Chapter 6: Globalization and Asian Women, by Matsui Yayori

Globalization and Its Impact on Human Rights
by George Mathews Chunakara (ed.)

Chapter 6: Globalization and Asian Women, by Matsui Yayori

Ms. Yayori is Director of Asia-Japan Women’s Centre, Tokyo, Japan.


Globalization promotes mega-competition among giants

Globalization of market economy has spread all over the world in the last decade of the 20th century after the collapse of socialist planned economy in Eastern Europe. Globalization, which integrates the world economy through liberalization of trade and investment and deregulation and privatization of business so that the world transnational corporations (TNCs) can operate freely across national boundaries. Besides, the three pillars of the international economy: the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO consolidate their powers. Electronic information technology such as computers and internet is playing a key role in promoting globalization.

Globalization is the era of mega-competition, in other words, the competition among giant TNCs which accelerates the race for the bottom to make TNCs acquire more profit by further exploitation of labor including lowering the wages, cutting the welfare benefits, laying off employees, depriving workers of their labor rights, using cheap labor such as casual and even child labor, and also by further destruction of environment. It is the competition in which participants aren’t equal and the winner and the loser are predetermined, because TNCs and international financial institutions in the North have such power as the weaker nations in the South can hardly compete.

Under globalization, developing countries have to open up their economy to the more advanced industrialized countries. Liberalization and deregulation under globalized world economy minimize the role of nation states to regulate and control TNCs for the interests of their own people; on the contrary, governments of developing countries in the South are forced to serve TNCs from the North by providing various benefits to them. They are also dictated to by the IMF and other powerful international agencies which impose them structural adjustment programme (SAP) at the sacrifice of people.

Women workers deaths caused by fire in toy factories

It is poor women who suffer most the impact of globalization because competition among big corporations cause unemployment and casualization of female labor.

Women workers who are still employed face worsening conditions including extremely low wage, long working hours and labor accidents. They are treated like sub-humans without even minimum labour rights written in the ILO conventions.

At the International Tribunal on Workers’ Human Rights, held at the Peoples Summit on APEC in Vancouver in November 1997, a young researcher from Hong Kong testified about the Zhili toy factory fire which killed 87 workers and injured 47 in 1993. It is a Hong Kong-Chinese joint venture located in Shenzhen, southern China producing stuffed toys for the Italian brand name Chicco. According to her testimony, there was no alarm, no sprinklers or fire escapes in the factory and only unqualified electricians were employed. Three hundred workers, mostly young women, couldn’t get out of the factory, because the management put steel bars on windows and kept the doors locked in order to prevent them from stealing or leaving the work site early. Even those who survived with heavy burns didn’t get proper medical treatment, nor due compensation from the company.

The toll of industrial accidents, according to the state statistics of China, amounted 20,000 in 1994 and the majority of these tragic cases happened in the coastal regions where foreign investments were concentrated under the socialist market economy. As many as 93 died and 49 were injured by fire in a dyeing factory Zhuhai in 1994; 23 died and 49 were injured by the fire in a lighter factory in Shunda in 1995, and 32 died and 4 were injured by fire in a shoe factory in Fujian in 1997. Most of the victims were young female workers who migrated from rural areas of the interior.

After China opened up to the global market economy and joined the global competition, its most useful weapon is cheap labour, factory owners are trying to minimize any cost including that of workers’ safety, due to lack of safety regulation in foreign investments. In the industrial zones for foreign capital in China, like in other countries, workers are deprived of the right to organize themselves in order to improve their working conditions. Cheap products made in China flooding the global market are manufactured by foreign joint ventures at the sacrifice of numerous women workers. This is the reality of workers behind the strong international competitive performance of China.

However, it is not only in China that blood-stained toys are produced by young women. In May 1993, only a half-year before the Zhili fire, a fire in Kader Toy Factory in Thailand claimed 189 workers’ lives and 469 workers were injured.

In Vietnam, Keyhinge Toys, a 100% foreign-owned plant (Hong Kong company), produces giveaway toys for McDonald’s fast-food multinational, over 1,000 workers, 90% of whom are young women, have been struggling for their rights to the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime pay, health and safety measures and the right to organize themselves. However, they haven’t got any success; on the contrary, hundreds of workers were dismissed. Moreover, in February 1997, 220 workers became seriously ill as a result of acetone poisoning.

M-B Sales, a US-based supplier of toys to McDonald’s, has two factories in China. The working conditions there are so poor that at the factory in Zhuhai, 23 workers were hospitalized due to benzene poisoning and three had died in January 1992. At two other McDonald’s toy producing factories in China, several workers were victimized by chemical poisoning, but they were not compensated.

In Thailand, women workers, including child workers, are extremely maltreated at Eden Factory, a European joint venture, which manufacture world-renowned Mickey Mouse toys for Disneyland.

The plight of women workers of toy factories is only the tip of the iceberg. It is caused by competitive market economy without regulation for the protection of workers. It is always the weakest sector of society that is most severely affected by global forces.

Facing such extreme form of inhumane treatment and exploitation of workers who produce world-brand toys for the global market, independent labour unions, human rights, women’s and religious groups in Hong Kong have launched Toy Campaign with the slogan “Stop Toying with Human Lives!”; people in the industrialized countries in the North joined the campaign in various forms.

Global march against child labour

On the 17th of January 1998, the streets surrounding Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City of Metro Manila, the Philippines, were filled with 15,000 child workers and their supporters from all over the Philippines, and also children from India, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia in their ethnic clothing were also marching together, shouting “Stop child labor!” ‘Go Go Global March!”. It was a kick-off of the Global March against Child Labor which will last for six months involving over 700 organizations in 97 countries of five continents. It is the largest social mobilization ever organized on behalf of the 250 million child laborers around the world who are forced to work for survival.

In the Philippines, according to a 1995 survey, 3.6 million children between the ages 5-17 are working, which is 15.9% of the child population. Nearly two-thirds of the working children are in farms. There are 216,000 young child workers between the ages 5-9 who are working in order to help their parents cope and survive, and among them 2.2 million children are in hazardous and exploitative forms of work, including mining, quarrying, fireworks production, deep sea fishing, domestic work, commercial sexual exploitation, scavenging, stevedoring in ports, and sub-contractual labor.

Abrelia Pablo, 13 years old, works from 6:30 in the morning till 9:00 p.m. at a factory in Cotabato, southern Mindanao. While new at work, the tips of her fingers were cut by machines in the factory which had no machine guards. She receives Pesos 600 (US $15) per month with free meals and housing. Joseph Jalmon, 7 years old, fetched water from a nearby spring filling four to five gallons which he would load to a waiting small fishing boat. He earns Pesos 2.00 per gallon and tips.

Children have to work because of various reasons. The Philippine organizers of the Global March mention following: widespread poverty and social inequality resulting in the erosion of the family’s capacity to nurture and protect children, the rise of informal economy requiring simple skills and technologies, globalization of capitalism where underdeveloped nations provide the rich with cheap labor, disrupted family patterns due to migration, AIDS, etc. and inadequate basic services from government, including education, due to cut of the state budget of non-profit sectors to follow structural adjustment programme dictated by the IMF and the World Bank. The increase of child labour in Asia is apparently caused by globalization.

“Only global pressure on governments, employers and communities can begin to turn the tide against exploitative child labor. When I see the tremendous support the Global March has received, it becomes certain that the 21st century is not going to flourish at the cost of the sweat and blood of children, said Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, of India, the inter­national coordinator of the Global March, who had originally conceived the idea and proposed it to NGOs worldwide working on children’s human rights. There is another serious issue of children: the increase of street children which is also an impact of globalization. Many of them are also working children in one way or another. Globalization, which causes the aggravation of poverty, forces millions of children to live in streets, because their families cannot feed or support them.

Feminization of international labor migration

Globalized capital which moves freely across national borders to optimize profits requires, cheap, controllable and expendable “global workforce”. Thus, migrant labor has become an essential part of the global free market system. It is said the number of overseas migrant labor has reached almost 1 billion, the largest number in history. People in such huge numbers have to leave their countries for survival.

Among increasing migrant workers, the percentage of women is growing remarkably: in case of the Philippines, the largest migrant labor exporting country, some 65% of overseas migrant laborers are women. In Hong Kong, some 100,000 Filipino women are working as domestic workers, in Singapore some 60,000 Filipino women. They often have to face non- or under-payment, physical or sexual violence by employers or their families.

The case of Sara Barabagan, 16-year-old Moro (Muslim minority) woman from Mindanao, illustrates the plight of female migrant workers. She was sentenced to death for the murder of her employer in a Middle East country in 1995. It was reported that she was threatened with a knife and raped by her aged employer; then she wrested the knife from him and stabbed him many times. Her case drew the attention of the whole world, voices of protest and support arose in many countries, Filipino women demonstrated at home and in Hong Kong as well. As a result, Sara’s death sentence was reduced and finally she was released to return home. Sara is only one of the many victims of abuse of Asian female migrant workers.

The number of Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong has been increasing as well. Consequently, more and more Indonesian women come to the Asian Migrant Centre to seek help. The booklet “No Other Place to Go”, published by the Centre introduced the results of interviews with Indonesian and other foreign domestic workers, pointing out that, in addition to the problems shared with male workers such as unpaid wages, overwork, no days off and passport confiscation, women workers face unique problems, such as sexual violence at the hands of male employers and family members and other human rights violations. The globalization of migration is accompanied by feminization of migration especially in Asia.

Japan is a recipient country of migrant workers but most Filipino women migrate to Japan as entertainers, because the Japanese government sticks to the policy refusing to accept any unskilled foreign labor. Filipino women began to come to work since the early 80s and its number increased dramatically. According to Immigration statistics, the number of Filipino women who have been to Japan holding entertainers’ visa in the last twelve years (1985-1996) was over 400,000. Even though they are supposed to work as entertainers such as singers or dancers, many of them are forced to work as hostess in bars or even to do prostitution in the expanding sex industry all over Japan. They face all kinds of violence and exploitation.

Since the early 90s, the new issue has been highlighted, that is the sudden increase of Japanese Filipino Children (JFC). A large number of JFC, abandoned by Japanese fathers live in the Philippines with their mothers in poverty and with hardship. Citizens’ Network for Japanese Filipino Children was formed in 1994 and it opened its Manila office “Maligaya House” in January 1998 for helping JFC, and their mothers to solve legal and other problems. This is the problem of the second generation of female migrant workers; an unavoidable result of feminization of migration.

Sex trafficking of women

In August 1997, I visited Thailand as a member of Women’s Study Tour organized by Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre and in September, Myanmar (Burma) as a resource person of a human rights training course. The main objective of our study tour was to see the background of growing sex trafficking of Thai women into Japan and other countries. It was shocking to see the sheer poverty in the villages, especially hilltribe areas, which showed dramatic contrast to accumulation of wealth and prosperity in Bangkok.

The economic growth of Thailand on macro level has been remarkable with more than ten percent annual GNP growth since the late 1980’s until the sudden currency crisis which started in July 1997. However, in the rural areas in the northeast and the north, there is a totally different world where people suffer from economic deprivation and environmental destruction - in other words, all kinds of human rights violations.

It should be mentioned that Thailand has developed its economy under globalization, adopting quite a liberal trade and investment policy without regulation and inviting huge foreign capital to produce goods for export to the global market. As a result, it has been seen as a model economy promoting the world growth centre of East Asia.

However, the Thai government has hardly implemented any social policy towards rural and hilltribe people for equitable distribution of the wealth accumulated by its quite liberal economic development policy. The type of economic development in Thailand has widened the gap between the rich and the poor and the urban and the rural. The income gap between the capital and the Isaan, northeastern region, is reported to be ten to one, and that between Bangkok and the north eight to one.

As a result, poor farmers and hilltribe people have to sell their young daughters to the sex industry; the age of these girls are getting younger and younger, because the fear of AIDS has increased the demand for younger, safer girls not yet infected with HIV. However, it is reported some 70% of these girls get HIV within one year after they are put into brothels. The total number of people infected with HIV has reached more than one million in Thailand. Girls are dying from AIDS every day in many villages and many AIDS orphans are left due to the spread of HIV to mothers.

In recent years, transborder sex trafficking has been accelerated, and more and more Thai women are sent abroad by trafficking organizations: Japan is the country receiving the largest number of trafficked women from neighboring Asian countries and they are treated as sex slaves. As a matter of fact, the sex industry is the most deregulated industry without any rule or much less code of conduct whatsoever which can use anything as commodities, even women’s bodies, just as British slave merchants did to African people in the 18th century.

In the market economy based on competition, everything is commodified including human beings, and women’s sexuality is traded as the most profitable commodity. Actually, these victimized Thai women are bought and sold at a price of 4 million yen in Japan.

It is not only Thai women but also young girls of neighboring countries that are trafficked into Thailand. According to a Thai NGO working on children’s rights, some 40,000 to 50,000 Burmese girls have been sent to Thailand and even more brutally abused than Thai girls at the bottom of the prostitution industry. Some 80 to 90% of them got HIV, due to their extremely weak, low status and little knowledge of self protection in brothels. Those Burmese girls who got AIDS and became useless for brothel owners were sent back to Thai-Burmese and Thai-Chinese border towns by garbage trucks and just dumped there and left to die. Even if they managed to reach their families, they were often left outside their houses to be fed like dogs until they die, because of ignorance of and fear for AIDS on the part of family.

Girls of southern China, Cambodia and Laos have been also victimized by growing sex trafficking in Asia. As soon as their countries opened up the economy to the outside world, poor women and girls were targeted as the easiest means to make profit at the growing global sex market. For the young girls who are used as sex objects and infected with HIV to die so young, globalization of the market economy is really violence against them.

Globalization is threat to food security and environment

Farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people, especially women producers of food and other primary products suffer from the globalization in most Asian countries.

According to the World Bank report, some 2 million people were forced to leave from their land because of huge infrastructure development projects funded by World Bank from 1986 to 1993. As many as 80% of those displaced were in Asia.

Those mega projects which take land from people include dams, seaports, airports, highways, bridges, industrial estates, golf courses and other types of resort, prawn farming and all kinds of plantation. All these gigantic development projects have been promoted by TNCs in collaboration with local governments. The Asian region, the growth centre of the world, has been the main target of such mega development projects.

The issue of displacement is getting to be more and more serious. People have to fight against land grabbing. It is often women who are in the forefront of such struggle to protect their land, because they are the main producers of food and other daily necessities and they have to defend their livelihood.

In Batangas, some 100 km from Manila, the Philippines, more than 1,500 houses were demolished in 1994 for the Batangas Port Development Project funded by Japan and other international financial agencies. The aim of expanding the Batangas port into an international port is to facilitate establishment of TNC factories in the nearby industrial estate.

The people there, led by a woman mayor, resisted for years but finally an armed police force came to destroy the community. She questioned, “Such development project is for whom? It is development invasion, isn’t it?” However, she didn’t give up. She organized several hundred families who refused to resettle in the far away area provided by the government. They are now building a new town nearer their workplace.

In Isaan, the northeastern region of Thailand, was converted from an agricultural area that produced food for self-consumption to a cash crop producing area under the government policy of promoting export of agricultural products to the world market. As a result, the vast area of tropical forests has been destroyed to develop huge plantation of corn, tapioca, cotton and other commercial products. Farmers are indebted and forced to even sell their daughters for brothels, because of the decline of the international price of primary products.

On top of that, the Government started the greening policy by planting eucalyptus trees. It is the kind of tree which grow very fast and can be used as pulp chip to make paper. It is an export product to developed countries which consume more and more paper. Therefore, the vast farm land was taken from farmers to open up eucalyptus plantations.

Facing such reality, farmers organized a struggle to protect their land. In many villages, it is women who fight in the forefront and confront the military and the police. One woman leader of a village near Royet in southern Isaan questioned, ‘We never stop fighting until we get back our land. We want to grow trees by ourselves for our own use, for example fruit trees. We need basic food to live on. Why do we have to cultivate which we cannot eat for export to the rich country?’

In southern Thailand, the vast coastal zones are now used for prawn and shrimp cultivation for export. Fisherwomen are resisting such development projects because their fish catch has decreased due to the cutting down of mangrove trees and the pollution of the sea by chemicals discharged from prawn farms. A woman in a beautiful fishing village near Trang, in the southern border area, was trying to recover the coastal environment and said, ‘Don’t eat too much shrimp, please. Why do we have to lose our traditional peaceful life in such a way?’

Actually, prawn cultivation has spread all over the coastal zones in Asia. It is not only fisherfolk but also farmers that are affected, because their farmlands are taken away and used as prawn and fish ponds. In Bangladesh, tragic incidents have taken place in last several years in the coastal areas in the south. According to a testimony at the Asian Women’s Tribunal held in Bangkok in 1994, a group of women farmers had taken out a protest march to the developer of prawn farms, shouting “Don’t take our land!” The developer sent a team of armed men and they fired at the demonstrating women. One woman was killed and several were injured.

The tragedy was caused because the Bangladesh government promoted prawn cultivation together with the World Bank and the IMF as a part of the structural adjustment programme to earn foreign currency. In one of the poorest countries where the malnutrition rate of children is very high, due to lack of enough food, people are not allowed to produce their own food. Instead they are forced to cultivate food for export. Women and children are losing their lives by both starvation and violence in the name of development.

Thus, globalization threatens food security and destroy the environment and causes people extreme pains and agony.

Asian Women resist globalization and search for an alternative economic system.

No matter how powerful the force of globalization, women should not surrender and accept it. It is the hidden intention of global forces such as TNCs and international agencies to make the people feel that globalization is inevitable and there is no alternative to it and it was of no use to resist it. They try to make the people feel powerless. However, ironically, the unprecedented scale of human suffering and misery caused by harsh mega competition, liberalization of trade and investment, in the era of globalization motivates millions of victimized people to resist and fight back for survival and human dignity.

It is women who are taking the lead in this global struggle, because feminization of poverty, violence against women, dehumanizing treatment of women and all other forms of pains imposed on women drive them to fight back.

The negative impacts of globalization such as deregulation policy are also felt by women in developed countries. In Japan, women workers are put into even more disadvantageous position due to deregulation policy to deprive protective measures and make more casual labor. In the competitive business world, women’s reproductive function is considered a burden, and, as a result, gender discrimination in workplace is perpetuated. Therefore, Japanese women have formed a coalition against such deregulation policy.

In many countries in Asia, the women’s movement is getting stronger and stronger. Their power was clearly shown in the World Women’s Conference at Beijing. Many women have broken silence and begun to take action. It is vitally important to strengthen the global women’s movement based on local action and with perspective for the 21st century in order to confront and break through global force.

The growing women’s movement in Asia has to take up many challenges. One of the most important tasks is to achieve true participatory democracy in order to force nation-states to accept more accountability vis-à-vis global forces for the interests of their people. Women should be empowered to democratize the state, society, workplace and family.

Secondly, women have to change the global consumer culture such as “McDonaldization” and recover diversity of lifestyle and values. Consumer goods traded by TNCs are causing pains to millions of women and children who produce them, like toys. It is so important to create feminized culture based on caring, nurturing mutual help and change the prevailing masculine culture of competition, efficiency and power greed, which is the culture of globalization.

Thirdly, women’s groups in Asia should work close together in searching for a new vision for future, because it is apparent that the world in the 21st century should not be like the one we live in now. We need to create an alternative society based on gender justice, ecological sustainability and local-global democracy. Asian women should have the confidence to change their own daily lives and the world by supporting one another. Only global women’s force can overcome global market force.