Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Does the Economy Really Work?

A short summary. Read the full article here

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Managers: Why do we have them?

I've yet to read an article by Kevin Carson that I haven't found stimulating and insightful.

This one on the historical origins of the idea of management - in business and politics - is no exception.

"The first corporation managers came from an industrial engineering background and saw their job as doing for the entire organization what they’d previously done for production on the shop floor."


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Friday, October 11, 2013

Halloween: How did it Start?

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Levellers as Left Libertarians

High Speed Rail
High Speed Rail (Photo credit: loudtiger)

Apart from being an interesting historical essay about the common political goals of two groups active during the English Civil War - the Levellers and the Diggers - the above article also has a number of practical applications for the contemporary economic and political context.

Although the author Julio Rodman writes primarily for an American audience, the practical policy areas addressed are relevant to many developed western economies in which state regulation is widespread, and disproportionately beneficial to large corporations rather than small business owners. Three areas are mentioned that, if reformed, could contribute to a significant re-balancing of the economic playing field in pursuit of the author's stated aim of a Jeffersonian model of a republic of property-owning citizens: 

1. National transport infrastructure

The subsidising of the costs of national rail, road and communications infrastructure, it is argued, disproportionately benefits large national and global corporations at the expense of small landowners, farmers and business owners. Kevin Carson has made a similar arguement with more in-depth economic analysis of the cost benefits to various parties of the state subsidy of national railways in C19 America.

Comparisons with the UK government's goal of building a High Speed Rail Line between London and certain northern cities is inevitable. If Carson and Rodman are correct, the HS2 proposal - with a price tag of around £50 billion - will effectively transfer wealth from tax payers (many of whom are non-asset holders) to large corporations such as the engineering and rail companies who will build and run the network.    

2. Professional Licensing

The ever-growing  tendency to seek state-backed licensing of various sectors of business professionals (the author cites the extreme examples of florists and fortune tellers!) is a further barrier to individuals entering profitable trades and businesses, according to the article.

Earning a living as I do in one of the last license-free areas of professional activity, I note with some alarm the voices being raised in favour of state-sponsored registering of private educators and tutors. Although voluntary professional bodies are to be welcomed as a means of ensuring high ethical and professional standards, and although appropriate criminal background checks are an essential part of safeguarding children,  I agree with the above article that the state's involvement in further licensing represents a barrier to small business owners. 

3. Restrictions on street vending

An economic mainstay in many countries, the restrictions on selling goods on the public highway is a further barrier to individuals getting started in business. Although such prohibitions are often cited as being in the interests of consumers, protecting them from unethical traders, Rodman in my view correctly analyses the actual reasons for such trading restrictions: 

"This is largely at the urging of immobile business owners who sell the same or substitutable goods and thus have an interest in eliminating competition, and at the pressure of various powerful economic actors seeking to maintain a bourgeois aesthetic in the urban environment surrounding their place of operation which is incompatible with the street vending ambiance."

Street vending provides, potentially, a great economic opportunity for those without assets to get a foot on the ladder of owning their own businesses and becoming economically self-sufficient. The restriction of the practice is to the disadvantage of such groups within society.

Rodman's article highlights areas that do not often receive attention in macro-economic discussions, but which, if implemented, have the potential to empower groups of individuals to become asset-owners through self-employment. The economic and social benefits of such a model are considerable, in my opinion.   


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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Enduring World of Dr. Schultz: James Baldwin, Django Unchained, and the Crisis of Whiteness : The Other Journal

The Enduring World of Dr. Schultz: James Baldwin, Django Unchained, and the Crisis of Whiteness : The Other Journal

I wish I could write like this!

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Syria and Europe: Lessons from the Nineteenth Century

Arab Spring [LP]
Arab Spring [LP] (Photo credit: Painted Tapes)

Popular demonstrations are taking place across the region's capital cities.

Rioters are demanding political reform, greater freedoms and the removal of the old dictators.

An economic crisis has been a catalyst for a wave of popular uprisings across the continent by the growing educated middle classes.

Liberal reform is everywhere, opposed by entrenched political elites.

Should foreign troops be deployed in support of the protesters?

No - Europe in the early decdes of the nineteenth century.

Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the subsequent Congress of Vienna, liberal and republican movements took to the streets in cities as diverse as Manchester (1819), Lisbon (1820), Paris and Brussels (both 1830), and Rome (1831). The protests were often violent, resulting in many deaths. In some countries, elements of the armed forces joined with the rebels.

Protests were often put down, not only by national governments and their armies, but also through intervention by allied powers - Austrian forces into northern Italy, British troops to Portugal and French soldiers into neighbouring Spain. Elites defended one another against the growing tide of liberal and republican sentiment.

Comparisons with the Arab Spring and its related uprisings are especially relevant in examining the experience of Greece during this age of revolution. A revolution broke out in 1821, aimed at freeing Greece from the rule of the Ottoman Empire and establishing a liberal constitution for the country. This aim was only partly realised when the Ottomans received military support from the Egyptian viceroy Muhammed Ali, whose troops seized a large part of the Greek mainland by 1826.  Only the southern part of the country remained free enough to sustain its independence from Ottoman rule. 

Fast forward two centuries, and the comparisons with events in the Middle East and North Africa are striking.





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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Carbon Reduction Realities

Greater China. Note the oval Tarim Basin, the ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"The carbon cuts we have made so far... have been achieved by means of a simple device: allowing other countries, principally China, to run polluting industries on our behalf."

George Monbiot

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Monday, March 04, 2013

Clash of Values

Joe Strummer
Joe Strummer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Driving round today, I saw a white van covered in a logo and advert that made me laugh:

The Rock Project:
School of Rock and Pop
(Franchises Available Nationwide)

It reminded me of some lyrics by Joe Strummer from back in the day:

The new groups are not concerned

With what there is to be learned.

They've got Burton suits,

They think it's funny,

Turning rebellion into money.

(From White Man in Hammersmith Palais by the Clash. Go on, have a listen. You know you want to.)  

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

UK Aid: View from the street

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech: a British Perspective

Official photographic portrait of US President...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is interesting reading President Obama's speech delivered at his second inauguration today.

Despite being a dual-national Anglo-American myself, despite having studied American Studies for four years at university, and despite having lived there and visited on numerous occasions, this set piece occasion reminds me of how very different America is to Britain, culturally and politically.

I mentioned to friends at dinner this week, who have never been to the United States, that one of the surprises British people often have when they travel there is that they experience unexpected culture shock. Many British people assume America will simply be a bigger, brasher version of the UK. They are often thrown by the profound differences in outlook and mindset that lie beneath the near-common language.

Some of the differences that leap out at me from the President's speech today include:

  • his reference to God. British politicians tend not to "do God", or if they do, they are a bit diffident about his involvement in the life of the nation. Rightly or wrongly, Americans by contrast assert that their political system exists to ensure certain "unalienable rights" that are endowed upon them by their Creator. I can't quite see Nick Clegg embracing such a doctrine any time soon. 
  • his reference to America's creed. It is quite logical, of course, that a political system based on divinely-endowed rights should be expressed by its chief executive as being a "creed" - a term normally reserved for a formal religious statement of doctrinal belief (from the Latin credo - I believe.)   
  • The phrase "we the people" which Presdient Obama uses five times in his speech, is one I cannot remember ever hearing from a British politician. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the name of the Irish political party, Sinn Fein - "we ourselves." Used in that way (British socialists used to use the term "comrades" in a somewhat similar way), it speaks of a class or cultural identity in distinction from that of the rulers. Obama, like many American millionaire politicians, uses the term without irony, in the sure belief that his hearers will assume he is "one of them." The real irony is that America may be more unequal a society than Britain, but it is the latter that is far more class bound.
  • The mythologising of geography. Places have symbolic, historical and cultural significance in American political rhetoric in a way not found in Britain. Seneca Falls (location of the nineteenth century declaration of women's rights), Selma (location of the early black civil rights marches in 1965 under Martin Luther King) and Stonewall (the gay bar in New York City, scene of a riot in 1969) were all cited by the President, and understood by his listeners. Interestingly, Obama used this device in his previous inaugural speech in 2009, citing Concord (War of Independence), Gettysburg (Civil War), Normandy (World War Two) and Khe Sanh (Vietnam)  as examples of American military heroism. Apart from Churchill's promise that "we will fight the on the beaches", it is difficult to imagine a modern British politician talking of British geographical places in quite the same way.  Bannockburn, Brixton and Belfast are all places resonant with division rather than national unity in the British political psyche. 



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Friday, January 18, 2013

Snow: a Biblical Perspective

Those of us who do not live in the middle east may be surprised by the frequent biblical references to the white powdery stuff most associated with cold northern climates. We do not tend to automatically associate snow with hot, desert environments.

Such a perspective, of course, lacks an appreciation of the influence of the mountain ranges in and around Palestine, as well as the temperature fluctuations throughout the year.

An early incidence of a biblical snow story involves Benaiah, one of King David's mighty men. Snow days were presumably as rare in Judah as they are now in southern England, resulting in people taking days off work to engage in other recreational pursuits. In the case of Benaiah, to whom Facebook was not available, we are told that he
"went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion"

This made a change from the warrior's more usual pursuits of striking down Moab's two mightiest warriors or dispatching a "huge Egyptian" by attacking him with a club and spear.

Four of the references to snow in the Hebrew Bible occur in the book of Job, where the term symbolises the unreliability of people (6:15), the temporary nature of human life (24:18), the power of God to command the weather (37:6) and the inappropriateness of mankind in challenging the justice or sovereignty of God (38:21):

Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!
 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail, 
  which I reserve for times of trouble?"

These twin uses of the word continue through the wisdom literature and the prophetic books. Snow is referred to both symbolically and literally. Symbolically, it represents the thoroughness of the cleansing from sin sought by David as he confesses to God his sins of adultery and murder (Psalm 51:7). This same image is mirrored in God's promise through Isaiah that though the sins of Israel are "like scarlet", they shall through repentance and forgiveness be made "like snow." (1:18).

A reliable messenger is like a "snow-cooled drink in harvest time", refreshing the spirit of the one who sent him (Proverbs 25:13). The incongruity of snow at harvest is used differently elsewhere in the Book of Proverbs to illustrate the inappropriateness of giving honour to a fool (26:1)

Snow is often cited as revealing the majesty and power of God in his creation. 

"He spreads the snow like wool, and scatters the frost like ashes" (Psalm 147:16)

It is but one of the elements of the weather ruled by Almighty God:

"lightening and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding." (148:8)

The moisturising effect of snow is compared with the effect of God's word by Isaiah; both of them accomplish the purpose for which they were sent forth (55:9).

As the Hebrew Bible concludes, snow is employed as a metaphor for the indescribable glory of God himself, a theme which is picked up by Christian writers centuries later. Although, like his predecessor Benaiah, the prophet Daniel also encountered a lion in a pit, in the latter case it did not take place on a snowy day. Babylon may or may not have experienced snow during Daniel's exile there, or he may have had a childhood memory of snow-capped peaks from Judah. Whatever the visual association, the prophet's vision of God is extraordinary by any measure. Daniel describes the Ancient of Days in his heavenly glory as seated on a flaming throne and wearing clothing "as white as snow." (7:9)

Matthew the gospel writer uses similar imagery when recounting the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ, an experience witnessed first hand by two of his female disciples. On arriving at the tomb where Jesus had been buried on the previous Friday, the two Marys witnessed:
"a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow." (28:3)

Continuing the motif of snow representing the transcendent glory of God in heaven, the final book of the Bible sees the combined use of both fire and snow to attempt to convey an idea of what the glory of God looked and felt like to John as he was captured up in his remarkable vision. When reading this highly symbolic language, I am reminded of the words of Bruce Milne when he said that, in attempting to describe the divine essence, "human language is inevitably placed under considerable strain."

Let's leave John with the final words on this snowy day, focused on the Son of God:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp stands, and among the lamp stands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-14)

Photo credit thisreidwrites 

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Saturday, January 05, 2013

Documents in Burned Out Bangldesh Garment Facory Reveal History of Wal-Mart Inaction on Fire Safety

Click the above link for details of the documents found at the site of the recent Bangladesh factory fire which reveal Wal-Mart's role in poor fire safety

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

New York City Highlights Problems with Politicised Policing

English: NYPD Dodge Charger #2909 in midtown M...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A secretly-recorded audio file of New York City Police carrying out a stop-and-frisk on a seventeen-year-old illustrates the problem with NYPD's controversial policy. Among the frequent swearing by the police officers, the recording includes numerous threats by the police to physically assault the youth, who was not arrested and had not committed a crime.

A recent video based on the incident reveals that the policy of stopping and searching suspicious-looking individuals is the result of orders from New York's elected mayor. Serving and retired police officers reveal (anonymously in some cases) the pressure they are routinely put under by their superiors to complete such stops, regardless of whether such actions are warranted by any objective suspicion of crime. In the process, the rights of individuals to be unmolested by the agents of the state are routinely ignored. The policy also involves racial profiling and fulfilling quotas, both of which are outlawed under New York state law. 

These infringements are the result of political orders from an elected official, pandering to the perceived expectations of a vocal section of the electorate. The problem is that the policy is applied disproportionately to those who do not have or do not know how to use their political voice.

This perversion of public service is an unintended consequence of elected officials running the police service. This development has been enshrined in British law this year with the creation of elected police commissioners. Paradoxically, democratic norms are sometimes better upheld with high calibre unelected officials running the police service.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Julian Assange Christmas Address from the Balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is the West Moving Closer to Military Intervention in Syria?

Colonel Riyad al-Asad and others announcing th...
FSA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As noted on this blog at the beginning of October, the autumn skirmishes on the Turkish-Syrian boarder may be providing an excuse for greater NATO involvement in the Syrian civil war, with Turkey acting as a key base of operations.

This exclusive from the Independent today claims that western military leaders are already meeting, along with their counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE, to formulate an air and sea-based campaign in support of the Syrian rebels.

The paper quotes a senior Whitehall source as saying,

"If this is worth doing, then it is worth doing professionally; training the FSA [Free Syrian Army] and providing them with air and maritime support when necessary."

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this development is its shameless repetition of history as Western powers claim to be able to intervene on the side of the moderates, while excluding the jihadists such as the Islamist Al-Nursa group:

"The Obama administration is considering  proscribing Al-Nusra as a terrorist organisation, making it illegal for American citizens to fund it and sending a warning message to Arab states not to back it. At the same time Western help will be directed at and strengthen the moderate groups. The unified rebel command structure set up in Turkey, at the behest of the US and UK, has excluded the Islamist militias."

Those with a long memory may remember such platitudes being made in the early 1980s when western powers armed and supported the Afghan rebels in their fight against the occupying Soviet forces. In the process, the CIA not only recruited but helped to create the Taliban and, indirectly, al-Qaeda.


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Friday, December 07, 2012

Britain's political class clings to the delusion that growth will return

Suzanne Moore brilliantly nails the myth of economic growth. She also does so in a far more articulate way than I could have done. 

Which is why I'm going to quote her directly and extensively:

Firstly, Moore decries,

"that bubble of hope where resources are not finite, recession not global and the elixir of growth will be found at the end of the rainbow. Fool's gold indeed."

The politics that expresses this fool's hope is, 

"fantasy politics of the highest order and the fantasy is maintained by those sheltered from the effects of these divisive policies."

It rests upon a disconnect between the government and the governed:

"Which politician will stand up and tell the truth? This may be as good as it gets. For some, it certainly is. If you are middle-aged, in work and own property, it isn't bad. If you are young, unemployed, want a place of your own, and have young kids, you will know what austerity means. The veil between these worlds should by now be in tatters; instead it is wrapped as tight as a blindfold. Posh restaurants are full, house prices are huge, CEOs are still on massive salaries. It is possible to move in such circles and see deprivation only through a car windscreen."

The alternative political reality is both challenging and unpalatable:

"But then a politics that faced the end of growth would have to take on mass delusion. It would talk about how we are to live with depleted resources. It might, as many have argued, involve a move back from global to local production to increase jobs. It might mean work being more evenly spread out between age groups, and it would deal with inequality because the costs of it are too high. Economic downsizing always sounds hippyish. We may have to buy less and make more. We may have to factor in care of the old, the ill, the young, as part of the economy and not continue to see it as undermining it. The alternative, though, and this is still where we are at, is to be mired in nostalgia for the world of the maxed-out credit card."

The political opposition in Parliament is implicated in the same delusional meta-narrative:

"If Labour cannot say "growth" is over, we have no effective challenge to the fallacy that it can go on for ever. Policy is what is stalled. To say austerity is the status quo would be seen as drowning not waving."

The reality, in conclusion, is that:

"The future has arrived already."

(Although politics has not caught up with it yet, in my opinion.)

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Friday, November 30, 2012

My Ten Favourite Blogs

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend recently asked me a question that I had never been asked and which I found more difficult to answer than I assumed I would. The question arose because I had been tidying up my RSS feeds - a task I tend to do two or three times a year as web sites change and content creators stop producing. My changing and developing interests also make this exercise necessary from time to time.

The question asked was, "If you had to recommend one blog what would it be?"

I currently subscribe to 162 web sites via RSS, most of which are either blogs or contain a blog as part of their wider content. I use Google Reader to sync these feeds through the brilliant Feedly application on Mozilla Firefox. Feedly turns RSS feeds into a magazine format, which enhances the reading experience ten times. 

So, of these 162 blogs that I read regularly, which would I recommend?

I realise that there is a difference between my favourites, and my recommendations. The former category says something about me; the latter focuses more on my understanding of the person to whom I am making a recommendation. 

Some general factors that I take into account when subscribing to a blog feed (via RSS or any other method) are:

  • I have to find the content interesting, instructive, stimulating or entertaining
  • I have to find the content well-written - not full of grammatical errors, slang or cliches
  • I tend not to follow sites with a lot of video content - my default preference is for the written word rather than the visual image
  • I want to be informed by someone who is knows their field well
  • I want to be exposed to ideas that may challenge my existing assumptions and beliefs because I find this helps me to think through more carefully what I actually believe 
  • I prefer a blog that allows comments and interaction

So, taking all the above into consideration, what are my top ten blog RSS feeds that I currently follow, which meet all or most of the above criteria?
In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Ed Stetzer - The Lifeway Research Blog. I appreciate Ed's broad view of the (American) Christian scene and his attempt to fuse sociological research with applied evangelical theology at both a church and national level. 
  2. Stephen M Walt is Professor of International Relations at Harvard University and blogs on the site Foreign Policy. His stance as "a realist in an ideological age" enables him to ask rational questions that rarely make it into the mainstream political discourse. An example would be his arguement that Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon would not necessarily be all bad.
  3. Cole-Slaw is not a brilliantly-produced blog (with various fonts used throughout and little evidence of much attention to visual design.) All this should be overlooked, however, as the content is very much a "now word" on the nature of church leadership and church planting. I believe that Neil Cole's experience of a new paradigm of releasing church planting movements in western urban settings warrants serious consideration.
  4. Christian Medical Comment by Dr Peter Saunders is my first port of call for content on medical ethics, as well as other topics from time to time. Always well-researched and well-presented, Dr Saunders takes into account the human as well as the abstract ethical considerations of the positions put forth. A good bedside manner. 
  5. I don't read Elizabeth Esther's blog very often, but when I do I am struck by two realities.  Firstly, the courage and honesty of a woman trying to regain her life and her faith after growing up in an oppressive church setting. Secondly, a sober reminder of the fruit of a gospel that is not centred upon the grace of God in Christ. Not always a jolly read, the blog is gutsy, personal, well-written and not without hope. It should feature on all courses in pastoral theology, in my opinion.  
  6. The New Economics Foundation offers "economics as if people and the planet mattered." In the early twentieth century, economics began to be separated in western universities from ethics, and seen as primarily a matter of numbers and graphs. NEF tries to put the two strands back together.
  7. I often find myself disagreeing with things written by John H Armstrong. What attracts me to his blog, however, is his attempt to find a genuinely ecumenical approach to Christian mission. His paleo-Orthodox position forces me to look beyond post-Reformation constructs of evangelicalism and ask important questions about the nature of the church and what it means to be a Christian believer.
  8. Orion Magazine is one of the most beautifully-written sites I know. Its longer-than-average articles have a strong emphasis on nature and environmental themes, but without merely repeating slogans from others working in these fields.
  9. Earliest Christianity explores the latest research and thinking on the history of the Church in its first three centuries. Not always an easy read, the blog is academic in its tone, but provides a window into the important stage of transition between what are often referred to as the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages.
  10. What You Think Matters is the applied theology blog of a number of mostly younger writers and church leaders from the New Frontiers family of churches.  The combination of Reformed theology and charismatic church life is a potent one, in my experience, and the blog has an increasing breadth of topics covered.

So, in answer to the question, "If you had to recommend one blog what would it be?" - my answer would be, "One of the above."

At least, that's the case at the end of 2012. Maybe I should make this a question I should answer annually 

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Dhaka Fire, Designer Clothes and Workers Rights

Yesterday's lethal fire in a clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, highlights the culture of death inherent in the outsourcing of labour in the age of globalisation.

The fire caused the deaths of over one hundred workers at the Tazreen Fashion factory in the Ashulia district on the outskirts of the capital. The details of the incident make harrowing reading:

  • an electrical short circuit may have caused the disaster
  • all three building exits were on the ground floor - where the fire broke out
  • many victims were trapped inside the burning building and bodies were found on different floors of the factory
  • some people died after jumping from the building to escape the flames
  • the factory had no fire exits on the outside of the building
  • the nine-storey factory is located down a narrow lane which made access difficult for the fire services 
  • the district is home to hundreds of similar clothes factories, mostly supplying clothes to western markets
Although the exact final destination of the clothes made in this particular factory at the time are currently unknown, records show that the company Tazreen Fashion exports over 90% of its products to the western, north American and middle eastern markets. Clients include Lord Daniel Sportswear in Florida, who sell to JC Penney, Kohls and Sears via the brands Palmland, Cotton Traders, La Moda, and Courtside Classics. Lord Daniel also own the Fairway Golf & Resort and Astra labels in the United States.

Tazreen Fashion also has very close relations and supplies products to other leading clothing exporters in Bangladesh, including NASSA Group, Palmal Group and Givensy, who in turn supply such western outlets as Levi's, Buffalo, and Wal-Mart in North America, and C & A and H & M in Europe.
The outsourcing of cheap labour to Asian factories, many with poor safety records, is an integral aspect of the process of economic globalisation. There are approximately 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, employing more than two million people. Clothing production accounts for up to 80% of Bangladesh's £15bn ($24 bn) annual exports. Attempts at organised boycotts of such companies by western activists protesting poor working conditions have often resulted in job losses and increased suffering for such workers. At the same time, voluntary codes of conduct within the western retail and clothing sector have proved ineffective and are easily avoidable on the ground.

Earlier this month, Bangladeshi civil rights campaigner Khorshed Alam wrote an open letter to Bob Geldof ahead of his meeting with UK Development Secretary Justine Greening. The UK government is increasingly seeking to carry out its overseas development aims through partnerships with the private sector. Describing this move as "a mistake", Alam informs Geldof that: 

"UK aid money is being used to set up ‘special economic zones’ in Bangladesh. In zones that already exist, multinational companies pay workers less than £1 a day, trade unions are not allowed to function properly, and police crush protests with rubber bullets.

This kind of ‘aid’ is not helping the poor. It is only helping the multinational companies.

Special economic zones in Bangladesh are established to attract foreign companies, especially those from the garment industry. They are like mini tax havens, giving companies ten year tax breaks and subsidised land as an incentive to invest.

Companies like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, H&M and Gap all have factories in existing zones in my country. They provide jobs for local people, but at a cost of sweatshop-style working conditions."

In the UK, War on Want believe that an effective strategy for improving working conditions among Bangladesh's garment workers is through legislation that requires UK businesses to ensure that overseas workers are guaranteed a living wage, decent working conditions and the right to join a trade union in their home countries. War on Want's campaign in pursuit of this legislative change is called Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops.  

Update: 26/11/12

AP are reporting that in response to the recent fire, workers in the capital Dhaka have taken to the streets in protest over poor safety standards in the country's garment factories. The protesters have blocked roads and forced the closure of around 200 clothing factories. A major highway has been blockaded and factories have stones thrown at them. 

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Women Bishops: Why is it Newsworthy in a Secular Age?

Canterbury Cathedral: West Front, Nave and Cen...
Canterbury Cathedral: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since only around 10% of the British population attend church regularly, and within that small group, only a proportion are practising Anglicans, I have been genuinely surprised at the amount of British media comment on this week's Synod decision to keep the current status of Anglican bishops to men only. 

At issue here - quite apart from what anyone may think of the Synod's decision - is the passion which it seems to have engendered among those who disagree with it on grounds of sexual equality.

This example is not atypical from my Twitter time line:

"In these times the church has a useless f**** debate about women bishops. COE is f**** redundant and morally and spiritually dead"
(from Martin a  "Personal Coach, Failure Consultant and Responsible Business Auditor" based in north London)

Meanwhile, a frustrated David Cameron speaking in the House of Commons urges the Church of England to "get with the programme" and push through the changes, while receiving a "sharp prod" from the government to that end.
On Thursday's Question Time on BBC, Yvette Cooper was advocating that Parliament should consider taking legal action to force the Church of England to allow women to be ordained as bishops.

In the anger about the Synod's decision, I have not so far read a single comment reminding us that the Church of England is a voluntary society. No-one is forced to join it. Those who dissent from its doctrine or practices are entirely at liberty to leave and set up their own church if they want. 

With salaries of between £30 - 40,000, Anglican bishops can hardly be said to be following their vocation out of a desire to get rich. It is not a typical career, in that sense. And with 44 dioceses, the number of bishops is limited (generally, one per diocese), so we are not talking about a vast number of women or men who will occupy these positions in the church establishment.

So, why the rage from so many who never darken the door of a church?
Part of the issue, I think, is that the Church of England is the official state church, with the monarch as its head, and with its bishops occupying seats in the upper chamber of the British Parliament. In this capacity, so the argument goes, the church must conform to the social norms of the wider society which it "belongs" to. One comment on Question Time argued that this was important since "the church does coronations, royal weddings and Remembrance."

If the official status of the Church of England is one factor explaining the media backlash to the Synod's decision, there is also a more general issue at stake. Paradoxically, in a secular age, society appears to want the church to affirm it in its values. My friend Steve Smith expressed it perfectly when he tweeted:

I think it's partly about secularists wanting Christians and Xtian establishment to conform, reinforce & justify [the] former's values.

It is worth pondering that, whereas in all the talk since the Synod's vote, most critics are quick to claim that they believe in diversity and freedom of religion, in practice, many of them become incandescent when such diversity actually finds expression in ways that challenge the dominant discourse. 

Is Britain occupying the role of an easy-going parent, who encourages its children to grow, explore and discover their own way in life, only to balk when one of the children does just that and adopts a way of life as an adult at odds with its apparently tolerant parent?

Is the idea of non-conformity in fact a threat to the secular agenda (or "the programme" as the Prime Minister has described it)? It makes me wonder whether, in the end, secularism, for all its grand claims, actually demands conformity - not diversity as it so loudly proclaims.





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