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  November 3, 2003

Globalization Hurts World's Poorest,
Ethnic Studies Expert Tells Students

Globalization has hurt the poorest people in the world, an international ly renowned expert on ethnic studies told an audience in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center's Konover Auditorium October 23.

Eveyln Hu-Dehart

Evelyn Hu-DeHart of Brown University speaks on globalization and its impact on the world's poorest people at Konover Auditorium October 23.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

Evelyn Hu-DeHart, professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, spoke on "Globalization and Its Discontents: Exposing the Underside" to an audience of mainly UConn and high school students.

"Corporate-led globalization depends on intense exploitation of labor," Hu-DeHart said.

"Female workers are exploited for their labor in their own countries, and after they migrate to the United States.

"Mexico is an interesting place to look at globalization," she said, citing the 1994 Zapatista rebellion against the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Hu-DeHart said the Zapatistas timed their protest to coincide with the first day of the implementation of NAFTA.

"They didn't want to take over the Mexican government; they had a vociferous objection to having their safety net taken away: a net guaranteed by the Mexican constitution that the community land base would not be taken away, sold, or divided. They rose up in rebellion against what we now call globalization."

Even before the rebellion, Mexico had been assigned a major role in globalization, Hu-DeHart said, noting that "Europe, Japan, Korea - all of the large industrial capital-rich countries - established assembly plants on the Mexican side of the border, to take advantage of Mexico's cheap, primarily female, labor."

Today, there are some 3,000 to 5,000 assembly plants or sweatshops along the U.S.-Mexican border, she said.

"A huge part of the world is pooled into this system of globalization," Hu-DeHart said, "where those who set up the sweatshops are in a continuous and constant movement to search for the cheapest labor.

"That kind of movement is never stable or steady. You're constantly pulling up stakes, disassembling the plant, and rebuilding them somewhere else." Workers at these plants can never feel secure in their jobs, she added.

Hu-DeHart said Nike symbolizes the mobilization of American companies overseas. "All of the Nike products you have - and I'm going to guess that all of you in the room have something labeled by Nike somewhere in your closet - are made outside of the U.S. Nike does not own a single manufacturing site in the United States."

Subcontracting is part of globalization, she told the audience. "Nike doesn't want to be involved in direct production of a Nike product," she said. They don't want to open factories in the U.S. and have to deal with labor relations and other such matters. So they find subcontractors anywhere in the world who will do that for them.

"Subcontractors are compelled by the logic of the system to be constantly looking for the cheapest source of labor. We say there is a subcontracting system characterized by a race to the bottom of the wage scale."

According to Hu-DeHart, Michael Jordan, Nike's global pitchman, was paid $20 million in yearly endorsement fees from the Nike corporation. She said that was more than all the workers in the Nike plants earned in a year.

Under globalization, most of the products we use today are no longer manufactured in one production site from beginning to end, Hu-DeHart said: "The Boeing 777 or any huge aircraft is also subcontracted out, with each part of the aircraft being produced at different places in the world. They're bid out to the lowest bidder."

Although most American products are manufactured outside the United States, Hu-DeHart said, there are also hundreds of sweatshops near New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where the "new female immigrants" work.

Many of them have no skills, she said, but they're cheap workers.

"So globalization has also come back home to the United States," she said, "while the United States is simultaneously exporting jobs."

Hu-DeHart's talk was part of Asian American Heritage Observance.