Monday, December 1, 2008

(RED) Handed

Today, on World AIDS Day, MSN has launched (RED)WIRE, an online music service affliated with Bono's Product Red campaign. According to the site, a new song from a popular artist is delivered to subscribers' computers every week. Half of the $5 monthly subscription fee will go to the Global Fund to help provide treatment and medication for those living with AIDS and HIV in Africa.

The horrors of the AIDS crisis globally knows no bounds, especially in Africa, where a third of all infections take place. The scale of this crisis is not to be taken lightly. There's no doubt that the artists participating in (RED)WIRE are eager to give their time and work to the possibility of ending the pandemic. And it's also true that most of those who buy Red Products are doing so with the assumption that they're doing their part too.

In this writer's opinion, however, the Red Product campaign is doing nothing to stop AIDS in Africa, and is probably making it worse. It is a campaign based on the Kipling-esque idea that the only entities able to "save" Africa are the same Western corporations that have been raping and pillaging the continent for centuries.

Several companies and manufacturers affiliated with the campaign--Gap, Starbucks, Converse, Apple--have all been implicated in using sweatshop labor. In each case, the story is the same. Horrifyingly unsafe conditions, verbal and physical abuse on the job, and wages that can barely keep food in workers' mouths and a roof over their head. It's no coincidence that many of these sweatshops are in areas hit hardest by AIDS.

Money made on the backs of the poor given back to them in the form of paltry "charity." It's the kind of perverse irony that only globalization is capable of.

Nobody tell Bono that. He has spent the past twenty-five years living the delusion; ever since he and Bob Geldoff put together Band Aid in 1984 to release the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" to bring awareness to the Ethiopian famine. Most people in Ethiopia aren't even Christian.

MSN's (RED)WIRE does little more than provide a fig leaf for this kind of condescending logic and brutal exploitation. If these companies actually wanted to help the crisis, they would cease their pillage of the richest continent on Earth. They would recognize workers' rights and pay them a living wage. They would stop doing business through the IMF and World Bank who have slashed public healthcare for the past thirty years.

Obviously, these companies won't do this of their own volition, which is precisely why the solution has to come from the bottom up. The people of Africa don't deserve charity. They deserve solidarity.

"That's bullshit, get off it!
The enemy is profit!
Disease and starvation
Will not be solved by corporations!"

-Global Justice chant



jesseray said...

Great post. We at General, Your Tank... pride ourselves for exposing and documenting the duplicitous bullshit that surrounds Bono. If he gave a shit about ending the AIDS crisis, would he have been buddy buddy with Jesse Helms, an anti-gay bigot who aided and abetted the exacerbation of spread of the disease in the US by demonizing LGBT folk with it. And I'm sorry, but thinking that it is essential to solve world hunger by working with the Bush administration characters such as Robert Gates - the current mastermind of the Iraq occupation - speaks volumes of Bono's 'humanitarianism'.

He needs to be called out. Here's hoping that he'll follow through with his debate challenge to Dave Marsh, who will shred Bono.

ACH said...

I just found this blog and it's terrific, but I disagree with this post and the comment above. I do agree with the general point about the oppressive nature of corporations/USA/'the west' in relation to Africa, historically and presently. But this basic fact doesn't mean any specific efforts involving oppressive institutions will do more harm than good. Sometimes it's necessary for activists (like Bono) to make deals with the devil in order to get things accomplished. Will things like RED 'solve' or 'end' poverty and AIDS? No. But can they help a lot of needy people out and save some lives? Absolutely. For the time being Africa needs both charity and solidarity

Alexander Billet said...

ACH, thanks for your comment and I'm glad you like the blog, but I'm going to call your post out and say definitively that no, the RED campaign does not save lives. Any time Bono has been challenged to produce proof of its success, he hems and haws. Activists (and Bono is most certainly not one) don't make progress by joining with the enemy. They compromise.

If the RED campaign really wanted to be effective, it would ally only with companies that have sworn off sweatshop labor. Herein lies the difference between charity and solidarity. There are very real things such a campaign could do to help fight AIDS that don't involve covering for exploitation in Africa. They could have given money to the most recent World Social Forum, which was held in Nairobi. The RED campaign didn't. They could have stopped working with companies that benefit from the genocide in the Congo or Darfur. They RED campaign didn't.

Working and poor people need their own organizations to solve their problems. To a great degree, these organizations already exist. Relying on the elite institutions of the rich will only lead to more of the same.