Tapping the Forgotten Multi-Trillion Dollar Resource

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Tapping the Forgotten Multi-Trillion Dollar Resource

According to new research from Booz & Company, presented in the Summer 2010 issue of Strategy+Business,1 up to 1 billion women who have remained outside of the mainstream global economy are about to make a huge impact as entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers during the next 10 years and beyond.

How have that many women remained hidden from sight?  To some extent, the answer lies in sweatshops in Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere.

For example, contractors producing shoes for Nike have used the labor of underage girls who earn barely subsistence-level wages and are frequently exposed to toxins.

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The contractors in China produced about 78 million pairs of shoes, made by roughly 160,000 workers.  The shoes sold at retail for about $85 a pair, while the workers received the equivalent of $1 per pair.

According to the website FactsAndDetails.com,2Asian workers who make shoes for American consumers earn as little as 10 cents an hour, and work as much as 17 hours a day.

Similarly, Adidas’ contractors used “slave labor” in China to make soccer balls for the World Cup in 1998.  The London newspaper The Mail3 reports that Apple iPods are made by workers who are paid $50 a month to work 15-hour days.

Barbie dolls are made at a factory in Guangdong province near Hong Kong by women or young girls who are housed in sub-human conditions, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reporter, Kathy Chen, wrote of the dorms, “Cold water sputters on for a few hours twice a day, while the meat served is too tough to swallow and has hair in it.”  The girls make the equivalent of $24 a month.

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For example, in a factory in Shenzhen, China, workers who make Bratz dolls are paid 17 cents for each unit, and work more than 90 hours a week.  The dolls sell for $16 in the U.S.

But reforms are under way, and they are freeing those women from slave labor or near-slave labor.  As they move into more productive jobs in manufacturing, modernized agriculture, IT, and various types of knowledge work, they will energize economies worldwide.

However, it won’t be an overnight process.  Booz & Company recently analyzed data from the International Labor Organization, which is a part of the United Nations that is responsible for compiling statistics about the global labor force.4

The research identified up to a billion women who were not prepared for higher levels of work because they lacked either the right skills or the support of their families or communities...

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