File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 5


Date: Sat, 7 Sep 1996 10:53:03 GMT
Subject: Eat Disney


   The New York Times, September 7, 1996, p. 23. 
 
 
   Taking a Stand Against Disney And Its World 
 
   By David Gonzalez 
 
 
   Disney's blitz marches on, its beachheads surging into 
   shopping strips, playgrounds and schools filled with kiddie 
   troops wearing the uniforms of Pocahontas and Quasimodo. 
   Some days you have to wonder if we'll all wind up taking 
   orders from the Mouse. 
 
   Facing this onslaught, Jim Geist took his counteroffensive 
   to Times Square recently, actually giving away copies of a 
   just-finished Disney video. It wasn't a plot to flood the 
   market with bootleg cartoons. His tape was live action, of 
   interviews with the Haitian workers who sew the happy-faced 
   T-shirts and pajamas and other items that contribute to the 
   estimated $1 billion the company earns licensing its 
   characters. 
 
   The Haitian workers, he said, earn 30 cents an hour. They 
   live on credit. Their children go hungry. They make about 
   $11 a week, less than the retail price of a Pocahontas 
   shirt. 
 
   First the Gap. Then Kathie Lee Gifford. Et tu, Pluto? 
 
   The Disney Company is the latest target of a coalition of 
   religious and labor groups that seeks to highlight the 
   working conditions at the overseas factories that churn out 
   lucrative clothing lines. Disney was chosen on purpose, 
   they said, because of its high profile and jealously 
   guarded corporate image of wholesome family entertainment. 
   The coalition wants Disney to increase its hourly wage to 
   58 cents and allow monitoring of its overseas factories. 
 
   "Every group I've spoken to, their jaws hit the floor," 
   said Mr. Geist, an assistant at an evangelical Christian 
   church in Elmhurst, Queens. "They say, 'Please don't tell 
   me Walt Disney is doing this.' " 
 
   The company's response is contained in a one-page statement 
   that says it requires all its overseas licensees to abide 
   by its code of conduct, which stipulates that factories 
   comply with local wage and workplace laws. It does not say 
   how much the Haitian workers earn. A Disney spokeswoman 
   said she would look into the matter. She did not call back. 
 
   The Rev. David Dyson isn't surprised by that. Fifteen years 
   ago, he founded the National Labor Committee, the group 
   that took on the Gap and Kathie Lee Gifford and produced 
   the Haiti videotape. Now the pastor of Lafayette Avenue 
   Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, he belongs to People of 
   Faith, a nationwide network whose members rally 
   congregations into speaking out on social and economic 
   issues. 
 
   "Companies don't like to get attention from churches," he 
   said. "If it were just unions banging at them, they are 
   somewhat impervious. But they don't like it when rabbis and 
   priests unite and ask ethical and moral questions about 
   their practices." 
 
   Mr. Dyson's congregation in Fort Greene is no stranger to 
   this. In the 1850's, it was a center of Abolitionist ardor 
   whose pulpit was graced by Frederick Douglass and Henry 
   Ward Beecher. A large wooden table, rebuilt years ago, 
   commands the center of the pastor's office. The 
   Emancipation Proclamation was drafted on it. 
 
   Disney's minimal reaction, he said, echoed that of the Gap, 
   which first tried to play down the criticism by holding up 
   its corporate code of conduct like a shield before agreeing 
   to modify its business practices. The problem, Mr. Dyson 
   said, was that overseas manufacturers flout those codes. 
   And while the companies say they abide by local laws, he 
   said the minimum wage in the third world is often too low 
   to allow workers to buy food and medicine. The question of 
   a living wage becomes a moral issue that is a cornerstone 
   of their public appeal. 
 
   "Instead of talking about the global economy and the 
   shattered social contract, let's go after the Gap when we 
   hear they're making clothes in El Salvador," he said. "It's 
   impossible to talk about capital flight without talking 
   about what's going on in Haiti." 
 
   Or without talking about what Disney is doing in New York, 
   where it plans to stage a musical on the life of King 
   David. 
 
   "He was a biblical figure of justice of enormous purpose," 
   Mr. Dyson said. "For Disney to be making more money off the 
   character of King David at a time when the working poor in 
   Haiti are starving is a perversion of history and 
   theology." 
 
   The Disneyfication of a classic Bible tale has emboldened 
   Mr. Geist, who plans to continue his protests outside 
   Disney's stores. He admits it is daunting, but he offers a 
   parable for those who doubt they can change part of the 
   global economy. 
 
   "The majority of people say it's so huge, what can you do 
   about it? " he said. " I say, "How do you eat an elephant? 
   One bite at a time." 
 
   Dumbo, you're on notice. 
 
   [End] 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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