Anger Not Embarassment

We might remember the story of those two young cousins in India who were gang raped, killed and hung on a Mango tree. The investigation revealed they were looking for a toilet, more precisely a place to relieve themselves, since their house had none. Worldwide, 2.5 billion live without access to basic sanitation, and that’s why this practice of open defecation as it is called, is far more widespread than we generally realize. Having no toilet forces people, including women and young girls, to walk to dark and sometimes dangerous places to find the privacy they need, and too often those are the places where attackers can hide. Attacking or harassing women in this way is therefore a problem in other countries as well, Nigeria, for example.

2.5 billion people lacking access to basic sanitation means one in three in the world, and one billion of those, or 15% of the global population is currently forced to practice open defecation. Acknowledging that this is a topic we shun and feel embarrassed to even talk about, officials from the UN Millenium campaign said that it is a subject that should make us angry not embarrassed.

If we could use the two young girls’ ordeal as a wake up call, as a spur to expand efforts bringing sanitation to those without, maybe they did not die in vain,

273 To 1!

What happens to SB 1372 currently before the California legislature is not important. Its very existence is what’s relevant since it is based on the ratio of CEO to workers’ compensation and as such highlights a reality behind the inequality that we frequently talk about these days. In 1965 says a study by the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs made 20 times what their median employees made. By 2012 the ratio had risen to 273 to 1! Leaving aside corporate culture and its values, can this ratio be spiritually, morally or ethically defensible? Spiritually, ethically and morally all humans are equals, not to speak of legally. And while differences among people are obvious, necessary and unavoidable, it’s difficult to see how they can justify a ratio of 273 to 1. It could easily be argued that this gap is nefarious to the moral fabric, to economic and social mobility, to the general culture and of course to the making of a fairer, sounder society.

SB 1372 proposes to tax corporations with a CEO to worker ratio under a 100 lower and those above higher than the current rate. Its proponents hope for federal legislation along these lines. It’s doubtful it shall pass since the California Chamber of Commerce calls it a job killer, but given that the CEO of CVS Caremark Larry Merlo’s salary last year was $12.1 million or 422 times the median CVS salary of $28,700, it makes a needed point.

Consumer Power

Consumers have made a difference with coffee, with carpets, with chocolate. Most of us insist on fair traded products and carpets that are not made by the little hands of children. But when it comes to T-shirts from Bangladesh we still however have a way to go. It’s a little over a year since the Rana Plaza collapse killing 1129 people, not to speak of those who were injured and hurt in major ways, and observers and others report not much has changed. The government has inspected 700 of the 2000 buildings it is to check, yet for those that have been checked there is no assurance there are no potential problems. Bangladesh has good safety laws, but it is easy to bribe officials to circumvent them. Two groups have formed to prevent future disasters, one is mainly made up of Europeans firms, the other, including firms like Wal-mart, Gap and Target, have no representatives from labor. There is need for pressure upon the government and others to insist for improving conditions. Already the pressure has forced the government to increase the minimum wage to $16 a week. Activists discourage boycotts, because even sweat shops are usually the best alternative for many women workers, but they do encourage pressure in whatever way we can exercise it.

Small Victory?

I periodically come across a group of people who make me stop to recognize what they represent. This time it is a group of migrants from Honduras, who take the train through Mexico on the way to the U.S. to find work. They find a way to hop on one of  the freight trains they call La Bestia (the beast) since it has maimed so many.  The group headquartered in Honduras  has 400  to 500 members, all disabled who have lost limbs traveling it. They are as illegal in Mexico as they would be in the U.S. and are then sent back to their countries, and there particularly given their disabilities are unable to work and endure sorrowful and very difficult lives. The wife of one migrant worker who returned without his right leg and right arm just left him. But the men, who feel their lives have become nightmares, also want to fight for the rights of other migrant workers, people who like them seek to escape desperate conditions and hope for something better in the U.S.  Norman Varela, the spokesman for the group who made it to a small city in Mexico, and who when he lost his leg was robbed of all his money by a Mexican policeman, said they wanted a meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto. He was told by a local official it was impossible. “What’s impossible,” he said,” is re-growing a hand or an arm or a leg. It is not impossible to arrange a meeting with a fellow human being.” Short of meeting the President, the migrants want to deliver letters to him. In future, they want their fellow migrants to be assured safe passage to the United States, instead of being detained or repatriated for being illegals in Mexico.

Days after their story and their plight were made public, they received word that a representative of Mexico’s national immigration department would receive their letters and would deliver them.