The High Cost of Cheap Clothes

Cambodia’s aggressive anti-trafficking campaign is designed to rescue and rehabilitate sex workers. But many women say authorities there are actually forcing them into a trade where conditions and pay are even worse: making clothing for Western brands.

VICE News traveled to Phnom Penh to speak with former and current sex workers, officials, and labor organizers to investigate what is happening to those swept up in the country’s trafficking crackdown.

My Long Search for Beef in Cuba
n Cuba, items that are difficult or impossible to purchase are considered perdido, meaning lost. At the time of my arrival in Havana this summer, two of the most pressing perdido goods are toilet paper and beer. Visitors can still find these items in their hotels, but for Cubans, they’ve gone missing. Perdido. Eleven million people on an island with a toilet-paper shortage. Other unobtainables include soap, pens, smartphones, and credit cards—not that any American credit cards work here, either. The internet is also perdido: Only 3 to 4 percent of the population has access to the web. But of all the perdido things Cubans can’t get a hold of, the strangest—and most taboo—is beef.
Every person I’ve spoken to in Havana assures me that it is a greater crime here to slaughter a cow than it is to slaughter a person. All cows, they add, are property of the state. When caught cooking illicit beef, Cubans have even been known to commit suicide rather than face incarceration. Why is beef so precious to this country’s communist dictatorship? I’ve come here to find out. The answer, I suspect, must have something to do with endemic hunger and the desperation of continually fighting for survival. Or perhaps it’s an anomalous legislative side effect to five and a half decades of revolutionary idealism and trade embargoes, the sort of skewed reasoning that arises among mind-sets capable of ordering the execution of those with differing views.

There’s more marbling to this story, however. The last time I traveled to Cuba, almost ten years ago, I’d been advised not to eat any beef. Locals told me that the beef served in restaurants came from the United States, and that it was of terrible quality. Some warned that it was contaminated; others said it was D-grade utility meat, or “cutter” beef, commonly used for dog food in North America.

Although I steered clear of any ropa vieja that crossed my path, it seemed unlikely that the US would be selling beef to Cuba, given the trade embargo that has existed between the two nations for the past 54 years. But since the American government started authorizing agricultural exports to Cuba in 2000, the island has brought in a staggering $4.7 billion worth of US-produced food, almost all of it by payments of cash in advance. The purpose of an embargo is to isolate and weaken the survival mechanisms of an enemy state through commercial policy. In this case, America is profiteering by feeding Cuba’s citizens. Few people realize it, but around one quarter to one third of Cuban food imports currently come from the USA.
Continue

My Long Search for Beef in Cuba

n Cuba, items that are difficult or impossible to purchase are considered perdido, meaning lost. At the time of my arrival in Havana this summer, two of the most pressing perdido goods are toilet paper and beer. Visitors can still find these items in their hotels, but for Cubans, they’ve gone missing. Perdido. Eleven million people on an island with a toilet-paper shortage. Other unobtainables include soap, pens, smartphones, and credit cards—not that any American credit cards work here, either. The internet is also perdido: Only 3 to 4 percent of the population has access to the web. But of all the perdido things Cubans can’t get a hold of, the strangest—and most taboo—is beef.

Every person I’ve spoken to in Havana assures me that it is a greater crime here to slaughter a cow than it is to slaughter a person. All cows, they add, are property of the state. When caught cooking illicit beef, Cubans have even been known to commit suicide rather than face incarceration. Why is beef so precious to this country’s communist dictatorship? I’ve come here to find out. The answer, I suspect, must have something to do with endemic hunger and the desperation of continually fighting for survival. Or perhaps it’s an anomalous legislative side effect to five and a half decades of revolutionary idealism and trade embargoes, the sort of skewed reasoning that arises among mind-sets capable of ordering the execution of those with differing views.

There’s more marbling to this story, however. The last time I traveled to Cuba, almost ten years ago, I’d been advised not to eat any beef. Locals told me that the beef served in restaurants came from the United States, and that it was of terrible quality. Some warned that it was contaminated; others said it was D-grade utility meat, or “cutter” beef, commonly used for dog food in North America.

Although I steered clear of any ropa vieja that crossed my path, it seemed unlikely that the US would be selling beef to Cuba, given the trade embargo that has existed between the two nations for the past 54 years. But since the American government started authorizing agricultural exports to Cuba in 2000, the island has brought in a staggering $4.7 billion worth of US-produced food, almost all of it by payments of cash in advance. The purpose of an embargo is to isolate and weaken the survival mechanisms of an enemy state through commercial policy. In this case, America is profiteering by feeding Cuba’s citizens. Few people realize it, but around one quarter to one third of Cuban food imports currently come from the USA.

Continue

Lyft Drivers Are Burning Their Pink Mustaches
In normal circumstances, Lyft’s drivers congregate in a Facebook group set up by the ridesharing company in order for them to share tips with one another, ask questions, or reach out to corporate with feedback or concerns. When yet another cut in driver pay was announced on Thursday, September 25, however, the driver’s lounge filled up with countless “Fuck this, I quit!” posts, calls to organize strikes, and demands that Lyft’s CEO, John Zimmer, step down. On top of all this, dozens of drivers decided they’d be leaving the company in a more dramatic, and cathartic, fashion: by burning their cars’ iconic fuzzy pink mustaches in a symbolic pyre.

I met one of the organizers (who, like many drivers I met, did not want her name shared) on the beach where this mustache burning party was to take place and she laid it out for me as the other drivers showed up with pizza, beer, lighter fluid, and giant mustaches. At this point, she explained, most drivers were driving for both Lyft and Uber, and everyone was really just hanging on and waiting for the moment when Uber will inevitably emerge victorious, purchases Lyft, and raises their rates back up to more reasonable levels. This particular rate cut had been another 10 percent decrease, the third of its kind in September, most likely to compete with Uber.

Lyft, unlike Uber, has aimed to make the experience more socially engaging for the passenger. Drivers are encouraged to be chatty or decorate their cars in themes. This social aspect was even a key factor in some of Lyft’s investors choosing to back the company over Uber. 
Continue

Lyft Drivers Are Burning Their Pink Mustaches

In normal circumstances, Lyft’s drivers congregate in a Facebook group set up by the ridesharing company in order for them to share tips with one another, ask questions, or reach out to corporate with feedback or concerns. When yet another cut in driver pay was announced on Thursday, September 25, however, the driver’s lounge filled up with countless “Fuck this, I quit!” posts, calls to organize strikes, and demands that Lyft’s CEO, John Zimmer, step down. On top of all this, dozens of drivers decided they’d be leaving the company in a more dramatic, and cathartic, fashion: by burning their cars’ iconic fuzzy pink mustaches in a symbolic pyre.

I met one of the organizers (who, like many drivers I met, did not want her name shared) on the beach where this mustache burning party was to take place and she laid it out for me as the other drivers showed up with pizza, beer, lighter fluid, and giant mustaches. At this point, she explained, most drivers were driving for both Lyft and Uber, and everyone was really just hanging on and waiting for the moment when Uber will inevitably emerge victorious, purchases Lyft, and raises their rates back up to more reasonable levels. This particular rate cut had been another 10 percent decrease, the third of its kind in September, most likely to compete with Uber.

Lyft, unlike Uber, has aimed to make the experience more socially engaging for the passenger. Drivers are encouraged to be chatty or decorate their cars in themes. This social aspect was even a key factor in some of Lyft’s investors choosing to back the company over Uber. 

Continue

Watch: Europe’s Most Notorious Jewel Thieves - Part 2
Everyone thought the Pink Panther gang would vanish—especially after the 2012 arrest of one of its leaders. Instead, the jewel thieves have started training new recruits as a way to take revenge on a world they feel has robbed them blind.

The group, hailing from former Yugoslavia, has stolen more than $350 million worth of jewelry in the past 15 years from the world’s most exclusive jewelers, according to Interpol. Now, VICE takes you inside the Pink Panthers’ secret world to learn their history and see how the jewel thieves train new recruits.

Watch: Europe’s Most Notorious Jewel Thieves - Part 2

Everyone thought the Pink Panther gang would vanish—especially after the 2012 arrest of one of its leaders. Instead, the jewel thieves have started training new recruits as a way to take revenge on a world they feel has robbed them blind.

The group, hailing from former Yugoslavia, has stolen more than $350 million worth of jewelry in the past 15 years from the world’s most exclusive jewelers, according to Interpol. Now, VICE takes you inside the Pink Panthers’ secret world to learn their history and see how the jewel thieves train new recruits.

VICE Reports: Pink Panthers, Part 1
Everyone thought the Pink Panther gang would vanish—especially after the 2012 arrest of one of its leaders. Instead, the jewel thieves have started training new recruits as a way to take revenge on a world they feel has robbed them blind.

The group, hailing from former Yugoslavia, has stolen more than $350 million worth of jewelry in the past 15 years from the world’s most exclusive jewelers, according to Interpol. Now, VICE takes you inside the Pink Panthers’ secret world to learn their history and see how the jewel thieves train new recruits.
Watch

VICE Reports: Pink Panthers, Part 1

Everyone thought the Pink Panther gang would vanish—especially after the 2012 arrest of one of its leaders. Instead, the jewel thieves have started training new recruits as a way to take revenge on a world they feel has robbed them blind.

The group, hailing from former Yugoslavia, has stolen more than $350 million worth of jewelry in the past 15 years from the world’s most exclusive jewelers, according to Interpol. Now, VICE takes you inside the Pink Panthers’ secret world to learn their history and see how the jewel thieves train new recruits.

Watch

5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry
The worlds of academia and incarceration are closer than you may think.

5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry

The worlds of academia and incarceration are closer than you may think.

A German Guy Wants to Give You a Bunch of Money for Doing Nothing
What would happen if we didn’t have to worry about making a living anymore? Would people just sit on their asses all day or actually do something meaningful with their lives? Michael Bohmeyer, a 29-year-old founder of a tech startup in Berlin, wanted to find out.
After he stopped working earlier this year to live off the $1,300 he makes from his startup each month, Bohmeyer says his life has radically changed. So he started “My Basic Income”, a new initiative looking to raise enough money to pay someone $1,300 a month for a year, no strings attached.
Through crowdfunding, the initiative has already raised more than the $16,000 goal. On September 18, they’re going to announce the lucky winners of that wad of cash at a party in Berlin.
I spoke to Bohmeyer to find out what he hopes will come of this and how his life has changed now that he doesn’t need to work.
VICE: Would you say you’re a lazy person?Michael Bohmeyer: I’d say that, but I don’t think being lazy is necessarily a bad thing. Other people probably wouldn’t call me lazy. I work a lot—even more so now that I don’t need to work for money. I even discovered a passion for washing the dishes.
You said that having an unconditional basic income has radically altered your life. How so?After I stopped working earlier this year and started living off the approximately $1,300 I get out of my company, I just wanted to put my feet up and do nothing. Instead, I found a crazy drive to do things. I had a million new business ideas, I take care of my daughter, and I work for a local community radio. I buy less shit, I live healthier, and I’m a better boyfriend and father.
Because you have more time for your girlfriend and daughter?Because I’m more laid-back. The pressure is gone. My working conditions were great even before, because I was running my own company and could pretty much do what I want. But making money was tied to conditions. Now, I do everything I do because I want to—and all of a sudden it’s twice as much fun.
Continue

A German Guy Wants to Give You a Bunch of Money for Doing Nothing

What would happen if we didn’t have to worry about making a living anymore? Would people just sit on their asses all day or actually do something meaningful with their lives? Michael Bohmeyer, a 29-year-old founder of a tech startup in Berlin, wanted to find out.

After he stopped working earlier this year to live off the $1,300 he makes from his startup each month, Bohmeyer says his life has radically changed. So he started “My Basic Income”, a new initiative looking to raise enough money to pay someone $1,300 a month for a year, no strings attached.

Through crowdfunding, the initiative has already raised more than the $16,000 goal. On September 18, they’re going to announce the lucky winners of that wad of cash at a party in Berlin.

I spoke to Bohmeyer to find out what he hopes will come of this and how his life has changed now that he doesn’t need to work.

VICE: Would you say you’re a lazy person?
Michael Bohmeyer: I’d say that, but I don’t think being lazy is necessarily a bad thing. Other people probably wouldn’t call me lazy. I work a lot—even more so now that I don’t need to work for money. I even discovered a passion for washing the dishes.

You said that having an unconditional basic income has radically altered your life. How so?
After I stopped working earlier this year and started living off the approximately $1,300 I get out of my company, I just wanted to put my feet up and do nothing. Instead, I found a crazy drive to do things. I had a million new business ideas, I take care of my daughter, and I work for a local community radio. I buy less shit, I live healthier, and I’m a better boyfriend and father.

Because you have more time for your girlfriend and daughter?
Because I’m more laid-back. The pressure is gone. My working conditions were great even before, because I was running my own company and could pretty much do what I want. But making money was tied to conditions. Now, I do everything I do because I want to—and all of a sudden it’s twice as much fun.

Continue


A new American dream has gradually replaced the old one. Instead of leisure, or thrift, consumption has become a patriotic duty. Corporations can justify anything—from environmental destruction to prison construction—for the sake of inventing more work to do. A liberal arts education, originally meant to prepare people to use their free time wisely, has been repackaged as an expensive and inefficient job-training program. We have stopped imagining, as Keynes thought it so reasonable to do, that our grandchildren might have it easier than ourselves. We hope that they’ll have jobs, maybe even jobs that they like.
The new dream of overwork has taken hold with remarkable tenacity. Hardly anyone talks about expecting or even deserving shorter workdays anymore; the best we can hope for is the perfect job, one that also happens to be our passion. In the dogged, lonely pursuit of it, we don’t bother organizing with our co-workers. We’re made to think so badly of ourselves as to assume that if we had more free time, we’d squander it.


—Who Stole the Four Hour Workday?

A new American dream has gradually replaced the old one. Instead of leisure, or thrift, consumption has become a patriotic duty. Corporations can justify anything—from environmental destruction to prison construction—for the sake of inventing more work to do. A liberal arts education, originally meant to prepare people to use their free time wisely, has been repackaged as an expensive and inefficient job-training program. We have stopped imagining, as Keynes thought it so reasonable to do, that our grandchildren might have it easier than ourselves. We hope that they’ll have jobs, maybe even jobs that they like.

The new dream of overwork has taken hold with remarkable tenacity. Hardly anyone talks about expecting or even deserving shorter workdays anymore; the best we can hope for is the perfect job, one that also happens to be our passion. In the dogged, lonely pursuit of it, we don’t bother organizing with our co-workers. We’re made to think so badly of ourselves as to assume that if we had more free time, we’d squander it.

Who Stole the Four Hour Workday?

Who Stole the Four Hour Workday? 
Alex is a busy man. The 36-year-old husband and father of three commutes each day to his full-time job at a large telecom company in Denver, the city he moved to from his native Peru in 2003. At night, he has classes or homework for the bachelor’s in social science he is pursuing at a nearby university. With or without an alarm, he wakes up at 5 AM every day, and it’s only then, after eating breakfast and glancing at the newspaper, that he has a chance to serve in his capacity as the sole US organizer and webmaster of the Global Campaign for the 4 Hour Work-Day.
“I’ve been trying to contact other organizations,” he says, “though, ironically, I don’t have time.”
But Alex has big plans. By the end of the decade he envisions “a really crazy movement” with chapters around the world orchestrating the requisite work stoppage.
A century ago, such an undertaking would have seemed less obviously doomed. For decades the US labor movement had already been filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of workers demanding an eight-hour workday. This was just one more step in the gradual reduction of working hours that was expected to continue forever. Before the Civil War, workers like the factory women of Lowell, Massachusetts, had fought for a reduction to ten hours from 12 or more. Later, when the Great Depression hit, unions called for shorter hours to spread out the reduced workload and prevent layoffs; big companies like Kellogg’s followed suit voluntarily. But in the wake of World War II, the eight-hour grind stuck, and today most workers end up doing more than that.
The United States now leads the pack of the wealthiest countries in annual working hours. US workers put in as many as 300 more hours a year than their counterparts in Western Europe, largely thanks to the lack of paid leave. (The Germans work far less than we do, while the Greeks work considerably more.) Average worker productivity has doubled a couple of times since 1950, but income has stagnated—unless you’re just looking at the rich, who’ve become a great deal richer. The value from that extra productivity, after all, has to go somewhere.
It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time. “If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful,” Benjamin Franklin assumed, “that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life.” Science fiction has tended to consider a future with shorter hours to be all but an axiom. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best seller Looking Backward describes a year 2000 in which people do their jobs for about four to eight hours, with less attractive tasks requiring less time. In the universe of Star Trek, work is done for personal development, not material necessity. In Wall-E, robots do everything, and humans have become inert blobs lying on levitating sofas.
Continue

Who Stole the Four Hour Workday? 

Alex is a busy man. The 36-year-old husband and father of three commutes each day to his full-time job at a large telecom company in Denver, the city he moved to from his native Peru in 2003. At night, he has classes or homework for the bachelor’s in social science he is pursuing at a nearby university. With or without an alarm, he wakes up at 5 AM every day, and it’s only then, after eating breakfast and glancing at the newspaper, that he has a chance to serve in his capacity as the sole US organizer and webmaster of the Global Campaign for the 4 Hour Work-Day.

“I’ve been trying to contact other organizations,” he says, “though, ironically, I don’t have time.”

But Alex has big plans. By the end of the decade he envisions “a really crazy movement” with chapters around the world orchestrating the requisite work stoppage.

A century ago, such an undertaking would have seemed less obviously doomed. For decades the US labor movement had already been filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of workers demanding an eight-hour workday. This was just one more step in the gradual reduction of working hours that was expected to continue forever. Before the Civil War, workers like the factory women of Lowell, Massachusetts, had fought for a reduction to ten hours from 12 or more. Later, when the Great Depression hit, unions called for shorter hours to spread out the reduced workload and prevent layoffs; big companies like Kellogg’s followed suit voluntarily. But in the wake of World War II, the eight-hour grind stuck, and today most workers end up doing more than that.

The United States now leads the pack of the wealthiest countries in annual working hours. US workers put in as many as 300 more hours a year than their counterparts in Western Europe, largely thanks to the lack of paid leave. (The Germans work far less than we do, while the Greeks work considerably more.) Average worker productivity has doubled a couple of times since 1950, but income has stagnated—unless you’re just looking at the rich, who’ve become a great deal richer. The value from that extra productivity, after all, has to go somewhere.

It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time. “If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful,” Benjamin Franklin assumed, “that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life.” Science fiction has tended to consider a future with shorter hours to be all but an axiom. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best seller Looking Backward describes a year 2000 in which people do their jobs for about four to eight hours, with less attractive tasks requiring less time. In the universe of Star Trek, work is done for personal development, not material necessity. In Wall-E, robots do everything, and humans have become inert blobs lying on levitating sofas.

Continue


While there are no official statistics, there may be as many as 1 million migrant construction workers in the UAE today. Like Tariq, the men I talked to have had their passports confiscated and earn between $150 and $300 a month. They will have to spend years working off debts to recruiters who have gotten them their jobs.
Reports about the conditions of workers in the Gulf have been wide and probing. Articles contrast the glittering skyscrapers they build and the scant wages they receive. In May, the New York Times published a scathing exposé of labor abuses at NYU Abu Dhabi.
But what’s often lost in much of the reporting about foreign labor in the United Arab Emirates—and Abu Dhabi specifically—is the agency of the workers themselves. The men I met in the Gulf are brave and ambitious—heroes to their families back home. They dared to chase better prospects and were met with repression instead. In a country where the faintest whisper of dissent can get you deported, more than a hundred strikes have rocked the construction industry in the past three years. While workers may be lied to and forced to live and work in brutal conditions, they also—improbably—are fighting back.

—Molly Crabapple reports from Abu Dhabi

While there are no official statistics, there may be as many as 1 million migrant construction workers in the UAE today. Like Tariq, the men I talked to have had their passports confiscated and earn between $150 and $300 a month. They will have to spend years working off debts to recruiters who have gotten them their jobs.

Reports about the conditions of workers in the Gulf have been wide and probing. Articles contrast the glittering skyscrapers they build and the scant wages they receive. In May, the New York Times published a scathing exposé of labor abuses at NYU Abu Dhabi.

But what’s often lost in much of the reporting about foreign labor in the United Arab Emirates—and Abu Dhabi specifically—is the agency of the workers themselves. The men I met in the Gulf are brave and ambitious—heroes to their families back home. They dared to chase better prospects and were met with repression instead. In a country where the faintest whisper of dissent can get you deported, more than a hundred strikes have rocked the construction industry in the past three years. While workers may be lied to and forced to live and work in brutal conditions, they also—improbably—are fighting back.

—Molly Crabapple reports from Abu Dhabi

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