A slave auction advertisement from 1769

Globalisation is not a contemporary phenomenon, although the technological advancements of 21st century have sped it up. It has been a part of the world since humans first started to travel but capitalism brought it to its present proportions. As Robinson (2004) correctly puts it, the expansionary nature of capitalism is what led to the colonial control of Latin America in 1400s. Of course colonialism spread far and beyond, spanning almost the entire world. What is most striking is the similarity of labour exploitation between colonialism and globalisation today. Consider the example of the transatlantic triangular trade. European goods were exchanged for slaves in Africa, these were transported to the Americas where they worked to produce raw material traded with Europe for the production of goods (O’Brien and Williams, 2013). This is one of the early examples of human exploitation on a global scale.

Fast forward to the present world; companies with profits higher than the gross domestic products of nations have a particular knack for reaping the benefits of abuse. Let us look at two: Apple and Unilever. Chamberlain (2011) reports the many ways in which workers at the Apple plant in Shenzhen, China are abused. Forced to work for excessive extra hours, draconian factory rules and working for days without a weekend are just some of the issues faced by the workers at Foxconn run Apple plants. At a Unilever plant in Vietnam workers are paid meagre wages, forced to work more hours, unable to voice grievances and or form associations (Wilshaw et al, 2013). Although not technically slaves, the powerlessness of the labour is similar to them. Since the corporations have access to global labour force they do not need to be afraid of the mundane workers. They are more resourceful and can simply hire other workers who would be grateful for whatever they get, or move the production somewhere else.    

Even if we assume that Apple and Unilever are not at fault here, both the corporations have a responsibility to ensure that such exploitation does not take place. After all these corporations contract the production to factory owners who in turn abuse the labourers. Whatever the case might be, the fact is that this abuse is a direct result of the capitalist mode of production materialising within globalisation. Since there are so many people in need of work, they can be taken advantage of easily.

By: Mariam Khawar

Bibliography

Chamberlain, G. (2011). Apple factories accused of exploiting Chinese workers. [Online] The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/30/apple-chinese-factory-workers-suicides-humiliation [Accessed 7 Dec. 2014].

O’Brien, R., and Williams, M. (2013). “Forging a World Economy 1400-1800” in Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics. 4th edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robinson, W., I. (2004). ‘Globalisation as Epochal Change in World Capitalism’, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 1 – 32.

Wilshaw, R., Unger, L., Do Quynh, C. and Pham Thu, T. (2013). Labour Rights in Unilever’s Supply Chain: From compliance to good practice. 1st ed. [eBook] Oxfam. Available at: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/labour-rights-in-unilevers-supply-chain-from-compliance-to-good-practice-an-oxf-267532?cid=rdt_unileverlabourrights [Accessed 7 Dec. 2014].

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