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Crocodile tears: When every Amazon warehouse is a slave camp, how dare they criticize Qatar?

Crocodile tears: When every Amazon warehouse is a slave camp, how dare they criticize Qatar?

From Eric Cantona, the French football icon, who never played a world cup to Gareth Southgate whose penalty miss cost England dear in Euro 1996, everybody is busy criticizing Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 World Cup football for the host country's alleged exploitation of migrant labor. What strikes one as odd in these criticisms is the firm assurance with which they deliver these sound bites. It reminds one of Jack Dawkins, the child thief In Oliver Twist who picked a gentleman's pocket and then joined the mob chasing Oliver Twist, crying "Stop thief!!." Which Western country has any right to criticize Qatar or for that matter any Asian country for its labor rights violations, given the fact that their very prosperity and life styles depend on what is being produced by the laborers in these countries?

Companies from Nike to Adidas expanded their global reach using child labor from Pakistan to Bangladesh to Indonesia. Do Western celebrities feel any qualms while wearing their shoes? Other Western companies accused of exploiting child labor include such names as Gucci, Vans, Walmart etc. As everybody knows, this list is merely the tip of the iceberg. Chip Wilson, the celebrated founder of Lululemon recently stated that he is not opposed to child labor and his own children had worked since they were five.

When Stuart Hall observed he was the sugar at the bottom of the English tea, he was pointing to the ruthless and systematic exploitation to which the people of color were subjected to in the centuries-long process that led to the institutionalization of tea as the indispensable beverage of Europeans. The spread of tea in Europe was coterminous with the spread of imperialism in Asia and Africa and the expanding slave trade in America. Traders like Llyod's and Barclays, whose ships once carried slaves across the Atlantic have now metamorphosed themselves into loan sharks and are continuing their exploitation of the Third World. And these people seem to be very concerned about labor rights in Qatar.

A Congolese man walking through Brussels is said to have remarked on the sweat and blood his countrymen shed to contribute to the splendor of the majestic Belgian capital. No European or North American city tells a different tale. America is itself a country built on the blood of Amerindians and the sweat of Africans.

Westerners inveighing against Qatar might aver these were things of past and western countries now have stringent laws governing human and labor rights. But this is a self-exculpatory delusion. As John Oliver pointed out, the warehouses of Western corporate giants like Amazon have worse labor right records than old slave owners. Workers in such establishments have to walk for kilometers inside their siloed godowns that are off-limits even for government inspectors in many countries.They work non-stop to meet algorithmic targets. According to Oliver, if a worker collapses or even dies during this backbreaking labor, it causes little disruption or flutter to the inhuman routine. The committed staff skirt or dodge past their fellow fallen workers in a spirit of true corporate camaraderie!!!

Early slave holders valued their slaves, because each slave meant a saleable property which was not easily replaceable. While an able-bodied worker was as precious as a giant crane, a lesser worker was valued as much as a mini-excavator or at least a spade. But for modern corporates, a dead laborer is easily replaceable from the roster of thousands of job-seekers on their portal. Hussein Bulhan, who made significant studies on the works of Frantz Fanon, observes how modern imperialists, unlike old colonialists, need not make hazardous journeys across peril-strewn land and seas to bring captive slaves to their cities since modern day slaves are themselves busy queuing up before the emigration offices to be enchained and dragged to the Western shores. There, they end up working for unscrupulous exploiters who make them drudge for insane hours in inhuman conditions. Living in London in 2009, I was witness to the exploitation of expatriate student labor there. The part-time students were full time workers who slaved away long hours in firms like Asda and Sainsbury's. The less fortunate work for minor firms in more slavish conditions and their collective labor help pull the British economic juggernaut.

This is in no way to condone what is happening in Qatar or any other part of the world but merely to assert that the pot has no right to call the kettle black, especially when Qatar can justly pride itself in being a country whose largesse continues to alleviate the poverty and misery of millions, all the way from the conflict-ridden Gaza strip to the poverty stricken hamlets of Kerala.

(Umer O Thasneem teaches English literature at the University of Calicut. The views expressed here are personal. He may be contacted at [email protected])

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TAGS:Watar World Cup 2022criticism of labour treatmentwestern countries no rightglobal brands mistreat labourNike Gucci AdidasAmazon warehouses
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