Cambridge hires Cambodia

The Badger Herald’s Ivy League compatriot, The Harvard Crimson, announced Monday it was employing about 24 Cambodians to re-type every article the student paper published in the 19th century. To pay for the thousands of man hours needed to complete the project, the Crimson is offering $50 a month.

Predictably, the Crimson’s use of third-world labor instantly drew the recycled outcries from the same activists that demanded Harvard pay its janitors above market wages. Much of protester’s knee-jerk reaction centered on the apparent hypocrisy of the Harvard Crimson, which had endorsed a wage raise for Harvard janitors.

But, just like the many anti-globalization/anti-sweatshop/anti-Starbucks/anti-Taco Bell protesters here at UW, the protesters refused to recognize that $50 a month is 11 percent higher than the “living wage” of Cambodia.

What continues to amaze us is that these activists claim to be acting in the interests of the Third World. Melissa Byrne of United Students Against Sweatshops, told the Boston Globe it was ”morally reprehensible” for the Crimson to avoid paying a living wage and independently evaluating the working conditions for the typists.

Fortunately, Miss Byrne’s rhetoric has not reached Cambodia.

“My life was hopeless before this opportunity,” said Eng Naleak, a 20-year-old employee on the project, who was born with only two fingers and a thumb on each hand. Her ability to type 30 words a minute in English gave her an edge over slower candidates. “Disabled persons in Cambodia are never given priority for jobs.”

The Harvard-alum-owned company with which the Crimson has contacted, Digital Divide, says it plans to raise salaries to $65 after three months and will provide English lessons and pick up workers’ medical expenses. It also hopes to expand into Cambodian villages.

Not only do the Harvard (and UW) activists fail to recognize the fact that $1 in Cambodia is hardly comparable to $1 here and that workers in 3rd world country’s flock to these so-called “morally reprehensible” jobs, but they also ignore basic economics (a course that should be required here at UW).By specializing in work that can be accomplished at a much lower cost than in other countries, poor nations can trade their goods and services for cash and high-ticket items produced in rich countries. Trade produces the capital that enables an escape from poverty, and to campaign against that trade is to campaign for keeping the poor poor.

This debate is particularly relevant in light of the recent death of an anti-globalization anarchist in Genoa, Italy. While we are fortunate that the nature of the protests here at UW and at Harvard has been limited to trespassing, it is disheartening that the message is the same. UW has a long tradition of civil protest, often for worthy causes – anti-globalization is not one of them.


This article was published Jul 27, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Jul 27, 2001 at 12:00 am


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