Episodes — 18 April 2011
Episode 3: Is HygeneCo a ‘Dirty’ Company?

WATCH

DISCUSS

1. Why did the Zooglio journalists frame the story predominantly from the point of view of the HygenCo Corporation?

2. How would the story be framed differently if it were told from the perspective of the workers?

3. How would the practice of dechipping, or controlling the legal documentation of immigrant workers, serve to make them vulnerable to abuse by their employers?

4. Do labor rights threaten corporate interests? Why or why not?

5. What are some modern forms of indentured or involuntary servitude?

Additional Tips for Educators: These resources can help broaden the scope of your discussion of the connections between labor rights and debt. There is a long history of slavery and indentured servitude in the US, going back to colonial times (hyperlink to “experience of an indentured servant” in Level 3: phase 2). During the 19th century, workers formed labor unions, which provided them with a strong organizational structure to seek rights and legal protection from exploitation. Labor rights were expanded during the first half of the 20th century and codified as human rights into Article 23 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Still, these laws did not eradicate labor issues such as forced child labor. Sweatshops are still found in the US, often holding immigrant employees in a state of virtual captivity. Since the 1970s, increasing deregulation of trade and the growth of the global free market system have contributed to a gradual weakening of labor rights. Market enthusiasts will say that deregulating labor practices helps economic growth, but deregulation and privatization have not only limited government oversight of business practices, but also widened the gap between the rich and the poor and made workers more vulnerable to abuse. More and more people finance their lifestyles on credit, because they are unable to make ends meet. Even higher education, long seen as a social equalizer, is contributing to a credit crisis and a new generation of involuntary servitude.

In 2016, the federal government heavily cut taxes, and in the process, cut funding for most social programs and enforcement agencies. Immigration became heavily restricted during this time, but the task of immigration control became increasingly delegated to state governments. It became increasingly common practice for corporations to sponsor immigrants for temporary work visas that did not afford them substantial legal rights or a pathway to citizenship. This in turn, produced a rise in re-chipping and SMRTTid fraud, as immigrants struggled to find ways to level the playing field and have access to basic rights that their corporate sponsors denied them.

MAKE

Now that you are armed with the facts, put them to work. Increasingly, deregulating labor practices and diminishing labor rights have become a reliable way for corporations to increase their profits and productivity. To create public awareness, you will create “subvertisements” for companies that have amassed enormous profits while engaging in bad labor practices. A subvertisement is an ad that parodies or spoofs corporate or political advertisements—usually by altering their logo or playing on the name.

For example:

OR

Try to use goods made by that company and place your subvertisement directly onto the product made by the company.

Do some research about companies with questionable labor practices. (For example: Many chocolate companies have been found using cocoa harvested by child labor.)  A list of the Sweatshop Hall of Shame can be found here.

ACT

Shopdropping:

You have designed your subvertisements; now place them in the public sphere! Take a moment to brainstorm as a group with your students and colleagues to plan a shopdrop. Shopdropping is a form of “culture jamming” in which someone covertly places altered merchandise on display in its original retail context. See below:

Once you have decided on an object to alter, take a before and after picture. Place the “after” in a store next to the original object. Take a photo of the shopdropped object in its original retail setting, and if possible, try to document customer reactions to the altered object. Get the word out about what you’ve done; email, text, and Tweet your people and let them know about where they can see your work or buy your product!

Don’t let your message be limited by geography; document your creativity and be sure to take a photo of your subvertisement (using a cell phone or a digital camera, for example) in the store and let your fellow gamers see your creative powers on display. After you have photographed your work, upload it to the America2049 Facebook page! And don’t forget to post on your own Facebook wall, as well as to your online photo galleries, like photobucket and Flickr.

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