcome for Cambodia and others in the developing world could be bleak.
"There is nothing else for these people," said Robin Rosenberg, a Latin American trade expert at the University of Miami. "You take away the garment industry, and it's going to be a natural disaster like Hurricane Mitch."
Marshall reported from Asia, Iritani from Africa and Dickerson from Latin America.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
From Michelle Malkin:
Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is to donate $10 million (5.3 million pounds to help the victims of the South Asian tsunami, his manager Willi Weber says.Wow.
so unfathomable and horrible what happened to so many people,"
Schumacher, who turned 36 on Monday, said in comments on his website.
"One cannot simply blind it out. We're suffering with them."
bodyguard for seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was
among those killed in the tsunami disaster. Burkhard Cramer died in
Phuket, Thailand, Schumacher spokeswoman Sabine Kehm said Wednesday.
Cramer's two sons also are believed to have died.
Please, everyone view this at Wizbang and if you recognize the two women in the photograph or have any information, please pass it on.
United States ups Tsunami/Earthquake aid to $350,000,000.
Please consider donating to the American Red Cross through Amazon.com.
Go here to get torrents of the videos.
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 5 (11.5 MB) of a Tsunami hitting Phuket Beach, Thailand (Dagbladet.no / English translation) Hat tip: Wes Roth
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 5 (421 KB) on what a tsunami actually is. (KFTY)
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 (3.4 MB) Wow. (KATC)
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 5 (1.6 MB) from Thailand
Video Mirrors: 2 3 (783 KB) from Penang, Malaysia
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 5 (7.6 MB) from Sri Lanka.
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 5 6 (10 MB) from Patong Beach, Thailand. English translation of the audio.
11:20pm est (thanks Wizbang):
Video from a Surveillance Camera (CCTV) of a tsunami hitting a Thai tourist Beach
Video from Phuket Island
11:47pm est 12/29/2004
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4
(1.4 MB) Low quality, but scary... from Tafmil nadu India, the voice/s
in the video is speaking Malayalam, in which he says a 'house has just
gone under', a language spoken by people from Kerala India
12:04am est 12/30/2004
Video Mirrors: 2 (6.2 MB) "The most amazing tsunami video I've seen" -Wizbang)
3:00am est 12/30/2004
Video Mirrors: 2 3 4 (6.2 MB) Amazing video, maybe the best of the bunch at giving you the impact of the wave.
NEW 3:00pm 12/31/2004:
1 2 3 4 (1.3 MB) From Kenya, fishing boats being tossed around like toys in the water.
1 2 3 (2.6 MB) From an unknown location, filmed by a British tourist.
International aid organizations:
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
United Nations' World Food Programme
Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors without Borders (donate!)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Disasters Emergency Comittee (DEC) - comprises a raft of aid agencies, including the below and others
British Red Cross
Save the Children UK
American Red Cross
Canadian Red Cross
Save The Children