Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lack of Imagination regarding 21st Century Slavery

I had the good fortune to hear Gustavo Esteva talk live here in Toronto twice this week. Also, I saw a series of disturbing videos this week on Migrant Labour in Canada (here is a 53 minute National Film Board of Canada film from 2003, and sadly, things have gotten worse, not better, since then). I am also deep in the midst of setting up another Impossibly Single event with the theme of Prostitution so am introducing myself to a whole new lexicon and expanding my knowledge of feminist theory.

The perpetual learner in me is thrilled for the new content I am pouring into my brain but I also feel that I am drowning in the bleak reality of 21st century slavery. I'll do a future post on prostitution after becoming better informed and will just focus on the Migrant Worker issue in this post.

It struck me this week that technology and our world's increasing reliance on  it is managing to divide humanity in new and creative ways. The improvements in the technology of getting one human to another place and the cost of travel relative to income in the Global North have created a global marketplace for human trafficking that is unprecedented in scope and destruction. We are excelling in technological progress while regressing in morality.

Here are some facts I've amassed after absorbing lots of new info this week:

  1. Migrant workers are not allowed to form a union. They work 7 days a week and well over 8 hours each day. Labour laws do not apply.
  2. Recent immigration changes have  increased the number of migrant workers in Canada to 350,000. That's 1% of our population. The 1% that have no rights (see fact 1) as opposed to the 1% that own our corporations. The perverseness of this dichotomy is elegant to my mathematical mind.
  3. If a migrant worker complains to their consulate they are told to behave better. Consulates are for corporations. When will we get that, finally?
  4. If a migrant worker complains too much they will be refused a renewal by their 'owners'. Yes. That's what one of the farm operator's called them in that documentary I linked above. Some farm operator's call their workers "Little Donkeys". For every migrant worker that gets kicked out of the program there are many more people waiting behind them for a position. The politics of poverty and our food system is clearly evidenced by this sad reality.
  5.  Migrant workers pay EI but claim no benefits. Instead of removing the requirement that they pay these benefits, why don't we work towards paying them during the off season like the fishery workers receive in Newfoundland?

One of the many powerful ideas Mr. Esteva discussed was regarding Corn (Maize) and it's relationship with people. Corn does not grow well on it's own. It needs cultivation by people to prosper. Humans, over millenia, have created a knowledge base around corn in Mexico.  This knowledge involves hundreds of varieties of maize and the best environment for their growth. The campesino movement, which is expanding globally, wants this knowledge base to be preserved. There is a deep understanding of people in the campesinos of the symbiotic relationship between maize and humans. The corn needs people and in turn the people need corn. If we do not preserve this symbiosis, our species will die.

Ironically, he also noted that scientific research is showing that North Americans contain more corn in their bodies than Mexicans. Corn additives are everywhere in the North American diet and many additives in our medications are derived from corn too. North Americans are, literally, people of the corn while the people of the Campesinos are more metaphorically people of the corn. More importantly, the people of the campesinos know that the need to fuel our bodies with pure healthy food trumps corporate interests. They have managed to survive the development binge of the late 20th century and defy chemical 'progress' when it comes to agri-business. This leaves the people of the campasinos, who grow 70% of the food consumed on this planet in non agri-business conditions, well suited to teaching the rest of us how to return to the land. Return to the maize.

Mr. Esteva also noted that the biggest crisis facing humanity is our collective lack of imagination.  We need new ways to solve big problems. In other words, we need some moral innovation. Less big business, more subsistence plus (way down on this page). Basically subsistence plus is "a new approach to ending hunger and impoverishment while protecting small-scale farmers and the environment" (from the link). It is a concept developed by prominent Canadian intellectuals and food activists Wayne Roberts and Michael Sacco (who is also the founder and owner of Chocosol). Their approach is truly imaginative and I'll be writing more about it on my Lettuce Connect blog in the coming weeks as part of my newly launched series on the Cupcake Economy.

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1 comment:

  1. Now I've just read your wonderful piece and urge you to obtain "An Intimate History of Humanity" which explores slavery along with how we must renew the art of conversation to dig out each other's pearls. Extraordinary how we have mass communication now but most fail to realize its gobsmacking potential.


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