Maids In Brazil

Brazil has seven million maids, apparently more than any other country, and they have been the butts of jokes and denigration for ages. That’s why an anonymous Twitter account highlighting how poorly Brazilians treat their maids is worth noting. @aminhaempregada began re-tweeting examples of what people think and say about their maids, revealing attitudes with tweets like “My maid is really dumb. Sometimes I feel like chopping that fat of hers with a kitchen knife.” Within days of its beginning the account had 8000 followers. Some Tweets defended their contents, some shared they felt ashamed for having written them, and maids and their relatives tweeted stories of derogatory treatment.

The owner of the Twitter account is in Sao Paulo, in his 30’s, was raised by maids and doesn’t want credit for the site. He just wants to bring out the facts and make it easier for all to show love and respect to maids.

In India and in Middle Eastern countries maids fare no better than in Brazil. The U.S may have made progress, we no longer treat maids the way we did in the fairly recent book and subsequent movie “The Help” for example, but we still have ways to go before we can be a paragon.

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.