The Harvard Crimson
July 24, 2001 2:22 PM   Subscribe

The Harvard Crimson contracts Cambodian sweatshop labor to make its online archives and saves $450,000. Is that the living wage they editorialized for?
posted by benjamin (21 comments total)
i would like to see this story dribble from peter jennings lips tonight. Harvard should sent the 450K to a organization that clears landmines. good post.
posted by clavdivs at 2:51 PM on July 24, 2001

Maybe someone at Harvard finally started reading his class notes. After all those HBC MBA's screwing up the eEconomy and all that with pie in the sky business plans. Other than Aung San Suu Kyi, has anyone ever gotten a Nobel Peace Prize after graduating from there?
posted by tamim at 2:59 PM on July 24, 2001

what is the cost of living in Cambodia these days? 40 cents an hour. might not be bad. what are all the facts?
posted by jbelshaw at 3:00 PM on July 24, 2001

ok, reading the article a bit closer, it seems that this wage is ABOVE the minimum wage in Cambodia.
posted by jbelshaw at 3:07 PM on July 24, 2001

from the article:

"The contract was brokered by Jeremy Hockenstein, a Harvard alumnus and a cofounder of Follow Your Dreams Cambodia, a nonprofit group trying to create high-tech jobs in the country. Working with Hockenstein, the Crimson signed the contract with Digital Divide Data, which opened an office in Phnom Penh last week and began work on the Crimson typesetting.

The job is projected to employ 20 typists working two six-hour shifts a day on 10 computers for six months. The typists earn $50 a month, better than the $45 minimum wage paid in the garment sector, Cambodia's biggest industry. The company says it will provide English lessons, pick up workers' medical expenses, and plans to raise monthly salaries to $65 after three months."

health care, better-than average wages and it seems that the biggest on-the-job danger is carpal tunnel.

again, we don't have all the facts, but this sounds like rabble-rousing.
posted by o2b at 3:07 PM on July 24, 2001

I was trying to figure out what a living wage in Cambodia would be. The Economic Research Institute says that consumables cost 41% more in Battambang, Cambodia, than in the States, which stunned me. This UN site suggests that it's 10% more expensive to live in Phnom Penh than New York. I had assumed that 40 cents a day would go further in Cambodia, and that this was a good example of leapfrogging to a clean information-based economy. But try to live in New York on 40 cents a day. Am I completely misreading these figures? I don't have any background in cost-of-living comparisons.
posted by Yogurt at 3:11 PM on July 24, 2001

Yogurt: its 40 cents per hour. not per day.
posted by jbelshaw at 3:14 PM on July 24, 2001

Oops, 40 cents an hour. Okay, that's six times better. :) It still seems unimaginable to me. Yet the article writers are able to gather positive quotes from at least one worker and make positive comparisons to other industries. I guess I'm just having my eyes opened to how bad conditions are elsewhere in the world.
posted by Yogurt at 3:20 PM on July 24, 2001

What immediately comes to mind is that anything that re-asserts the value of literacy in the country where Pol Pot persecuted people with glasses as "intellectuals" can't be all bad. (And I know, copy-typing isn't copy-writing, but still.)

But it has to be properly supervised, ideally by an third-party.
posted by holgate at 3:34 PM on July 24, 2001

one harvard nobel peace prize laureate that comes to mind is Dr. Henry Kissinger.
posted by elsar at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2001

"Cambodia is the Nixon doctrine in its purest form"-RMN
posted by clavdivs at 3:50 PM on July 24, 2001

I heard an NPR report about this on the way home and a spokesman for the paper indicated that this was equivalent to about $20/hour in the states... I'm paraphrasing, not quoting.
posted by internook at 4:10 PM on July 24, 2001

These workers are not slave labor. These people have a choice in whether to do the work for a low wage. Holgate writes, "But it has to be properly supervised, ideally by an third-party." Why? Are these Cambodians children who shouldn't be allowed to make their own decisions because we well-fed Americans think $0.40/hr isn't much of a wage? These people are just trying to make do with the few opportunities available to them.

This paternalistic attitude towards third world workers disgusts me. These people aren't as stupid as anti-sweat shop activists would think.
posted by shackbar at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2001

Other than Aung San Suu Kyi, has anyone ever gotten a Nobel Peace Prize after graduating from there?

-- Theodore Roosevelt, in 1906
-- Ralph Bunche, 1950
-- Henry Kissinger, 1973

Not sure if it's an exhaustive list, but it's a start...

The list of all winners...
posted by madreblu at 4:31 PM on July 24, 2001


-- Henry J. Cadbury (as chairman of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)), 1947
-- Bernard Lown (as co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), 1985
posted by madreblu at 4:39 PM on July 24, 2001

This article illustrates the dilemma faced by those concerned about the exporting of manufacturing, or in this case, data entry, work abroad.

I'm not sure this is all bad, but I think a third party monitor that can make unannounced visits is a good idea. I also think that they could do better than paying $5 over the $45/month minimum wage. Why not pay $100 a month, and watch that money improve the quality of life for the workers and their families. Or pay 80 cents per hour instead of 40. It's not like the employer can't afford it.
posted by 4midori at 4:42 PM on July 24, 2001

Yogurt: I may be misunderstanding, but that ERI consummables link suggests that consummables cost more in Cambodia relative to income than they do in the US. So that really doesn't dispute the assertion that 40 cents an hour is a good wage in Cambodia. Er, I don't think.
posted by claxton6 at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2001

shackbar: when I say "properly supervised", I'm simply thinking of an equivalent to the Health and Safety Executive that sets guidelines and monitors workplaces.

My point: if you outsource labour, you ought to outsource labour protection, too. If that's paternalistic, then I'm a happy paternalist.
posted by holgate at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2001

Claxton: Thanks about the ERI interpretation. But I'm still trying to interpret the UN report which says "The results of the comparison showed that the cost-of-living index for Phnom Penh in September 2000 was 85.4 on the base New York, July 1995 = 100.... When that index was rebased to the base, New York December 1989 = 100, it resulted in a post adjustment index of 109.7." (It goes on to say that the same index holds in Feb 2001.) I can't mesh this idea with the NPR quote that equates $0.40 with $20 per hour.

Shackbar: Saying that Harvard can afford more than $50/month is not the same as saying that people are stupid for choosing $50 over $0. I think you're just trying to light people's liberal-guilt-alarms with the word "paternalism."
posted by Yogurt at 4:59 PM on July 24, 2001

paternalistic is unfair. Hun Sens' son is recent graduate of West Point if im not mistaken. Why?, he (hun sen) has proven he can keep the K.R. out of the jungle. Thats what matters. (though hun sen was KR, fled, later to be
installed by the Vietnamese, who invaded in 1980 BECAUSE NO ONE DID ANY THING TO STOP THE KILLING. we couldnt-cant support the Vietnamese when the Chinese invaded them a year before(1979) coups in-between....etc.) give them the jobs,(and more) give them a raise.
posted by clavdivs at 7:00 PM on July 24, 2001

Alas, the Economist's Big Mac Index fails to include the Cambodian currency. (Perhaps no Golden Arches in Pnomh Penh, yet?) But I can't imagine that you'd need more money to live there than in New York City, by any measure. The World Factbook indicates that per-capita GDP is around $710, or about 1/60th that in the USA. (In fact, this State Dept. scale suggests your average diplomat could get by on less than 90% of his salary, compared with DC.)

I don't think there's a direct comparison, here, though. Your average Cambodian worker isn't going to be expecting a ranch house in the burbs and a SUV to commute. There is a practical suggestion in the fact that they can get anyone to work at those rates, it must be appropriate to the market at some level. (And with 2.8% unemployment last year, according to the CIA's probably-third-hand figures, it can't be that bad.)

Ultimately, the process of building a viable middle-class in developing nations is going to have to start somewhere.
posted by dhartung at 9:31 PM on July 24, 2001

« Older Do not pet the great white sharks while they're...   |   teoma Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments