Archive for the ‘International’ Category

What in the world is going on in Turkey?

June 24, 2013

Turkey demosFour weeks ago a small group of environmentally-minded Turks staged a demonstration, or an occupation, of tiny Gezi park in Istanbul, where the government had stated its intent to build a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks to house a shopping mall.

The government responded by attacking the protesters violently with water cannon and tear gas. The disproportionate attack on the peaceful protesters crystallized widespread hostility to the government of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdoğan (pronounced ER-duh-wan). The protests grew and spread all over Turkey, and everywhere the protesters were met by violent police action. So far five have died, and the protests have died down.

Erdoğan blames the trouble on outsiders, including CNN and the “interest lobby,” and has called out his supporters into massive counter demonstrations.

Erdoğan was first elected to head the government in 2002, with 34% of the vote. He was reelected in 2007 with 46%, and again in 2011 with just under 50% of the votes cast. He is a practicing Muslim—rare for a Turkish leader—and has steadily moved to make Turkish society more congenial to pious Muslims. He wants to amend the Constitution to allow women to wear headscarves in public buildings (now forbidden), and has had laws passed that allow early religious instruction in elementary school, limit the sale of alcohol, and has proposed bans on abortion and even on kissing in public.

Some fear Erdoğan’s goal is to introduce Sharia law, a la Iran or Saudi Arabia, while others (including The Economist) call him a “moderate Islamist” and believe his intent is simply to (more…)

Should you beware of your tour guide? Even in Turkey?

January 2, 2013

 

150 RustemP P1000074I think Turks are more honest than most, and I’ve written several times about how hard it is to lose a wallet in Turkey because some Turk will always pick it up and track you down to return it. In contrast, when a friend lost her wallet in front of the Whole Foods market in Westwood—an upscale part of Los Angeles, right by UCLA—it vanished without a trace. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey was the only place in the world where you just can’t lose a wallet.

So what to think when Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s top English language newspaper, runs an exposé headlined, “Beware of your tour guide”?

The article, along with a follow-on piece, gives several examples of

“tourists who are taken advantage of by a licensed, professional tour guide, someone who they have hired to show them the historic sites of the city, who builds up a sense of trust and who then knowingly fleeces them out of additional money after they have already paid a sometimes hefty fee for a guided tour.”

The scams mainly involve kickbacks from shops and restaurants who jack up their prices and share the loot with the unscrupulous guides who bring the poor trusting tourists to be fleeced.

So should you beware? No and yes. No, because you’ll forego an enriching experience if the warning makes you avoid guides altogether. Some of my most rewarding travel experiences have been with licensed guides, particularly Arzu Tutuk Altinay in Istanbul and Atil Ulas Cuce in Cappadocia.

But yes as well. Use common sense, check them out, and don’t give someone you don’t know carte blanche to choose your restaurant, carpet dealer, jeweler, or spice shop. Even in a country where honesty predominates there are sharpies and crooks looking for you. So hire a guide, be enriched by the knowledge she has, and—always—think for yourself.

 

 

Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart

April 21, 2012

After Top-Level Struggle Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing, an examination by The New York Times found. 

The headlines are from Saturday’s New York Times. The news article details how Walmart de Mexico—that nation’s largest employer—regularly paid huge bribes to Mexican government officials to approve permits for new stores; how senior management of the Mexican subsidiary was party to the bribery; how Walmart headquarters in Arkansas investigated the allegations of bribery, and how, when the investigations turned up hard evidence, hq proceeded to bury it.

“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” So goes the conventional wisdom, but in this case it was both: the crime was committed by top management of the Mexico subsidiary, and the cover up was by top management of the parent company.

In my business ethics courses we use Walmart as a case study: Is the company ethical or unethical, and is it good or bad for America.

On the plus side Walmart gives employment to hundreds of thousands (more…)

Hooray for Apple CEO Tim Cook for seriously addressing labor issues in China. When will Nike follow suit?

April 2, 2012

 

Business ethics presents a dilemma when it comes to purchases from low-wage countries. Cheap labor in China makes cool iPhones for us, and cheap labor in Indonesia makes snazzy Nikes. But should an ethical person buy these products? More specifically, are Nike and Apple unethically exploiting the people who make the products they sell so profitably?

I’ve written before that Nike’s business practices are unethical, while Apple seems to be trying to do right by the workers who make its products. A January New York Times article highlighted abusive working conditions at Foxconn, a major supplier of iPhone and iPad parts in Shenzen, China. In response Apple requested an independent audit of Foxconn,and Foxconn announced an immediate pay raise.

Now the New York Times reports that Tim Cook, ,Apple’s CEO, has actually toured a Foxconn factory where its products are made, and the audit he requested has slammed Foxconn for over-long hours and dangerous working conditions. In response, Foxconn promised to make substantial improvements and bring their plants into conformance with Apple’s code of conduct.

The Times notes,

“Mr. Cook’s appearance at a facility where Apple devices are made was an illustration of how differently Apple’s new chief relates to an issue that first surfaced under his predecessor, Steven P. Jobs.

“Since Mr. Cook became chief executive last fall, shortly before the death of Mr. Jobs, Apple has taken a number of significant steps to address concerns about how Apple products are made.”

This is encouraging. Tim Cook looks headed in a very different direction than Steve Jobs, and very different from Nike’s Phil Knight and Mark Parker. Cook actually WENT there. (Thanks to Rick Cole for the link.)

I buy Apple products. I don’t buy Nike.

 

Nike’s unethical; Apple maybe not so much

February 27, 2012

 

Nike shoes are a bargain at $220 a pair. They must be, else why would hundreds of people have showed up Thursday at a Greenwood, Indiana, mall, according to the police report, “panicking to get to the front of the line” for the limited release of the $220 Foamposite Galaxy. The next day in Orlando it took a hundred deputies in riot gear to subdue a crowd waiting for the new Galaxy.

Similar riots attended Nike’s December release of the latest in the Air Jordan line, the $180 Air Jordan XI Concord.

The Air Jordans cost Nike about $16 to produce, giving Nike a gross profit of $164 a pair, or about 90 per cent, before marketing expenses. Shareholders have done well, as the stock price has increased over one hundred times in the last 25 years—in contrast, the Dow Jones average has gone up a factor of seven in that period.

The workers in Indonesia who make Nike shoes haven’t done nearly as well: they earn $4 a day—not enough to provide food, shelter, transportation, and health care. And they can only dream of someday being able to buy a pair of Nikes for themselves.

Nike could easily afford to pay a living wage—labor costs account for only $2.50 a pair. (more…)

Syrian uprising claims the lives of two intrepid American reporters

February 22, 2012

 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson would have especially valued Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London and Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, both of whom died this week in Syria.

Colvin was killed in a savage artillery bombardment of a residential neighborhood in Homs, Syria’s third city. In her last report, filed hours before she was killed, she explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper why it was important to show video of a two-year old boy dying of shrapnel wounds to the chest.

“I feel very strongly that it should be shown. That’s the reality: there are 28,000 defenseless civilians being shelled. That baby will probably move more people to think ‘What is going on and why is no one stopping these murders that are going on every day?’

“The Syrian Army is shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.”

Shadid died of an asthma attack as he was walking out of Syria to file his latest report. He knew of the danger he faced, and (more…)

Update: Foxconn, maker of iPhones and iPads, announces big pay raise

February 18, 2012

 

Foxconn Technology, maker of iPhones, iPads, and countless other consumer electronics goods, announced Saturday an immediate pay raise of 16%-25%, to about $400 a month,  for the lowest paid workers in its Chinese plants.

At Apple’s request the industry-sponsored Fair Labor Association has started an audit of its suppliers’ factories in China. The pay raise won’t affect the audit, but it’s nevertheless good news for the workers who build Apple’s products as well as reassurance for the people who buy them. (Like me.)

 

Can the outside world intervene to stop the slaughter in Syria?

February 17, 2012

Last March a few young Syrian boys— all under 17 — wrote on a wall in the farm town of Dara’a in southern Syria, a slogan that had appeared first in Tunisia, then quickly in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya:  “The people want the regime to fall.”

The local governor threw the boys in jail, and so the Syrian revolution started.

Thirty years ago Syria’s brutal president, Hafez al-Assad, put down an anti-government demonstration in the city of Hama by killing 20,000-40,000 residents. His son and successor, Bashar al-Assad, appears to be made of the same stuff. His forces have killed 5,000-7,000* in towns all over Syria, and his killing machine seems to be gaining momentum.

The Arab League and the UN General Assembly have called for an end to the killing and for Assad to leave power. Assad’s answer has been to double down.

It’s anguishing to watch the newscasts or read about the slaughter of innocents and feel helpless to stop it. Until the past few weeks outside help was impossible: unlike Libya, where the rebels controlled large chunks of territory and could be supplied and aided easily, in Syria the opposition was scattered and controlled no territory.

Now that’s changing. CNN’s Ivan Watson is reporting that militants in northern Syria hold substantial territory (more…)

Is it ethical to buy an iPhone or iPad made in a Chinese sweatshop?

February 14, 2012

 

My amazing iPhone 3GS was made in Foxconn’s huge factory in Shenzen, China, where workers toil long hours under unhealthy and downright dangerous conditions, put in forced, unpaid overtime, sleep in crowded dormitories, and—occasionally, commit suicide.

Now I’m ready to upgrade to the newest iPhone 4S, with Siri, the personal assistant with attitude. But can I give Apple more business with a clear conscience?

The outsourcing of millions of jobs to low cost countries has eliminated the American consumer electronics industry. Virtually all desktop and laptop computers are made in Asia, along with nearly all mobile phones, TV sets, and radios. Americans have gone on to other jobs, but many have never found employment as good as they had in manufacturing.

The cost to Americans is arguably far outweighed by the benefits of a dizzying variety of goods that are far, far more affordable than they were years ago. But do our benefits come at the cost of exploiting workers in China, for example?

If we look at the working conditions at Foxconn we’re tempted to say yes. And many people have taken what they consider a principled stand against buying Apple products, or indeed, any products made under sub-standard—by American standards—conditions.

But the Foxconn workers aren’t slaves—they flock to Shenzen (more…)

Perry says Turkey’s leaders are Islamic terrorists, links Turkey to Iran and Syria; State Department “absolutely and fundamentally” disagrees

January 17, 2012

 

Sometimes when a politician says something stupid it’s just something stupid. But Rick Perry’s remarks at last night’s Republican debate are fifteen yards beyond stupid. They’re dangerous and unethical.

Unethical because a Presidential candidate should know something before he maligns an American ally—or anyone, come to think of it. Thoughtless or ignorant words damage America’s power in the world

Debate moderator Bret Baier asked Perry whether he thought Turkey should continue to be part of NATO.

Perry jumped in by calling Turkey’s leaders “Islamic terrorists.”

“Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes, not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.”

Perry further promised to send a message to “countries like Iran and Syria and Turkey” that the United States is serious and will have to be dealt with. (more…)


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