Santa Maria Capua Vetere is a small town in the southern Italian region of Campania. A few weeks ago, prison surveillance videos emerged showing guards brutally attacking prisoners after inmate protests took place in April 2020. The footage is proof not only of the abuse of power that takes place in silence in Italian prisons every day, but it also highlights the urgent need for Italy to reevaluate its penal system. Despite being sparked by demands for better Covid protection and testing, last Spring’s protests were a culmination of longstanding issues which have characterised the Italian judicial and penal system for too long; from lack of basic hygiene standards to a general slowness in judicial processes – not to mention the extreme levels of violence perpetrated by prison guards.
Last month Italian Prime Minister and former European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, took his first trip abroad since he assumed office. He chose to visit Libya, and met with Libyan president Abdel Hamid Mohamed Dbeibeh to discuss the countries’ economic ties and cooperation on tackling irregular immigration. During his visit, Draghi congratulated the Libyan government on their work over recent years in stemming the movement of migrants who leave Libya’s coast in hope of finding refuge in Europe.
While Archant published clickbait headlines in the EDP and Norwich Evening News that chose to spotlight the pink chalk ‘vandalism’ of a war memorial, Saturday’s Kill the Bill protest in Norwich city centre was in fact a peaceful display of solidarity, and an empowering antidote to the violence that protesters elsewhere in the country have been subjected to. In Bristol, boards reading ‘People Over Property‘ now surround the former plinth of the Edward Colston statue, and act as a visual reminder of both the police and the media establishment’s skewed priorities when it comes to covering protests. Chalk gets washed away with a spell of wet weather. Authoritarian bills don’t.
In recent years, Italy has undergone enormous internal change as a result of mass immigration from sub-Saharan African countries. The situation has been exploited and manipulated from every angle by the Italian media, politicians and organised crime gangs, fostering hostility towards migrant labourers as well as fuelling their exploitation. Right-wing political elites are adept at harnessing the power of social media to influence the masses; but this is a tactic that needn’t be irreplicable for social justice movements and activists on the Left, too.
‘The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.’
Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Hong Kong Basic Law
The recent introduction of the new Security Law in Hong Kong by the Chinese government has sent waves throughout the city, and beyond. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is exactly the type of security legislation it sounds like. The law views subversion of central authority, secession from the mainland and collusion with foreign entities as criminal actions; furthermore, all applications of the law are open to interpretation. In line with communist tradition, the management of non-governmental organisations and media outlets will be stricter. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave her blessing to the legislation, and encouraged the international community to accept its legitimacy, but reactions have varied.
Two significant escape routes for the people of Hong Kong have presented themselves since. One is through the United Kingdom, where Boris Johnson announced that those in Hong Kong with a British (Overseas) Passport could gain British citizenship, with potentially up to 3 million who could claim. The second is through Taiwan, which has set up an office to help Hong Kongers resettle and adapt to a new life in their own borders. There has also been increased internet searches for properties abroad, particularly in the UK, Australia and Canada.
China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.
China has reacted strongly, however, accusing the UK of interfering in its former colony and accusing Taiwan independence activists of colluding with Hong Kong independence activists. Both countries face risk, as Taiwan lives with the constant threat of military action hanging over its head while the UK may well depend heavily on economic and financial relationships with China in the future. With its lure of cheap labour, as well as Beijing’s vast global investment funds, China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.
But alas, the UK has shown itself woefully incapable of influencing Chinese policy; only the US really has that power, but Donald Trump sways between disdain for Chinese business practises and admiration for the Chinese leader. Should Joe Biden win the upcoming US presidential election in November, the US might change its stance. Biden is likely to prove more amenable to creating strong trade bonds and dispensing with tit-for-tat diplomacy.
China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights.
The new security law in Hong Kong is the latest in a string of assertive action against political dissent, and hardly comes as a surprise. China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights. Despite outrage over the Uyghur ‘re-education camps‘, the international community has done next to nothing about it. Despite Chinese agents kidnapping dual-nationals and putting them on trial in China, the world has stood still. Even in regards to the land grabs by China in the South Seas and on the borders with India and Nepal, the global community says a lot and does nothing. It is little wonder that China is now unafraid to pursue aggressive state actions.
China is not going to change. The belief from Western authorities that China can be slowly tempted to change its ways is not realistic. At the same time, pointing more missiles at the country is hardly likely to encourage them to lower their guard. China has never shown any intentions of softening its position on any of its issues, such as developing bases in the South China Sea, closing so-called re-education camps or giving independence to Tibet. Ever more media savvy, the reactions to any topic in which the country or party is criticised are always measured and strong-worded. China will continue to defend itself from public criticism even if that means cutting off its nose to spite its face. Suppression of the population through the Sesame Credit system, restriction on internet access, and threats of re-education discourage many from social and public criticism and, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye, China will push ahead.
The situation in Hong Kong has drawn condemnation from various countries mainly because of its global financial status, but the biggest problem remains mainland China’s ability to mass-produce cheap goods; goods which Western economies are relying upon to reboot their domestic economies in the wake of Covid-19.
Most countries have incoherent policies when it comes to China. Condemning its actions while continuing to seek trade deals or accept Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Most countries have allowed their supply chains to become interconnected with China to the extent that any significant action poses an immediate and serious economic risk. The Security Law is a warning shot across the bows; China intends to bring what it considers its own back into the fold and increase its political and economic reach; and that likely extends beyond Hong Kong.
Professional football has been hyper-commercialised by every means available. Billion pound deals between private entities to secure TV rights, ridiculous sponsorship schemes that see clubs partner with the most strange or dangerous of companies, and ever-rising ticket prices turning the sport into an occasional daytime activity for the well-off rather than dedicated working-class fans. But there are still instances of defiance, of fans and players organising and speaking out against the commercial elements of the sport.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the worst parts of the global system of racial capitalism, and has put into stark focus the number one priority of corporations: wealth accumulation above all else. One of the most exploitative facets of this economic regime is the garment industry.
With governments poised to bail out massive corporations for their losses during this pandemic, who will bail out textile workers in the Global South, where so much of the labour that has generated enormous corporate profits has been outsourced to?
Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers.
The global garment industry relies on a combination of low wages, rapid production lines, and precarious job security, with its buyer-driven supply chains designed in a way which allows corporations to avoid accountability at the production end. The costs of labour and production are outsourced, and brands then enforce extremely unrealistic production targets. As a result, suppliers are left with little alternative but to exploit their workers in order to operate. Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers.
In Burma, the pandemic is even being used as a cover to sack unionised garment factory workers. Employees at the Huabo Times factory – a supplier for brands including Zara and Primark – have been resisting ongoing exploitation and abuse of their labour rights carried out by the factory. Nwe Ni Linn, president of the workers’ union there, explained that only 3 days after submitting a union registration form, 107 workers were dismissed, most of whom were union members or leaders. This was done under the guise of COVID-19 physical distancing measures but a matter of days after this took place, 200 workers were then transferred from another factory to replace the workforce lost.
employees often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week and earn around $3 a day,
This is not an isolated incident. In the Yangon-based Jin Sen factory, workers took part in a sit-down strike after the factory reportedly sent spies into union meetings; 13 union leaders were fired shortly after. Sit-down strikes have also been used in other factories to avoid COVID-19 laws that ban demonstration gatherings. In one of Primark’s Yangon supplier factories – Amber Stone factory – workers have been wearing red headbands to protest a similar case of union busting, in which union leaders had allegedly been intimidated and beaten up by company thugs. At the Rui-Ning factory, 298 union members were fired in early May, and Myan Mode factory recently fired 520 of its unionised workers.
The pandemic has not only revealed the exploitation of workers in the garment industry of the Global South, but closer to home too. In the UK, warehouse workers for ASOS have raised objections and campaigned with GMB trade union over a lack of social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace. Headlines over the past week have also exposed the exploitation of workers in Boohoo supplier factories in Leicester. Wages of £2–3 an hour have been reported as being commonplace in Leicester factories that supply Boohoo, and employees have said that they were forced to continue work despite being unwell with the coronavirus.
Brands are pushing hundreds of thousands of working class, migrant, and Black and Brown workers into increasingly desperate situations. Yet this is taking place at the same time that these very same brands are releasing statements standing against racism; promising to ‘listen to learn’. But when will they actually listen to workers resisting exploitation in their own factories?
When working conditions are revealed, brands tend to spout empty words about their commitment to fairness and transparency. Sometimes brands will respond to criticism by cutting ties to the individual suppliers in an attempt to shed the blame. But this is not about a few bad factories treating their workers poorly, this is a systemic problem which needs a transformative systemic solution.
The pandemic is making it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that struggles for labour rights are global struggles. Despite international campaigns, reforms have not done enough to improve working conditions and have done little to change fatally unequal power relations that exist in the garment industry. Successful change will mean real international solidarity between workers movements in the Global South and Global North.
“For decades, its tactics have intentionally maximized civilian suffering; we all know what they did to the Rohingya in 2017. They are now targeting all civilians in the conflict area, with people from Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Chin communities being killed in recent months. Their alleged crimes must be investigated in accordance with international standards, with perpetrators being held accountable”
These scathing remarks about the Myanmar military are part of Yanghee Lee’s last statement of her tenure in the role as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
Contentwarning: sexual violence, corrective rape, sexual abuse, suicide.
Last Friday was the beginning of Yangon Pride celebrations in a country where human rights abuses are rife, and homosexuality is criminalised. The rising profile of LGBTQ+ rights in Myanmar provides precious hope for queer people in the country. However, the road to equality is a long one.
Chinese head of state Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Myanmar (Burma) on Friday, where he met with State Councillor and de facto leader of the country Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and the Burmese military’s infamous commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Although it was Jinping’s first visit since assuming office, the occasion marked 70 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and signifies a continued mutual desire to unite their economic and strategic interests. A total of 33 agreements were signed to speed up China-backed development projects in Myanmar and bolster the China-Myanmar-Economic-Corridor; a vital component of the wider Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Both countries have track records of serious state-sponsored human rights abuses, and share an increasing disdain for, and distancing from the West. With the tantalising promise of economic prosperity, has China got Myanmar under its thumb, and will development come at the expense of human rights.Continue Reading