December 29, 2007

The Current Situation in Burma as Food for Thought

The article I read in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Desperate Burmese Labor in Thailand ” made me think a little more about consumer responsibility and the role of civil society in assisting citizens of countries under political turmoil. It is about Burmese workers who cross the Burma-Thailand border to get a job at a factory that will pay them enough to feed their families back home.

The conflict situation in Burma primarily because of the junta, and the challenging economic state the Burmese find themselves has caused hordes of people in need, mainly women, to immigrate to neighboring Thailand for work under unwanted circumstances. There are cases where child labor has been documented in factories that work for big multinational corporations. To top of the already strained financial situation of the country, the US has announced new, harder sanctions against the Burmese state. If such sanctions are ordered the Burmese are the first who will be affected by the measures (and not the high rank militants of the junta, which are supposedly the main target of the sanctions) since the already poverty stricken citizens will reach desperation.

The article refers to several, quite popular, international lingerie brands such as Top Form, Maiden Form, Fruit of the Loom and Vanity Fair that have their products manufactured in Thailand’s factories, to which illegal Burmese immigrants are frequently employed. Even though companies are obliged under the concept of corporate responsibility, to make sure that production is made under lawful circumstances, the cheap and easy to get labor that immigrates from Burma is too good of a deal to turn down. In plenty instances, some employers just turn a blind eye to the situation in the factories.

According to the WSJ article, an American manager of the Top Form factory in Thailand, Mr. Lurer said that he actually offers his Burmese employees plenty of options, contrary to what they would have to deal with back in Burma. The Burmese nevertheless agree to work under difficult circumstances, without any legal protection, spending years at a time away from their families and many would agree that factory managers are taking advantage of their need.

So I can’t help but wonder; what’s going to happen to all those impoverished people after the country’s already shrunken production and declining exports are not welcome anymore? Will they continue crossing the Moei River to get to Thailand to get a job under difficult circumstances, undocumented, without legal protection? On one hand I strongly believe that forethought should be given to the future of the innocent citizens of the country by both the US and the EU before they proceed with harsh sanctions. On the other hand, I think these people’s lives may be more effectively changed if the conditions of their work are bettered. And that’s where civil society and consumer responsibility come in.

That notion leads me to another; how efficient can consumer pressure be in letting big corporations know that they disagree with their policies and tactics, for example about conforming to International ILO rules, Fair Trade concepts and WTO conventions? Simply by being informed and asking questions about the way a certain item is produced or if it is certified, and by making decisions based on this information can make a great difference. In most occasions, people just think: “how is my decision going to affect the decision-making process of a multinational company?” And to a certain point it might be true. However, a demand that is made on a large-scale can and will have an impact because these companies need to get the pulse of their consumers’ and follow that lead.

So make sure you ask these questions and stay informed. This could apply not only when purchasing a bra and lingerie made in Thailand – because not all Thai factories or all multinationals operate this way, but also when purchasing diamonds (see the Kimberley process certification, Jewelers’ voluntary warranty in the USA for conflict diamonds) or carpets that are weaved by children (

Other resources one may refer to for information on civil society are: a UN project purported to empower the civil society and lead them through holding businesses and governments accountable. Another, where a list of strategies, guidelines and tools are created to offer companies the opportunity to operate by using sustainable practices. And finally, an organization that believes accurate and sound reporting of business makes a great difference in its practices.

Stay in the know and pass it on to your friends, family and colleagues, because they’ll certainly listen if it comes from a familiar person’s mouth. And be sure you read our blog to look for valuable insights and information on issues you can actually have an impact on, just by educating yourself!

1-WSJ, by Andrew Higgins, Myawaddy, Myanmar, Oct 13-14/2007

2-See WSJ, Oct 13-14/2007 edition, “In 2003, it and a ….800 workers and closed.”

3-After the violent attack of the military against the peaceful protest of monks on a previous week, these measures were deemed necessary and, according to Reuters, the US is urging the neighboring India and China as well as the EU, to hold the same stance.

4-WSJ, by Andrew Higgins, Myawaddy, Myanmar, Oct 13-14/2007, page 4, par 3.

5-WSJ, by Andrew Higgins, Myawaddy, Myanmar, Oct 13-14/2007, page 1, 5th paragraph, “Cost-conscious factory bosses across the border, while acting simply out of self-interest, end up providing jobs that both the people of Myanmar and its military government need.”

6-Please refer to websites for further information on the aforementioned concepts or conventions:,,,

This article was written by volunteer blogger, Marina Sapountzoglou. To learn more, please visit or email Marina with your questions at

November 2, 2007

Making Money AND a Difference in Society!

After reading Doing Well by Doing Good an article by Jessica Chen on, I couldn’t help but to highlight the work of another individual who – in her own way, advances social causes. It explains another perspective of how entrepreneurs are lighting the way to different business practices like social entrepreneurship where in this case, profits are not the driving force behind success or failure.

When serving a community – be it online or in local neighborhood, you should be equally concerned about the impact you’ll have on the community in addition to profits. The practice of a double-bottom line not only drives business but it advances the community by challenging us to do better; asking more questions, collaborating more often, managing your resources more efficiently, all key factors leading up to what you hope will produce great results/outcomes.

Here are just a few social entrepreneurs you may find of interest:

Bill Gates Bell and Melinda Gates Foundation

Oprah Winfrey The Oprah Winfrey Foundation

Sarah Endline Sweet Riot

Social entrepreneurship helps create more jobs for the community and advances economic development. I believe that every entity, for or not-for-profit, will benefit from generating revenue (and ultimately making a “profit”) to sustain business. Profit can be measured in more ways than currency. As a social enterprise, you will have to fulfill your mission; and for many of the industry’s professionals, fulfilling your mission can be all the reward you need.

This post was written by Chanelle Carver, Editor of and Founder of the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Please leave your comments or email questions to

October 15, 2007

Take baby steps to change the world

Last Friday as I sat on a bench across the street from my job, I couldn’t help but look at the empty playground. I also couldn’t help but watch, what I presumed to be homeless men, walking back and forth with a gaze in their eyes as if they were thinking “where will this shitty life take me today.” No more than ten minutes later was I greeted by a man, perhaps in his early to mid forties, who asked if I was as stressed as he was. “Not at all mister, just real tired” is what I said to him, secretly hoping that he wouldn’t talk anymore so that I could catch a quick nap before heading back to the office.

The complete opposite happened! We ended up talking my entire lunch break where I learned about the personal, emotional and financial difficulties he was facing. As a single father raising a three year old son he said to me “life is so hard. Sometimes I wonder how a good person like me could have it so bad at times.” I had no advice for him, so I listened. To my surprise, this man was smiling almost throughout our entire conversation. His heart was hurting and yet he kept smiling. He simply needed someone to talk to, an impartial party; one who would not judge him but merely listen.

After listening to him share his story, I looked him in the eyes and asked what type of assistance, government related or not, was he receiving. He ran through a list of the help he was getting, and to my surprise I did not hear of one nonprofit or social-mission organization. You’re living in NYC and can’t find any help?! This can’t be I thought to myself.

So what did I do? I told him to follow me up the front steps into the office building where I worked, and in that building housed the United Way of Dutchess County. My actions went something like this…“Excuse me Jane (fictitious name), I just met this gentleman and he’s having some difficulty. What can we do to help him? Who or what agency can we refer him to? Please give him their number, address, and/or website. Sir, give this number a call and they can give you a list of organizations in your area that can help. Please use this service and contact me in the future if you need any more assistance.”

Guess what? Helping someone can be as simple as that. What I did is something that you can do too! Perhaps it was a coincidence that he and I met outside the United Way office. Maybe not! If you work for a nonprofit like the United Way, you too can help. It doesn’t have to be the United Way; it can be any other organization you know of whose mission, broadly put, is to advance our society. The next time someone comes up to you and starts telling their life story, just listen. You never know where life, or a lunch break, will take you. Open your ears my fellow brothers and sisters! Speak out and help your fellow wo/man.

How are you taking steps to change the world?

This blog was written by Chanelle N. Carver, social entrepreneur, management consultant, and founder of The Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project™, a community-driven initiative that seeks to educate and build communities of empowered citizens that will strive to advance adult literacy and economic equality worldwide. Please leave your comments and email questions to

October 8, 2007

Rape in Congo...Learn and Take Action!

Each day I receive my usual subscription email from NYTimes Online. But on Sunday, October 7, 2007, there was an article I read which made me think “what can I do, with the help of other concerned citizens, to solve this problem.” The article is titled “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma in Congo”,

While this rise in sexual violence against women is unknown, we cannot ignore the effects it has on people not only in Congo but around the world. Dr. Mukwege who works in South Kivu Province states “we don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear. They are done to destroy women.” Whether you do or do not believe these rapes are being used as a tool to destroy Congolese women, I think we can all agree with the latter. Rape does destroy women, often times mentally, physically, and emotionally. It destroys all women, victims and spectators. In no way shape or form is it done to uplift or advance women. At first glance, rape doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship with illiteracy or poverty; however, take a closer look and you may discover that all of these issues are in fact connected.

Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, coordinator of a sexual violence program in Bukavu says the beginning of this epidemic started back in the 1990’s during the wave of Hutu militia that fled Rwanda into Congo following the 1994 genocide. The article states that in almost all reported cases “the culprits are described as young men with guns…poorly paid and often mutinous government soldiers; homegrown militias called the Mai-Mai…members of paramilitary groups originally from Uganda and Rwanda who have destabilized this area over the past 10 years in a quest for gold and all the other riches...” Could these acts be a direct result of Congolese men low economic status or lack of education? Could their desire for better living situations be causing this inhumane behavior? Given economic situations in most African countries, these men probably need to search for gold and “all the other riches”. Their greed no longer is a desire but an issue of survival.

I’m not writing today to offer any reasons as to why this is happening to Congolese women. My reasoning behind this post is to open your eyes to the very injustices and violations of human rights occurring around the globe. They are not problems for the local government but to our global community. I think by starting the dialogue we –the global community, are headed in right direction to creating social change. Is talking enough? No, but it’s a fabulous start!

What do you think?

This post was written by Chanelle Carver, social entrepreneur, nonprofit consultant, and founder of The Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Please leave your comments or email questions to