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Unwrapping Human Rights Abuses

Guest blog by Amnesty Scotland volunteer coordinator Risga Carson.

With only one day left until Christmas, many of us will be rushing out to do some last minute shopping. In between all the holiday mayhem, why not take a moment to think about what you might actually be unwrapping on Christmas day.

The media constantly runs stories about major companies, revealing the working conditions, sourcing of materials and advertising standards behind popular products.

Apple is frequently in the news for the conditions in its Chinese factories where workers face long hours, dangerous conditions and nets to prevent them committing suicide. It is not the only technology company to face such claims though.

 Last month, an undercover report into one of Dell’s Chinese factories revealed workers, some underage, being forced to work overtime just to earn minimum wage. In addition to this, workers live in cramped dorms with inadequate facilities.

Technology companies are not alone in being criticized for their working conditions. It was recently revealed that one in six of the US company (and owner of ASDA in the UK) Walmart’s clothing factories in Bangladesh failed to meet basic safety standards. This follows the collapse of Rana Plaza, a building containing numerous clothing factories in Bangladesh, in April. The site produced clothes many international retailers including UK brand Primark, and the collapse killed over 1000 people.

Primark has offered some compensation to the victims, however, some reports suggest that this is limited to those families that can prove via DNA that their relative died in the collapse. In response to a number of similar disasters, some companies are making efforts to, at least be publically seen as, be more ethical. Marks and Spencer has hired an outside group to conduct research by directly talking to labourers about their working conditions.

Working conditions is not the only issue related to retailers. You should also consider who or what your money may be helping fund. Urban Outfitters has been plagued by accusations of homophobia, largely in part to their CEO Richard Hayne’s donations to USA politician Rick Santorum who is infamous for his homophobic views and anti-marriage equality stance. Despite denying these allegations, Urban Outfitters was widely criticised for pulling marriage equality t-shirts from its stores during the 2008 California Porposition 8 campaign and for selling cards featuring transphobic slurs.

Another area to consider is advertising, something American Apparel has received a lot of criticism for. The clothing company is known for using scantily-clad female models, often in suggestive poses to advertise their garments whilst their male models are fully clothed. The nature of these ads has led to the UK’s Advertising Standard Authority banning several of them.
Other companies have made recent strides to be more inclusive in their advertising. Gap, for example, has recently used same-sex couples in their advertising.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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