The BikeBiz.com stories on Ethical Consumer's report on the global bike trade are copied below. Here's Steven Walsh's response in full:
There are more than 3000 garment factories in Bangladesh and to my knowledge only three bicycle factories (Meghna,Transworld, and Alita). The domestic market is served from China. I have no idea about what Bangladesh was like in 1993 as my connections there began only five years ago.
But I can say quite emphatically that there is no child labour in the Meghna and Transworld factories and I have no reason to believe that there is any in the Alita factory either. This really is a "thing of the past". In our Meghna and Transworld factories our payrolls are audited from time to time by large international companies who cannot afford to fall foul of any "ethical" issues. The people who co-own these factories are well respected pillars of Bangladesh society. In addition to the two bicycle factories they have a tyre factory, a carton factory, a saddle factory(where they also make decals), a rim factory(where they also make spokes and nipples), and several more connected to our industry (including a carton factory). They are also the BMW car importers, the Kia Truck importers (which they convert to buses for public transport). They have a cement factory and they are the largest shareholders in Bangladesh's biggest private Bank. They are substantial employers of Bangladesh people. The Meghna group established its own orphanage which takes care of 12 street children. Once a week a doctor
visits our factories and any employee can have free medical attention paid for by the company. My point is: times have changed. I am happy for anyone to visit my new factory:in fact, I would encourage it. There you will see a brand new building in the middle of the Dhaka district countryside. It is extremely well equipped and the working conditions are as good as it gets in such a hot climate. The practice of using children in the homes of the better-off still remains, but even this is becoming more difficult as the government becomes more socially aware. These children would otherwise be abandoned out on the streets. In the homes of more fortunate people they can expect to be educated, well fed, and live a much longer life. Child poverty is still a serious issue in this country, as it is almost everywhere, including the UK. I have a good friend who travels to Dhaka every month. He is in the garment industry, is Jewish, and he stays in the home of his Muslim supplier .Every month he takes £300-worth of medical products (simple drugs, syringes etc.) which are hard to get out there to the Mother Theresa orphanage in Dhaka, where, in his words,he "cries his eyes out". He is doing his bit and this is happening right across the business community.
A lot has changed in the past five years in Bangladesh. It is the "do gooders" who are producing articles which are ten years behind the times who create a false image through the power of the written word. I wonder if
the person who wrote the article for Ethical Consumer has ever visited Bangladesh? I doubt it very much.
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ORIGINAL BIKEBIZ.COM STORIES:
Friday 3rd October 2003
Global bike manufacturers guilty of using child labour, claims green mag
The latest edition of Ethical Consumer magazine rates the manufacturers of seventeen of the world's top bicycle brands across a range of corporate responsibility issues. They don't come out smelling of roses, especially those from Bangladesh...
The manufacturing of bicycles is said to expose factory workers to strong chemical odours, excessive heat in welding areas, and unsafe machinery. However, the most worrying issue, claims issue 85 of Ethical Consumer magazine, is that of the use of child labour.
The report says that Bangladesh has one of the biggest numbers of child labourers in southern Asia. When Bangladesh introduced its controversial 'Child Labour Deterrence Act' in 1993, and thousands of children lost jobs in the garment industry, many found work in bicycle factories, claims Ethical Consumer.
The magazine also explores the conditions endured by employees of other bicycle factories in the Far East. The report expresses serious concern about workers' rights in the increasingly globalised bicycle industry.
The magazine is no fan of globalisation:
"[we] found that many smaller, formerly independent brands, such as GT, MONGOOSE, SCHWINN,
MOULTON and DAWES, have now been bought out by bigger companies."
Of course, Schwinn could hardly be called a 'smaller' brand and the erroneous inclusion of Moulton in Ethical Consumer's first statement was soon pointed out to the magazine.
Ethical Consumer's PR officer later retracted the statement: "We wish to make it clear that Moulton Cycles is an independent company and does not manufacture any goods in the Far East. A company representative states that Moulton Cycles is one of the last remaining independent bicycle manufacturers in the United Kingdom. We apologise sincerely for any distress or inconvenience caused by this error."
Ethical Consumer is an international magazine, based in the UK, and provides research on corporate social responsibility to help shoppers avoid brands and companies which are deemed unethical. This is not the first time the magazine has reported on the bicycle manufacturers of the world. In issue 68 (Dec00/Jan01) , the magazine's advice was to choose locally-made bicycles, a tough one for consumers then, and even tougher now.
Overall best buys were Pashley, Dawes and Brompton as these were labelled as manufactured in the UK in 2001. In issue 68, Universal scored well on workers' rights.
Tuesday 7th October 2003
Made-in-the-USA Burley bikes are the best buy for ethical consumers, says green mag
Orbit bikes of Sheffield also scores highly in Ethical Consumer magazine's corporate responsibility audit. To "avoid workers' rights problems", the mag reckons the concerned consumer should spend £400+ on a bicycle and should shop only at IBDs "not only because they stock smaller brands such as Burley and Orbit, but because they have far more specialist knowledge."
After running a preview, on Friday, of a corporate responsibility report in Ethical Consumer magazine, BikeBiz.com has now obtained a copy of the October/November issue.
On the surface it makes for damning reading: the majority of the world's bicycles are made in countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh; countries, according to the Ethical Consumer report, with records of workers' rights abuses, including the use of child labour,
However, the report is weakened by poor research: Raleigh is said, wrongly, to be owned by Derby International (Derby went pop in 2001) and in the list of 17 global bike brands, micro-brands such as Whyte and Nirve are listed but biggies such as Specialized and Giant are not. Pacific Cycle's GT, Mongoose and Schwinn get a brief mention in the body of the article - they are said to be "smaller independent brands" - but don't feature in the list of 17 brands put through the magazine's ethical audit.
Every bike company - including Burley - gets a black mark for environmental reporting, and only Dawes and Falcon get mini-plaudits for their employee codes of conduct.
The brands to fare the worst in the Ethical Consumer report are Apollo and Carrera, the house brands of Halfords, owned by CVC Capital Partners Europe Ltd. These brands get black marks in almost every category, including 'pollution', 'oppressive regimes', and, thanks to the chimps TV ad campaign, 'irresponsible marketing.'
Halfords is also criticised for advertising in-car camera/radar detectors "which can help drivers being caught speeding," said Ethical Consumer's report.
And CVC gets a beating too: it's criticised for a £750m 'private equity pool' for Asia with Citigroup and is slammed for having a registered address in Jersey, "a known tax haven."
Ethical Consumer's report - Two Wheels Good - is subtitled "Are bicycle manufacturers taking us for a ride?" The article said that "bicycles are just about the most sustainable form of transport available" but the "globalisation of bicycle manufacture...means that some brands are not as ethical as you may think."
Bangladeshi companies are said to employ many child workers who are "vulnerable to abuses by factory owners and managers." Child labour laws in Bangladesh are "rarely enforced," claimed Ethical Consumer.
Bicycles made in Indonesia were often part-manufactured by children, said Ethical Consumer. The magazine listed Apollo from Halfords as one of the bike brands made in Indonesia.
"[A] survey of 9000 factory units in Indonesia's Medan province, conducted by Yayasan Pondok Rakyat Kreatif (YPRK) NGO, revealed about 3400 child workers, some of whom were employed in bicycle factories. One bicycle factory worker said they worked from 8am to 5pm, with one hours lunch break, and were given no eye protection, but had to buy their own medicine to ease subsequent eye irritation."
However, this survey was from 1993, and Ethical Consumer could find no evidence the practices are still continuing.
Evidence of worker abuse is more up to date for China, Ethical Consumer quotes a 2001 report from the International Labour Organisation which itself quotes from a report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) that claims factory workers are "hit with iron bars by managers." Ethical Consumer offers this as a general claim about employee oppression in China, rather than a specific claim against a bicycle manufacturer.
This ICFTU report links bicycle manufacturing - and many other manufacturing industries - with the 'Chinese Gulag' Laogai 'reform through labour' programme, a form of forced labour. In foreign-backed factories producing bicycles - and other goods - for export, workers were commonly "confined to the employer's premises, including mandatory residence in common housing on the grounds of the enterprise. Personal identification is confiscated on arrival and replaced with enterprise ID, which had to be handed to guards when leaving the grounds of the enterprise."
Ethical Consumer points readers to a website for the US/Canadian Boycott Made in China campaign, a 'Free Tibet' lobby group that claims there are an estimated 16-20m Chinese workers held in several thousand Laogai forced labour camps. Ethical Consumer quotes the Boycott Made in China campaign admitting that "although many of the goods on our shelves are not made through forced labour, a significant part of China's export of manufactured goods originate from prisons and Laogai."