Thursday, March 6, 2008
Emira Woods and the Global Womens' Rights Forum
Tuesday night at USF, Emira Woods, native Liberian who works at the Progressive Think Tank- The Institute for Policy Studies- In Washington, D.C., spoke about the Firestone Tire company in Liberia, Africa.
In Liberia Firestone has their factory, because this is where rubber trees are. What is happening is that there is exploitation of workers in what can be seen as modern slave labor. The Institute heads the campaign against Firestone , which started in 2005, and has already made a difference, but is still waiting on a court date to see Firestone face to face.
Liberian Firestone workers are not paid enough for the work they do. They are given a quota to meet every day (in scraping trees' bark away to let the rubber drip out, letting it drip down, and then carrying 150 pounds of the rubber liquid in buckets for sometimes a mile). In order to meet this rate the workers bring in their children and wives to help them work- for no extra wage. Firestone is being charged with child labor and modern day slavery.
Their rebuttal to these charges is that they pay their workers the highest wage in the country. But this is no fair reply; there is no other company in Liberia that compares to Firestone. "It's an unequal lense," said Woods. Meanwhile, managers in the Firestone company live in Villas, and across from them live the workers in shantys with no running water, electricity, or plumbing. After being accused, Firestone has built houses for ther workers. They look great on the outside, but on the inside are not much different than their shantys. No running water or electricity or plumbing, and just one big room divided by a wall to make two rooms.
Woods was happy to be in the Bay Area, which she said is a special place for activism. For example, the Berkeley City Council, after hearing about this, voted unanimously to not support Firestone, and called the Institute to tell them this. The Institute did not even have to approach them, which is usually how it works.
Woods' speech was inspiring, hitting home about many important ideas. "Do we succumb as corporations gain more and more power? No!" She spoke about fighting corporate America, and understanding that: a different, better world is possible, where people are put first!; we are agents of change!; we have power as voters!; we can work together, seize our power as consumers to live our values (for example, can I see a diamond really as a symbol of love?) ; and mainly, Power to the People!
She said, "Governments are there to negotiate; they have to be pushed-which is the power of the people."
Among all these ideas is the important one of -connection-, a theme to this blog, and this semester, it is starting to seem. With stuff like this going on in Liberia, we have to make the connection to ourselves and be able to relate all as one people.
This is difficult seeing as how Liberians near the Firestone factory have only one place they can access the Internet: an expensive wireless cafe. But, in keeping contact with the institute, they do utilize other technologies such as: texting; Skype, in which they have a bi-monthly teleconference; podcast technology; a filmmaker (who made a short film about this); classic broadcast networks like CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera; and Youtube. "Youtube is huge for us," Woods said. You can view youtube clips of news reports on Stop Firestone's myspace page.