The Stateswoman Archive

Why Should Women be Concerned About Corporate Globalization and Fair Trade?

by Bonnie Block

Because the current system hurts women. For example, the President of Nike has a personal fortune of $ 4.5 billion, including an annual salary of $1 million. An Indonesian woman working for Nike in one of the many subcontractors’ factories around the world (75,000 workers in all, of whom 70% are women between 17 and 21) earns the equivalent of $360 per year. This means she has to work for 15 centuries to earn the president’s annual salary!

Further evidence of the terribly negative impact on women of a capitalist economy and “free trade” regimes are these two facts:

* Women and girls own less than 1% of the planet’s wealth; they furnish 70% of the work hours and receive only 10% of the income;
* 70% of the 4.5 billion people who are living on less that $2 per day are women and children (From “Sexism and Globalization” compiled by the World March of Women in the Year 2000).

Because the current system is not sustainable in the long run. For example, the current free trade system calls for unrestricted access to economic markets among countries as the way to free the “masses” from poverty. The results, however, have been the exact opposite - an increase in poverty, a reduction of social services, an increase in workload especially for women, and a loss of democracy in government. In addition, the focus of multi-national corporations on short run profits has tremendous environmental impacts.

Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, governments are shifting resources to support trade and obtain foreign capital at the expense of domestic needs and social health. What should be provided as public services, i.e. education, health care, social programs, are all privatized. Since the WTO process also relies on the exploitation of cheap female labor, this means that women can’t afford these services.

Trade liberalization also stresses export promotion, which means there is no investment in local markets, and the home-based food production that women have traditionally engaged in. The push to work outside the home in low paying jobs means that women have increasing hours of work, as they still take primary responsibility for raising children, caring for the sick and elderly, and performing work in the voluntary sector. In short, the “social reproduction” work which isn’t counted in any country’s gross domestic product.

So is there anything we can do about all this?

  • Learn more about trade issues and consider joining organizations that are working to oppose /change the WTO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA).
  • Work to curb the power of the multi-national corporation.
  • Tell your Congressional representatives that you are concerned about issues such as the growing economic divide between the super-rich and the rest of us, the rights of workers to organize, unfair taxation, women’s poverty, the effects of privatizing and cuts in programs that help people, and the move of jobs in this country to third world sweatshops.
  • Support fair trade. SERRV and 10,000 Villages are two groups that sell products purchased directly from producers at a fair price. Buy fair trade coffee and chocolate. Get involved in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to help family farms or support (or start) a local farmer’s market.
  • Don’t buy products made in sweatshops and try to support locally owned businesses. Ask companies where their products are made, what they pay workers, what the working conditions are, if they use child labor, etc.

Bonnie Block is a former chair of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. WNPJ has a Corporate Accountability Task Group that focuses on how we can curb the power of multi-national corporations and work for globalization for peace, not profits. Contact them at 608-250-9240, info@wnpj.org, or see www.wnpj.org.

This article first appeared in the June 2002 issue of the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newsletter The Stateswoman.