Czechs make their voice heard for fair trade


A booth on Prague’s Jungmann Square is making people stop and stare. Individuals walk inside, close the door and yell at the top of their lungs – to come out smiling moments later, as someone else takes their place. What you hear there is not a frustrated employee letting off steam after a bad day at work –it’s a voice raised in support of fair trade and making companies observe human rights and give people decent work conditions in countries where it is easy to abuse them. The Czech NGO Na Zemi has launched a campaign to raise awareness of how many people in the developing world work in shocking conditions for large multinational companies and try to put a stop to the practice. Anna Lazorova from Na Zemi is one of the organizers.

“It is a campaign called “we have a voice” and is a message to multi-national corporations that consumers want them to produce goods under fair conditions and to be responsible for the products and for the supply chain. Basically this is an audio and video petition where people go inside raise their voice against abuse of workers and get their photo taken and all this goes on a website documenting the petition. We will deliver it to companies on Human Rights Day, on December 10th. “

Do you think that Czechs care about this – about how a product was made –or do they just look at the price tag?

“That’s the main argument that companies feed us – that consumers simply do not care, but in reality when people stop to discuss this with us we see that they care about products being made under fair conditions and they want to support campaigns such as this one.”

What kind of people come here to make their voice heard?

“Of course, there are many young people who want to be heard, but what is more surprising is that many older people also come here to show they care. They remember the years of the First Republic and how industrialized the country was and they want to express solidarity with people in the developing world.”

How many “voices” have you collected in the close to two days that you are here?

‘So far we have around 1400 people.”

You have conducted some research in this field – what was the outcome?

The booth on Prague’s Jungmann Square
“There were several studies, the latest was from the “outdoor clothes” sector, a study of work conditions in Vietnam and China. We interviewed workers in factories there producing well-known brands that you can buy in every store that sells sports goods and the outcome was really disturbing because in Vietnam we found that workers work up to 16 hours a day, six days a week for less than 4 Czech crowns an hour and there are also problems such as sexual abuse, discrimination, withholding of wages and other problems that are very serious. We gather this information and challenge companies, but they claim consumers don’t care and that is why we launched this campaign and petition.”

Can you tell me about some of the most shocking examples of abuse you have come across?

“The most shocking is probably child labor –for instance we stumbled across child laborers who are eleven years old in India, they are employed in a scheme that promises benefits for a three-year contract, but it is all a scam because the money is taken from their wages and given to them after a period of three years. Then there are really severe injuries, there is usually machinery involved, there is no air-conditioning, for instance in Bangladesh it is hot, humid, rooms are overcrowded, people work overtime, they are tired and injuries happen all the time. Sexual abuse is quite common –even rape –we now have a case in Jordan that involves rape. There is a systematic abuse of women in textile production because women are more vulnerable and are prevalent in that area of production. Then there are the fires in factories –over the last six years -in Bangladesh alone - 500 people died in factory fires -all due to an unsafe work environment.”

Illustrative photo
How many of these goods end up in Czech stores –or European stores – do you know?

“We don’t know how much –just which brands this concerns and those brands are sold all over the Czech Republic.”

The thing is can a consumer find out they are buying such a product?

“It’s not easy. Sometimes there are labels on clothes and toys stating where the given product was made but in the clothes sector this is not legally binding so they do not have to have labels stating where something was made. Besides, multi-national brands produce in a variety of countries so we cooperate closely with other organizations like ourselves all over Europe and together we have more contacts in the developing countries and we can address more workers to find out if a given brand is produced in a certain factory and so on – that’s how we work.”

So this is an international campaign – are there people shouting for fair trade all over Europe?

“No, no, we cooperate in various coalitions – for instance we work closely with Clean Clothes campaigners in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and other European countries. These efforts are divided into sectors. There are also campaigns for fair trade in banana production or fair trade in toy production. But as far as this campaign is concerned we are only screaming for fair trade here in the Czech Republic.”

Will our voice be loud enough to be heard if it is just the Czech Republic and not on a broader scale?

“We believe it will because we believe that companies cannot ignore their consumers, their customers –not to mention thousands of them.”

Do you know about similar campaigns in other European countries?

“Of course, such campaigns are taking place almost in every country in Western Europe. We work with organizations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria –but also Slovakia, Poland and Hungary so the cooperation is very good and there are many organizations addressing these issues.”