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Why should children have to live like this?

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Why should children have to live like this?

Post  Guest on Sun 2 Aug - 9:16


From The Sunday Times
August 2, 2009
African dream turns sour for orphan army
Dan McDougall in Maseru, Lesotho

Nothing grows here in the shadows. There is only desolation in the tired soil at Paballo Marumo’s cracked and filthy feet. Her shoes, the thin plastic sandals worn by children across the townships of southern Africa, are gone. “Stolen!” she tells me in her language, Sesotho. At eight years old she sits hopelessly at the bottom of the rubbish dump hierarchy.

“Gap! Gap! Gap!” comes the sudden cry from the 12-year-old leader of a destitute army of rag pickers patrolling the vast waste dump before us.

Paballo is the quickest off her feet, darting towards a trailer overflowing with the discarded remnants of Lesotho’s garment industry. In the twilight I can make out her tiny frame as she runs between burning pillars of denim and cotton.

When they reach the trucks, the youngsters plough headlong into the refuse as it pours from heavy loaders. With stern concentration they fight for scraps, sifting through filthy piles of garment industry waste and sweeping it into sacks.
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Thousands of Gap and Levi’s labels, buttons and studs for stonewashed jeans and huge quantities of heavily dyed cotton and denim pile down over their heads, burying them up to their waists.

Gap’s decision to develop the production of jeans and T-shirts in Lesotho had heralded an era of opportunity for one of the world’s poorest nations but a Sunday Times investigation has exposed an unforeseen consequence of that commitment - the dumping of tons of waste, much of it dangerous, at unsecured municipal sites.

Over the past 12 months the child rag pickers have been attracted to garment dumps by the denim and plastic thrown away by a Taiwanese supplier whose clients include both Gap and Levi Strauss.

Such is the ubiquity of denim and cotton waste in Lesotho that garment refuse has replaced charcoal as cooking fuel. Alarmingly, for the two San Francisco-based firms, the waste dumped by their suppliers Nien Hsing and Formosa Textile - both part of the Nien Hsing Fashion Group - includes harmful chemicals, needles and razors.

Each day it is painstakingly picked over by children and mothers with ailing infants strapped to their backs in a community ravaged by HIV. Not only that, but Nien Hsing is leaking chemical effluent into a river from which cooking water is drawn.

Lesotho, largely isolated from the rest of the world as a landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa, has relied heavily on its garment industry to stave off economic collapse. Fuelled by demand in the West for cheap clothing, more than 50 Taiwanese-owned factories have grown up, shipping £500m of jeans, T-shirts and other items to British and American stores last year alone. In recent years the firms have prompted a wave of migration to Maseru from drought-hit rural areas. Today they provide about 40,000 textile jobs, 80% of them held by women.

Bono, the U2 singer, visited three years ago to boost Gap’s Product Red range, from which profits are ploughed into a fund set up by the star to combat diseases such as Aids. But despite the good intentions, the expansion of the industry has seen a sharp increase in unsecured waste. In trawls through the Ha Tsotsane and Ha Tikoe dumps in Maseru, The Sunday Times uncovered sacks bearing the names of several potentially harmful chemicals. Among these were sodium hydroxide, better known as caustic soda, which is used in the manufacture of textiles and can cause chemical burns; and calcium hypochlorite, a cleaning and bleaching agent which has been linked to lung problems, particularly in children.

The sacks were identified as belonging to Nien Hsing/ Formosa Textile Ltd, a supplier of both Levi’s and Gap denim.

The children of the dumps begin their day by hauling such sacks to “work” and using them to collect scraps of cloth.

Waste spilling from trucks includes countless pumice stones for stonewashed jeans, Gap zips and paperwork showing Gap orders to suppliers.

At regular intervals the workers dumping the refuse set fire to it. The burning is particularly intense when heavily treated and dyed cotton and denim and polyurethane bags are set alight. Many children living and working around the Ha Tsotsane site are evidently suffering from respiratory problems and weeping eyes. Others speak of skin complaints.

Thabiso Liaho, 11, and her sister Motselisi, 8, described a miserable routine that revolves around waiting for the trucks to arrive.

“Our father is gone. He died of Aids,” Thabiso said. “So we collect denim and plastic bags from the factories to sell to our neighbours. They burn the denim instead of firewood but when we use it there is thick black smoke and a horrible smell.”

Thabiso knows the hazards posed by chemicals but presses on regardless. “We itch all day and some of the sacks used to dispose the chemicals have powder that makes our hands and arms burn,” she added.

“One girl rubbed it in her eyes last month and started screaming. Sometimes we get rashes.

“The hardest thing for me is the burning. We work two dumps and they are always on fire because there is so much waste. At night we cough up black mucus and my sister wheezes in her sleep.”

The Sunday Times also found children of five handling tools such as needles, rusted and broken knives, fabric cutters and razors, all of which came in consignments from Nien Hsing.

Environmental campaigners in Lesotho are dismayed. “The world needs to know that some of the poorest people are being exploited and their environment destroyed for western firms,” said Jon Bumasaka of the Lesotho Environmental Justice Advocacy Centre.

“These firms tell the world they are helping Africa but look around you - look at the children picking through dangerous waste in the dumps. Is this Bono’s African dream for Gap? Or is it a hell for the poor people who have to live next to these factories?”

The dumps are not the only environmental problem facing Gap and Levi’s in Maseru. On the other side of a road leading from the Ha Tsotsane tip to the city centre, the rag pickers’ mothers and aunts emerge from hovels to draw foul-smelling cooking water from the Caledon River.

The river, like many tributaries across the city, is stained deep blue by effluent from the garment industry. But after a long day at the dumps the children bathe in it regardless.

Some of the effluent comes from a factory operated by Nien Hsing and Formosa Textile. The waste spills into water used by people every day. The situation is particularly bad around the factories run by Nien Hsing and Chinese Garment Manufacturers, which supplied Gap until 18 months ago when the retailer severed its ties because of “serious concerns”.

The streams around Nien Hsing’s site are known among local children as “Blue River”.

“The water has been this colour for as long as I can remember,” said Thabiso, in the one-room shack she shares with four younger siblings near the Ha Tikoe dump. Strapped to her back was the youngest, Leno-hang. Their mother is in hospital with Aids, a national disaster in a country with an HIV infection rate of 30%.

Around the Nien Hsing factories, sick women say the nearest “untainted” water is more than a mile away, an impossible distance for them to walk.

According to an environmental charter drawn up by Gap Inc, which has 3,149 stores worldwide and turned over $14.5 billion last year, the factories that supply it must have an environmental management system and an environmental emergency plan, including procedures to notify the authorities of an accidental discharge.

Tseliso Tsoeu, an environmental expert from Lesotho’s council of nongovernmental organisations, said the law was being broken by the foreign garment industry: “Our laws state that no person shall discharge any poisonous, toxic or chemical substance into our waters. So why is the government allowing our people to bathe in bright blue water stained with effluent and dyes? “ The Chinese and Taiwanese have come here and have basically done what they wanted. They make enormous profits from employing black Africans on behalf of respectable western companies who advertise the highest standards of production but in reality don’t really know what is going on here.”

In a statement yesterday, Dan Henkle, Gap’s senior vice-president of global responsibility, said the company had ordered an investigation as soon as it learnt of the allegations. It had placed Nien Hsing “on immediate notice until our investigation is complete and all issues are adequately addressed”, he said.

Gap accounted for 5% of Nien Hsing production. While an inspection in May had found no significant violations, its waste water was now deemed “unacceptable”.

Henkle added: “We will continue to act swiftly, decisively and thoughtfully in doing everything possible to protect the workers at the factories that make our products and the communities in which they live and work.”

Levi Strauss, which also sent an investigator to Lesotho, said it was “disturbed to see the local water is polluted”. A spokesman added, “It is clear the municipal landfill has not been secured”, and promised to protect the community and children.

It is a world away from the aims set out by Bono, whose visit to Lesotho in 2006 is still being talked about in the factories. The workers and their families recall how the U2 singer, sporting dark glasses imprinted with the word Red, walked among them, stroking children’s foreheads and cracking jokes.

At that year’s Davos economic forum in the Swiss Alps, he had persuaded some of the world’s most sought-after brands, including Armani, Apple and American Express, to develop special products under the Red umbrella.

The concept was simple: half the profits from Red-branded goods launched by him would go to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He was visiting southern Africa to unveil the next high-profile recruit to the cause: Gap Inc.

For Bono and Gap it was the perfect match. In Lesotho, one of the Aids capitals of the world, Gap had the factories and the local know-how to realise the rock star’s vision - an African factory making branded clothing for Product Red to be marketed from Cape Town to Tokyo.

As Bono toured Precious Garments, the firm slated to make clothes for Gap’s Product Red Range, he declared: “This is the face of transformation.” It was hoped that Product Red, in common with other brands made in Maseru, would help to liberate local people from poverty.

However, while Precious Garments continues to supply Gap, Red T-shirts are no longer made there. A spokesman said he was deeply concerned about the allegations and no Red clothing would be produced in Lesotho until they were resolved.

Although the garment industry has proved an undoubted financial lifeline to many, not all workers are well treated.

At the Nien Hsing factory, where Taiwanese managers oversee production of Gap jeans, a 26-year-old woman named Meluwan said she worked up to 200 hours a month for 30p an hour to support a family of seven.

“I am insulted on a daily basis,” she said. “The Taiwanese call me koko, mentally retarded. They also call me kaffir. It makes me so sad. I don’t know why they call me this.”

Other women accused supervisors of insulting them when they were late with orders.

A spokesman for Nien Hsing said the company was acting on the pollution allegations. “The blue water escaping into local rivers is something we are urgently looking at,” he said. “We are looking into claims that children are picking through our refuse. The first we knew about the child rag pickers was when Gap contacted us this week.” He refused to comment on the claims of abuse.

At the Ha Tikoe dump, Thabiso Liaho offered shelter from a bitter whistling wind in a home propped up by cardboard. “We have to get by looking after each other,” she said.

“The smoke from the dump fills our shack. We all have weeping eyes and running noses and itch after we work there looking for things to sell. The garment trucks come day and night. When we fetch water in the morning it is blue.” As I looked out towards the tip, the call went up again and the children ran towards the trucks.

Gap vows

Gap will conduct a thorough environmental assessment in Lesotho in partnership with an independent environmental organisation.

It will work with factory management to improve training and knowledge around waste handling/disposal.

It will convene a supplier summit in Lesotho to update policies, procedures and expectations.

‘While we’re proud of the progress we’ve made to date, we also understand that conditions are not perfect and that there is still a great deal more to be done to improve both environmental and factory working conditions in developing regions like Lesotho’ - Glenn Murphy, chairman and chief executive, Gap Inc


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Re: Why should children have to live like this?

Post  Susan on Sun 2 Aug - 16:54

I'm really sick of seeing news like this Granny....it seems that no one really cares if children die or live in those conditions.....

Its a sad, sorry world we live in!


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Re: Why should children have to live like this?

Post  Guest on Sun 2 Aug - 18:47

I can't bear to read this sort of stuff!
We are a cruel world.


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Re: Why should children have to live like this?

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