Transcript

303:

David and Goliath
Transcript

Originally aired 12.02.2005

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/303

Prologue.

Ira Glass

It's a classic David and Goliath situation. Younger sister and older sister. In this case, it's a big age gap. The older sister's 12. That's Kennedy. The younger sister's just 5. That's Zadie. And their mom, who was an only child, found their fighting to be kind of overwhelming.

Lisa Laborde

They bicker constantly. They just fight and are at each other.

Zadie

[CRYING]

Kennedy

Z.

Zadie

[CRYING]

Lisa Laborde

It's not physical, but it's a constant natter. It's a constant back-and-forth.

Ira Glass

So, two months ago, their mom, Lisa, came up with an idea, a way to change things between the two girls. She and I talked about it back then. You're going to notice in this recording that I have a pretty bad cold when we had this conversation.

At the time, Lisa described for me the girls' history together.

Lisa Laborde

Once Zadie realized, when she was about two, that Kennedy wasn't going to play with her, she would do things like pinch her. She would scratch her. She would bite her.

Ira Glass

She wants her attention.

Lisa Laborde

Notice me, you know. I want to adore you. Let me.

Ira Glass

Yeah. I have this relationship with my wife. We'll be sitting on the couch, and she'll hit me.

Lisa Laborde

Play with me.

Ira Glass

Exactly. She'll literally say, pay attention to me.

Zadie

I like you.

Lisa Laborde

Zadie, get up. Get off of Kennedy.

Zadie

I like her.

Lisa Laborde

Zadie, please get off.

Zadie

I like her.

Lisa Laborde

Mute that for a second?

Lisa Laborde

So as Zadie got older, Kennedy now sees her as this little kid who can't really play, who is a nuisance, who can pick out what's going to bug Kennedy and do it.

Ira Glass

And what was the low point of all this? When did you look around you and just think, What am I doing as a parent?

Lisa Laborde

I guess this summer, when they were both home from school and fighting all the time. And I just realized, it's not changing. And if it doesn't change now, it's not going to change. Because they're both getting-- I think Zadie's now getting old enough to form this opinion of her sister. And I thought, I don't want that opinion to be that they're not allies. I don't want it to be that they're not friends. Now's the time to do something.

Ira Glass

And so what's your plan?

Lisa Laborde

What we're going to do is this little experiment called the Kill Her With Kindness Experiment. I gave it a name.

Ira Glass

So are you some sort of behavioral psychologist or something?

Lisa Laborde

Oh, God, no. No, I just went on the internet to junior high science experiments and got a whole bunch of stuff and presented it to Ken.

Ira Glass

Whoa, whoa, whoa. OK, you have the two people who are most precious to you in this world, and you have a problem, and the thought that occurs to you is not, I'm going to seek professional help. I'm going to go to a family counselor. No, what you did is that you went onto the internet and found experiments at a junior high school, not even at the high school level?

Lisa Laborde

No. OK, that's the end. That's not where I started. I read all the books, and I talked to all my friends.

Ira Glass

When David is facing off against Goliath, nothing normal is going to work. Normal is just going to keep you stuck. If you've got a situation where one side is super-powerful, one side is very weak, normal is just status quo. Nothing is going to change. Your only chance is grand, extraordinary measures. A junior high school experiment? That is about as good as a slingshot. And today on our program, we're going to bring you three stories of people trying extraordinary things to balance the scales between David and Goliath.

Act One is about a little girl and a big girl. Act Two is about a little country and a big country. Act Three is about some small-minded people and some very big-minded retail chains, and something about American commerce that happens all the time, everywhere, that no one has noticed is a national phenomenon except David Sedaris. Stay with us.

Act One. Lab Rugrats.

Ira Glass

OK, so you remember where we are with Act One. You've got Zadie, you've got Kennedy, and their story. Their mom, two months ago, was explaining to me how she was going to try to solve one of the oldest struggles that humans have ever had, the struggle between big sibling and little sibling. Again, we've got a 12-year-old. We've got a 5-year-old. Two months ago, the mom, Lisa, went to the older girl, Kennedy, with a plan. And Kennedy is the kind of 12-year-old who loves reading, who loves science, who loves experiments. And Lisa explained the idea of this one to her.

Lisa Laborde

We're going to have a month-long experiment where Kennedy is actually really kind to Zadie and plays with her. And we're going to see if that chills Zadie out at all. We're going to see if that changes Zadie's behavior. So the whole thing, I guess, has been sold to Kennedy as behavior modification.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait. Are those the words that you used with Kennedy?

Lisa Laborde

I did. I told her it was a behavior modification experiment. Yeah. How I see it as a parent is, I want them actually to interact with each other. But that's not what I sold to Kennedy. I haven't really sold it to her as modifying her behavior at all. I sold it solely as modifying Zadie's behavior.

So this is going to cut Zadie down from irritating Kennedy, from being a pain to Kennedy, touching her stuff, going in her room when she doesn't want her to. If Kennedy's drawing on a piece of paper and Zadie comes by and will step on, like, that kind of behavior that Kennedy sees as an absolute pain. I've sold it to her as, Let's see if what Zadie actually wants is you to play with her and pay attention to her. So let's see if you doing that is going to stop all the negative behavior.

So what she's going to have to do is, after school, spend-- I say an hour. She says that's going to be too long, and Zadie's not going to want to play for an hour. But that's what I'm envisioning, an hour playing together.

Ira Glass

Every day.

Lisa Laborde

Every day. I'm going to pay her, which is probably what she likes the best.

Ira Glass

How much is she going to get?

Lisa Laborde

She's going to get quite a bit. She upped it. She actually negotiated her price. I said $50 for the whole month. And she said, No way. It wasn't worth buying in for $50. So she's going to get $100. But she's got to actually do it. She's got to actually play with her sister.

And they think my idea of what siblings-- how they interact is totally unrealistic.

Ira Glass

Because your ideal is based on?

Lisa Laborde

The Sound of Music. I mean, my ideal is that they get along, that they love each other, that they stand up for each other on the playground, that they--

Ira Glass

--sing together.

Lisa Laborde

--sing together. Which is so funny, because that has a lot to do, probably, with being an only child and always wanting a sister or a brother or just a sibling, another relationship. I was raised watching that movie over and over, and really having that sense of all these kids band together. But, of course, they band together-- like, those poor kids, they're traumatized. Their father's a tyrant. Of course they band together, right?

Ira Glass

And they're running from the Nazis.

Lisa Laborde

Exactly. Not till the end.

[MUSIC - "THE LONELY GOATHERD" BY RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN]

Ira Glass

Have you shown The Sound of Music to the girls?

Lisa Laborde

Yes.

Ira Glass

And do you say--

Lisa Laborde

This is what you should do.

Ira Glass

You haven't.

Lisa Laborde

No. I've said things like, Just stop fighting and love each other. Though I have said that, and meant it. And I've said-- yeah. I mean, Kennedy says to me, Your idea is absolutely unrealistic.

Ira Glass

Yeah. Yeah, you didn't have siblings. I mean, I think it's very, very possible that, because of the age difference-- you've got two kids, they're seven years apart. They're never going to be peers until they're adults some day. I just think it's possible that there's nothing that you can do.

Lisa Laborde

You're right. The thing is, I am not expecting them to interact as peers. But right now, it's the opposite of that. I think Kennedy actively dislikes her. She says it like that. She says it like, I really don't like this kid.

Ira Glass

What do you think the chances are that this is going to succeed, if you just had to lay odds? 80% chance? 70% chance? 90% chance?

Lisa Laborde

I'm optimistic. I'd put it high. I put it at 80% that it's going to decrease the amount of fighting. Yes.

Ira Glass

I'm going to put this at 30%.

Lisa Laborde

[GROANS].

Ira Glass

So, Lisa LaBorde, many weeks have passed since our first conversation. And you have run your experiment. Did it work?

Lisa Laborde

A qualified yes.

Ira Glass

Well, let's get right to results. Are your kids fighting less?

Lisa Laborde

By the end of the experiment, they were fighting less. By week four, less fighting.

Ira Glass

You are blowing my mind.

Lisa Laborde

No, it's actually true.

Ira Glass

Could we just talk hard numbers?

Lisa Laborde

OK, sure.

Ira Glass

Do you have a bar graph that you could hold up to the microphone or something?

Lisa Laborde

Yes, I can describe it to you. What we did is-- it's just a graph. So I took the baseline-- a normal week, before we started the experiment, of fighting. But I didn't do all the fighting, because that's all I would have categorized. All day, I would have sat there checking off things. So I checked the number of times I had to intervene. In a normal week, I charted 31.

Ira Glass

Per day or per week?

Lisa Laborde

Per week.

Ira Glass

OK, and so now, after four weeks?

Lisa Laborde

By week four, we're down to 14.

Ira Glass

A drop of 50%. Now, you made recordings of these days where they were playing, where you would just set the tape recorder down with the two of them as they played and you just would let it roll. And we have some of those recordings here. And here's a typical one. They start off OK.

Zadie

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Ira Glass

And then they start to fight.

Zadie

Can I mine out?

Kennedy

No, you can't do that. That's cheating.

Zadie

I want to get mine out.

Kennedy

Zadie, Zadie, wait, stop for a second, please.

Ira Glass

And then Zadie howls.

Zadie

Mom!

Ira Glass

And then, in these early recordings, you step in, usually to Zadie's defense.

Lisa Laborde

Kennedy? You're supposed to be playing together.

Lisa Laborde

And that was sort of what happened. I stepped in often. I mean, it got to a level where, rather than have them fight, I would just stop it. And I cut Zadie a tremendous amount of slack. So I could see how I fed into Kennedy's frustration and into Zadie's sense of entitlement. So in a way, I was setting up a dynamic that didn't allow them to sort it out. It's interesting, because I think the experiment-- I didn't expect the effect that it would have on me. It made me step back. It made me step back a lot.

Ira Glass

Yeah, I had to say, by the end of the taping-- because you keep taping the whole way through-- it totally changes. Here's a typical tape. What happens is that they're playing together, and they'll start to fight.

Kennedy

Zadie, do you hear me.

Zadie

Yes.

Ira Glass

There's a recording of them playing Memory. And Zadie screams.

Zadie

No, I don't want to do that.

Ira Glass

And then Kennedy just basically keeps the game going, and starts talking to her about who her friends are at school.

Kennedy

Are you making friends at your new school?

Zadie

Yes.

Kennedy

What are their names?

Zadie

Emma, Becca.

Ira Glass

And you never enter the room. And then Kennedy basically takes it by the reins. She keeps the game going, and she basically engages Zadie in conversation. And they start to talk like real sisters. And then Zadie wins.

Kennedy

Look, you won.

Zadie

Mama, I won.

Lisa Laborde

And that interaction wouldn't have occurred had I jumped in, which I probably would have done two or three weeks prior. So, by the end of it, it was like, you know what, back off and just leave it alone.

Ira Glass

So when you started, you were saying this was going to be an experiment that was secretly on the two of them. But Kennedy thought it was just on Zadie. But in fact, it turns out that the secret is that it was actually an experiment on your behavior.

Lisa Laborde

Exactly. And that my behaviors probably needed more modifications than Kennedy's. But yeah, I wouldn't have thought that a shift in my behavior would have the impact that it had.

Ira Glass

Now, this thing has totally changed your expectations and your picture of them.

Lisa Laborde

In some ways, yeah. I'm loathe to admit it. I think my overriding angst or questions over whether they would be friends, and whether the fighting meant something-- and I realized, that's not what being siblings is. It's so complex. Zadie will say, straight out, I don't like Kennedy. I don't want to play with her, and at the same time, be absolutely worried about what's happening to her sister. And I realized those two coexist.

And I don't have that. There's nobody I have a love-hate relationship like that with. And I don't get it. And I'm prepared not to get it. I'm prepared to leave it alone and let it be, and realize, on some base level, they're connected. I don't see the connection quite yet, in some ways, and that's OK. I can trust it, whereas before-- I guess that's the big difference for me. Before I didn't really trust it.

Ira Glass

And so, how many weeks has it been since you actually stopped the experiment?

Lisa Laborde

It's been a couple, a week and a bit, like two weeks.

Ira Glass

And so, what's going to happen? Is Kennedy going to keep playing with her?

Lisa Laborde

Who knows? I don't know. I would love to think yes. I don't know. It doesn't seem like it. It's certainly not the first thing on her mind when she comes home from school. It's not like Zadie's endeared herself to Kennedy through the four weeks. That certainly hasn't happened. I think she engages her a bit more, actually. So in terms of actually talking to her about, What was school like? What did you do? There were a couple of times where Zadie got quite upset over-- she got in trouble for going into Kennedy's room. And I got very upset with Zadie and made her sit on the stairs. And she ended up crying and Kennedy went and consoled her. That's the first time that's ever happened.

Kennedy

It's made everything so much easier, like being a sister easier. But I can't imagine Zadie and I singing together. I just-- yeah.

Ira Glass

This, of course, is Kennedy, age 12.

Ira Glass

So, Kennedy, did it work? Did the experiment work?

Kennedy

Yeah.

Ira Glass

It did?

Kennedy

It did. She's considerably nicer and easier to be around.

Ira Glass

Do you like her more?

Kennedy

Yeah, I do. I do like her more. She's easier to be around. I feel like I can really connect with her now, which is good.

Ira Glass

Is she less annoying?

Kennedy

No, we have to work on that. We'll have to device a whole new experiment to get her to be less annoying.

Ira Glass

Really?

Kennedy

Yep.

Ira Glass

And just, realistically, do you really think you're going to be able to keep it up?

Kennedy

I'm going to try. Maybe I can get my mom to still give me-- increase my allowance, maybe, if I keep it up.

Ira Glass

I don't know. I actually don't think it's right for somebody to keep paying you to be with your sister. It'd almost be like if you found out like somebody was paying your mom to be nice to you. It would break your heart.

Kennedy

It would.

Ira Glass

And that's sort of what it would be like, if your sister would ever find out. Like, oh, there were five years where actually you were taking money in order to be nice to her. It would be the worst thing that she would ever hear.

Kennedy

Yeah, I see. In that case, yeah, I'm going to stop, But yeah, it's a constant struggle.

Ira Glass

So, what's going to happen? Because it's hard to figure out games that you can keep playing with her.

Kennedy

Yeah, it's really hard. Because, like, Memory, I'm beyond that. I think we can safely say that.

Ira Glass

You can find the two kittens without a lot of trouble.

Kennedy

Pretty easily.

Ira Glass

Do you get anything at all from playing with her?

Kennedy

Yeah, $25 a week. Yes. I get paid.

Ira Glass

And if you're not getting paid, do you get anything else from playing with her?

Kennedy

I could say that I get a sense of emotional fulfillment, but not really.

Ira Glass

Can you imagine you guys are going to be friends someday?

Kennedy

Sort of. Right now, it's pretty hard to imagine us inviting each other over to dinner.

Ira Glass

I mean, she can't even read, for God's sake?

Kennedy

I know.

Ira Glass

So, do you recommend this for other families?

Kennedy

I really do.

Ira Glass

You do? That they should bribe one kid, and that it should be the older kid?

Kennedy

Yeah, for the people with kids who are constantly fighting, this is a good idea. We could patent it and then write up charts and sell it.

Ira Glass

That's Kennedy, age 12.

[MUSIC - "IT'S A SHAME" BY MONIE LOVE]

Coming up, David Sedaris finds a David and Goliath story where we believe that you will probably side with-- well, that would be Goliath. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Dreams Of Distant Factories.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, David and Goliath, stories of people doing extraordinary things to try to even things out between the two sides, give the little guy a shot. We've arrived at Act Two of our show.

Act Two, Dreams of Distant Factories. What if there were a battle between David and Goliath that meant a great deal to David and nothing at all to Goliath? And maybe Goliath doesn't even show up. From Cambodia, Rachel Louise Snyder tells this story about the garment industry there. We first put this on the air two years ago, which was a crucial turning point for everybody involved.

Rachel Louise Snyder

The garment industry is 90% of Cambodia's exports, so when the minister of commerce visits a factory, he's greeted like a movie star. Hundreds of workers, all of them women, stand along the factory driveway in traditional Cambodian silk dresses in maroon and gold, waving hundreds of Cambodian flags. They offer the minister flowers and fruit. As he walks through each section of the factory, workers stand up from their stations and cheer.

Plexiglass cases hang from the ceilings and show the kinds of things they make. Fleece sweatshirts, cotton blankets, flannel pajamas. The minister, Cham Prasidh, is particularly happy about the pajamas.

Cham Prasidh

There is one thing that we feel very proud, is that there is one year when Cambodia was ranking number one, in terms of pajamas, women's pajamas, for--

Rachel Louise Snyder

Women's pajamas?

Cham Prasidh

Yes. That's when 20 million American women are wearing Cambodian pajamas. And we are ranking number one for that in the US. Sleeping soundly and having sweet dreams. We hope they would have us all thinking of Cambodians who are producing these for them.

Rachel Louise Snyder

They're not, of course. And that's Cambodia's entire problem in a nutshell. The clothing business has transformed Cambodia in a way most Americans can't imagine and know absolutely nothing about. In the 1970s, between one million and two million Cambodians died, about a third of the population, in the country's civil war. The Khmer Rouge eliminated business of every kind, and even money itself. The middle class was slaughtered. For two decades after that, the country's economy was flattened, and chronic drought affected hundreds of thousands of families.

But in the mid-'90s, outside investors began opening garment factories, and within five years, clothes were the country's biggest export. Two things made this possible. First, an international quota system implemented decades ago kept any one country from being the sole provider of clothes to the American and European markets. That meant more than 50 countries got a shot at the industry.

The second thing was that, under the Clinton administration, Cambodia was part of an extraordinary experiment. It got special access to US markets in exchange for good conditions for workers and factory monitoring by the International Labor Organization. The Cambodians didn't just make child labor and sweatshops illegal. They adopted some of the most progressive labor laws in the world. Eight-hour work days, paid overtime, three months' maternity leave, 43 days' vacation, annual health checkups, and free health clinics on site. The access Cambodia got to US and European markets made the industry explode, growing from nothing to 250 factories in just 10 years. The experiment was a huge success.

But as of January 1, 2005, both trade deals-- the quota system and the agreement with the Americans-- ended, and that's left Cambodia in a strange situation. It's the only poor country in the world that's agreed to all these strict labor laws. Left to the free market, it'll have to compete with neighbours like Thailand and Vietnam and industry mammoths like China and India. And so, the question facing Cambodia is, can a poor country survive if it treats its workers fairly? The minister sees the dangers as keenly as anyone.

Cham Prasidh

Because we were successful only in the garment sector so far, and we have not been able to diversify a lot, it's a kind of time bomb. And if you cannot defuse this time bomb, you're going to maybe explode in the future. If the garment sector does not survive in Cambodia, we are going to have a social crisis in Cambodia. Girls who came from the countryside to work in factories, if they lose their jobs, they would never return to their village. And you know what would be their fate. I don't want to elaborate on that.

Rachel Louise Snyder

What he doesn't want to elaborate on is that some of these women might turn to prostitution. Over a quarter million women work in the garment factories around Phnom Penh. They, in turn, support their entire families, often back in whatever village they came from. Minimum monthly wage is $45, and with overtime, most workers make $70 a month. That's two and three times what a police officer or teacher makes here. Garment workers send their brothers and their children to school, and subsidize farms that barely survive.

The good news is, so far, even with the trade deals expired, they've managed to stay afloat. None of the biggest buyers have left, and exports have even grown a little, 7% compared to last year. Though, in previous years, growth was more like 20%.

But since January 1, and the end of all their trade protections, Cambodian factories suddenly are being asked by their customers to lower costs and prices. Some factories have closed. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. Workers are getting less overtime and management is feeling the pinch.

Voren Van

It's actually very worrying. Our cost is actually very high.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Voren Van runs a relatively small factory of 800 workers on the edge of Phnom Penh. They mostly make Levi's jeans. To hear Voren tell it, business is bad. Making clothes is more expensive in Cambodia than in most countries. Cambodia doesn't manufacture any of the materials it needs, so to create a pair of jeans, Voren has to import not only the fabric, but the thread, the zippers, the buttons, the rivets, everything. Then there's utilities. Voren says a recent study found that the cost of electricity is the same in Cambodia as it is in downtown Tokyo. And there's labor compliance, which is hugely expensive.

Voren Van

Just to give you an example, the cost of electricity that I'm paying every month is about $6,000. Now, if I do not bother about compliance, I will switch off the lights and my workers can sew in a dimmer light. And I can save maybe 20%. And that's a lot of money. And you're just talking about electricity. How about drinking water? If I don't give my workers proper drinking water, I can save $600 every month. If I employ, for example, kids under 16, I don't even have to give them anything. I just have to give them a bowl of rice and they will work for me. But, of course, I shouldn't do that. It's not right.

Rachel Louise Snyder

To be clear, Voren's factory has a reputation for some of the best working conditions around. He believes in fair labor laws, that they're eventually going to transform society and the country by turning peasant farmers into an educated middle class. But doing the right thing, not dimming the lights, means Voren's only scratching by. And he's not the only one. The danger is that factories will pick up and move somewhere, like Vietnam. Voren says it's pretty easy. All you have to do is rent a space, ship your machines, and hire some workers. You can be running in two months.

Voren Van

I can say that 70% of the factories here are struggling. I don't think any of us are making money. I think it's just to maintain the workforce here.

Rachel Louise Snyder

You're just surviving.

Voren Van

Just surviving, yes. And not only surviving. I know a lot of factories are not doing very well. They may close down any day. If I can plan three months ahead, with confirmed order, I consider myself very safe. The situation is very bad now. The situation right now is that I cannot even plan for more than two weeks. So I do not know what to do.

Rachel Louise Snyder

How do you get orders?

Voren Van

Cold calls.

Rachel Louise Snyder

You cold-call?

Voren Van

Oh, yes, we cold-call everyone.

Rachel Louise Snyder

But you personally cold-call?

Voren Van

Oh, yes. And not only me. Every time I call a bigger factory, they will say something like, Oh, Mr. Van, I'm so sorry. Today, you are the sixth person that calls me to ask me for orders.

Rachel Louise Snyder

How does it-- I cannot imagine being under that kind of stress. I just think I would have ulcers, and I would be awake all the time.

Voren Van

Thank goodness I have an understanding wife. I'm getting thinner, but that's part of the job. I think everybody outside, if you see them-- if you see factory managers, I think they're now a lot thinner than they were.

[LAUGHTER]

Rachel Louise Snyder

One afternoon, I go with a translator to one of the main manufacturing areas of Phnom Penh, a neighborhood called [UNINTELLIGIBLE], where I've been many times before. It's the main route out of town, and it's lined with food stalls and other vendors that cater to factory workers.

Rachel Louise Snyder

The thing that's interesting about this area is that I first came here close to two years ago now, and it was a thriving area. There were just thousands and thousands of people out, and constant activity here. It was just so lively and so noisy and everyone's just sitting around now. It's not even hot season. Sometimes when I would come down here before, it would be so busy that you could walk faster than the traffic moved. And now it does seem like a highway.

We see a woman slicing pork and beef into tiny strips. I ask her why the pieces are so small.

Translator

Normally, the garment worker, they don't buy a lot, so she has to cut the small pieces, which weigh only one gram.

Rachel Louise Snyder

One gram? They buy one gram?

Translator

Yes. A lot of people buy one gram of pork.

Woman

[SPEAKING KHMER]

Translator

She said, before people made more money, and now people make less money for some reason. She don't know, but they just make less. It's been bad for the last six months, and it keeps going down.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Here's a shoe salesman. I haven't seen this before. Selling flip-flops. Here's a pair of Barbie flip-flops, palm tree flip-flops. How's business?

Translator

[SPEAKING KHMER]

Woman

[SPEAKING KHMER]

Translator

Not so much.

Rachel Louise Snyder

So are there days where she doesn't even sell one single pair of shoes?

Woman

[SPEAKING KHMER]

Translator

She said to talk about that, almost every day, I don't sell.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Almost every day?

Woman

[SPEAKING KHMER]

Translator

She said, "I used to sell a lot before. But these days, I don't do good business. I don't know why. I wonder why I don't make good business these days. I really don't get it because I used to make about $300, $400 a month by selling these old-- credit it to workers. And they pay when they get paid. Like yesterday, they-- worker got paid, but I didn't sell any pairs of shoes. And yesterday was their payday.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Since the trade deals expired, Cambodia's had to hustle for new business, now that it's competing in a new way against so many countries. This is where Souieng Van comes in, Voren's brother and the owner of the factory Voren manages. He's also the head of the Garment Manufacturers Association.

One morning, we meet for coffee at a hotel in Phnom Penh, just two days after a smarmy factory owner skipped town and blew off paying nearly 1,000 workers. Mr. Van was furiously text messaging, arranging to sell the company's assets, mostly sewing machines and chairs, to cover as much as he could of the lost wages.

Souieng Van

I feel I have a duty to do it, because the factory closed is a bad one. It is like a thief running away. And they don't even take care of the wages. But it's in everywhere, in all capitalists countries, even in the States. But in America, in other countries, citizens have money to survive for a few weeks, a few months. In Cambodia, they cannot survive without their wages for over seven days, 10 days. So they are hungry. They're hungry.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Mr. Van comes from a powerful family, and has the kind of money where he's imported a stable full of horses from France. He could be doing anything. But he happens to believe in what Cambodia's trying to do, and he considers it his duty to help save the garment industry. To do that, his days are crammed with meetings, often with the Factory Association's secretary general, Ken Loo, at his side.

Souieng Van

So, good morning, lady and gentlemen.

Rachel Louise Snyder

They're sitting at a table with two dozen Singaporean men and women in Western suits. Tropical fruit and bottles of water sit on three big trays in the middle of the table. The Singaporeans are all members of a manufacturing association, and they're on a fact-finding mission, looking for a new country where they can open up their businesses. They've also been to Vietnam on this trip, and Mr. Van and Ken want to do everything they can to persuade them Cambodia's the better choice. They have two days. Ken does most of the talking, and he starts with Cambodia's trump card, really the only thing they have to sell.

Ken Loo

Cambodia has a good reputation with many international buyers, especially the big buyers that are concerned about their corporate image, concerned about corporate social responsibilities. And GAP has been our largest single buyer.

Rachel Louise Snyder

The GAP alone has 40 factories in the country, and constitutes 25% of Cambodia's entire clothing industry. Lots of other big names are here, too. It's weird to be sitting in a tiled conference room in Phnom Penh while vendors push wooden noodle carts outside, and hearing Asian executives recite every brand name you'd see in your local mall.

Ken Loo

Levi's, H&M, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, all have indicated their intention to increase sourcing from Cambodia. Of course, Cambodia is not a panacea for production. We have our own internal problems, and these are the problems faced by all developing economies in the world, namely corruption, bureaucracy.

Rachel Louise Snyder

The Cambodians are amazingly frank about the problems of doing business in their country. The corruption is notorious, and pretty much everyone in the region, including the Singaporeans, knows it. And there's not much point pretending otherwise. Then there are the unions.

Ken Loo

Just to give you an idea, we have, at present, 223 garment factories. And, at the last count, 785 unions. At last count, and growing, and growing.

Rachel Louise Snyder

That's right. An average of three unions per factory. Sometimes one group of workers in a factory will go on strike while the others work away at their posts. It makes negotiations totally unwieldy. Corrupt unions have extorted money from factory owners and other workers, and demanded ridiculous benefits. Owners already feel a number of the rules, based on French labor laws, are unfair.

In the meeting with the Singaporeans, for example, a lot of time was taken up with questions about breastfeeding breaks, which are required for new mothers. How do they happen? the Singaporeans wondered. Do the babies come to the factories? In Cambodia, working women leave their kids with family, so the breastfeeding thing is a logistical nightmare. There are a bunch of laws like this, headaches that are the cost of fair labor.

But Ken tells them these costs will all be worth it, and then he tells them Cambodia's new strategy to keep the country competitive. It's a bill before Congress-- the US Congress-- called the Trade Act of 2005. If it passes, Cambodia and a bunch of other poor countries would get tariff-free access to the US market. Right now, they're paying an average of 17%. Ken explains that Cambodia is asking for the tax break along with 13 other so-called least developed countries, or LDCs. They included Sri Lanka, hoping the tsunami there would earn the bill some sympathy votes. Ken and Mr. Van will be flying out to Washington to lobby for the bill in a week, and Ken lays out the pitch they're using with the American lawmakers.

Ken Loo

The angle is very logical. There are 50 LDCs in the world, five-zero. And the US has provided preferential access for 35 out of the 50 LDCs, basically in the sub-Saharan African region and the Caribbean and the South American. But 15 LDCs in the Asia-Pacific region have been left out. We are approaching the Americans, we are approaching the politicians, to say, Look, you have left us out. We are not asking for anything extra. We just want to be treated fairly as an LDC. You have given this to other LDCs. We feel it is fair you give the same treatment to us.

And we have gotten very good reactions. Some of the politicians were very surprised. Oh, really? 14 LDCs in Asia-Pacific were left out? Which includes a couple of countries that have a lot of interest in the House, namely Afghanistan. We have got very strong bipartisan sponsors of the bill, meaning we have got Republican and Democrat sponsors. For example, we just had-- what's-- Obama?

Rachel Louise Snyder

Barack Obama.

Ken Loo

We just had Barack Obama sign on as a co-sponsor for our bill. Barack Obama is seen as the leader of the young generation of politicians in the US. We are also in the process of convincing Senator Clinton, because having her on board would be very influential, because she represents a lot of the female voice.

Rachel Louise Snyder

This is what it's like to be the little guy up against the giant. You have to know everything about the giant, and the giant doesn't even know you're there. The Singaporeans ask for details about the bill, and the likelihood it will pass by the end of the year. They say the way Congress votes will sway their decision. The meeting adjourns.

What Mr. Van and Ken didn't tell the Singaporeans is that if the Trade Act doesn't pass, and soon, by the end of 2005 or the first few months of 2006, it might be too late anyway. At Mr. Van's factory, Voren says all it would take is two months without orders, and his factory and others would close.

In July, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, Mr. Van, and Ken flew to Washington, DC to lobby for the Trade Act of 2005. The trip had been planned months in advance, and they'd banked on the fact that CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, would be resolved by then. It wasn't. For two days, they lobbied any member of Congress who would see them, which turned out to be eight people. Mostly, when they heard the Cambodian story, they were sympathetic, and three of them signed onto the bill. But Ken says the congressmen were preoccupied with other issues.

Ken Loo

They were all obsessed with CAFTA at the moment. And when we asked them whether they were ready to support the bill, they said, Not at this moment. This bill is not going to move unless we defeat CAFTA or unless we get CAFTA approved. So that was a bit disheartening.

Rachel Louise Snyder

They'd also hoped to meet with President Bush, or at least someone from his administration. But the president was also preoccupied with CAFTA, and with his new Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts. Their previous trips had gone about the same. Their bill only has 25 sponsors, short of the 70 they ideally want, though this is way further than anybody thought they'd get.

Ken Loo

Every single person we speak to tells us, Impossible. No chance in hell. When we speak to the US administration, when we speak to the US Embassy, they say, quote, "No chance in hell. You're not going to get it." But still, we commit our resources, we commit our time for this cause. And it's really a lot of money.

Rachel Louise Snyder

In Cambodia, the garment industry is front-page news every single day. Factories open or close. New brands come in or leave. Workers strike or lose their jobs. And while this bill means everything to the Cambodians, the sad fact is that Americans don't even know any of this is happening. Here's Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh.

Cham Prasidh

Actually, for me, when I go, I have the feeling that I'm coming like a beggar. But I need to go, despite I feel like a beggar, because right behind me, I have 2 million and a half people who are counting on this Trade Act to survive.

Rachel Louise Snyder

You'd think the one natural ally Cambodia would have for this bill would be the labor unions, who are always trying to get the US to include workers' rights overseas in its trade bills. But, in fact, Cambodia's most vocal opponent of the Trade Act is a labor union, and the most dramatic moment of their trip to Washington came when the minister was speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Mark Levinson, the chief economist for UNITE, the textile union, stood to argue with him.

Levinson said that since the US trade deal with Cambodia ended, workers' conditions have gotten progressively worse.

Mark Levinson

What we hear from workers in Cambodia is that since that link ended, there's backsliding in Cambodia. The situation is deteriorating in Cambodia, because the experiment, which was a success, is now over.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Here's where he's coming from. Even though conditions have improved for Cambodian workers when they're on the job on the factory floor, when workers hold demonstrations, even small ones of a dozen people or so, police come and run them off. There have been threats, intimidation, and beatings of union organizers by thugs trying to repress dissent. Two years ago, a wildly popular union leader was gunned down on a Sunday morning while he was reading the newspaper. Most everyone believes it was a political killing. 15,000 people attended his funeral.

But when Mark Levinson brings this up, it utterly galls the minister. From his point of view, established democracies like America don't have realistic expectations of brand-new democracies like Cambodia. A new country isn't going to solve all the corruption and civil rights abuses all at once. And without help like this trade bill, it'll just make the problems harder to solve, not easier.

Cham Prasidh

You have to understand the context in which we are living. You know the history of Cambodia, but you have not known everything. We have gone through six successive political regimes in Cambodia within 30 years. People of my age, we saluted six different national flags of Cambodia. How many have you saluted so far? Only one. And through this type of conflict, genocide, and everything, we come out and try to find peace first.

We are all new. Six years ago, there is almost no unions in Cambodia. There are not unions in factories because there are no factories in Cambodia. We are all young. The workers are young, the unions are young, the factories [? are building, ?] the factory managers are new. And we have a system that is also new. We are open to democratization, but the question is that we need a kind of transition period where people mature in learning the laws, in abiding to the laws.

Rachel Louise Snyder

Before they leave DC, Mr. Van and Ken check out a few chain stores in Georgetown. They never miss a chance to do this when they come to the States, to see the actual "Made in Cambodia" clothes that trendy Americans buy. Their first store is Adidas. It doesn't go that well.

Souieng Van

No, made in Vietnam. Thailand. Indonesia. Turkey.

Rachel Louise Snyder

The same scenario is repeated at GAP Kids and at Abercrombie & Fitch. At The GAP, things seem more promising. Ken spots some familiar shirts on the table, striped ladies' tops he swears he's seen in Cambodia. But when they check the labels, they see Sri Lanka. Not only aren't they finding Cambodian products, they're finding stuff they could be making in Cambodia, stuff they want to be making. Mr. Van seems almost mystified by his country's lack of representation. He picks up a tiny pair of khaki pants at Baby GAP.

Souieng Van

We can do it better in Cambodia. Look at this stitch. Look, it's lousy. They're not finishing. We can do better.

Ken Loo

This stitch would be rejected by quality control.

Souieng Van

We do better. Something Baby GAP has to do in Cambodia. Something wrong. Why is Baby GAP not down in Cambodia?

Ken Loo

I don't know. Good question.

Souieng Van

Why can't we make that?

Rachel Louise Snyder

Finally they have some success. They spot a blue soccer jersey costing $50. Cambodia will get roughly $10, or a fifth of the selling price. The few other Cambodian-made garments they see are simple t-shirts or sweat tops, nothing more complex, like ornamental stitching that commands higher prices, the kinds of things that China, Vietnam, and Thailand do. All in all, pretty discouraging for them.

Cambodia is still a small, struggling player in the industry. And the way they see it, the success or failure of their experiment at fair labor practices is now in the hands of the US Congress. But the legislation that could help Cambodia, the Trade Act of 2005, doesn't stand any chance at all to make it to a vote in 2005. Mr. Van and Ken and the minister aren't giving up. They had scheduled another lobbying trip for October, but it was canceled at the last minute because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They haven't rescheduled yet. They're waiting for a time when US politicians can give them more attention. It's hard to imagine when that time will be.

Ira Glass

Rachael Louise Snyder lives in Cambodia. This story also appears in her just-published book, Fugitive Denim, about the people who make blue jeans in the global economy. Lisa Pollak did reporting and recording for this story in Washington, DC.

It's been two years since we first broadcast that story, and the Trade Act of 2005, which Cambodians thought would save the clothing industry in their country, never got to the Senate floor. It was reintroduced this year, but is now currently sitting in committee. While the future of this particular act remains uncertain, the US has put limits on the amount of clothing that could be imported from China. Those limits on China will continue until 2008. Ken Loo says that Cambodia is likely to lose a fourth of their garment revenues if those limits are lifted.

For now, though, the Cambodians have actually done pretty well. Despite their fears, exports were up nearly 20% between 2005 and 2006, and they've remained up ever since, mostly because of companies like The GAP and Levi's, who want to buy from Cambodia because of their fair labor practices.

Cambodia continues to send their lobbying delegation to Washington, DC, hoping to get a version of the Trade Act passed, so they don't get creamed when Chinese quotas end.

[MUSIC - "SUCH A LITTLE THING MAKES SUCH A BIG DIFFERENCE" BY MORRISSEY]

Act Three. Adventures At Poo Corner.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Adventures at Poo Corner. Well, now we have this David and Goliath story, where the Goliaths are giant American retailers and the Davids are everyday people, a very particular kind of everyday people. This is a national phenomenon that David Sedaris noticed when he was out on the road.

David Sedaris

A book tour allows one to travel the country and see almost none of it. The airport, the hotel, the store that's hosting you, that's usually the extent of it. But you do get to meet people and enjoy the sorts of exchanges you probably couldn't otherwise. Take this woman I met outside of Detroit, I think it was. We got to talking, and while signing her book, I learned that she worked at Target.

"Do a lot of people defecate in your store?" I asked.

And she placed her hand over mine, saying, "How did you know?"

"Well," I told her, "It's like this."

In my boyfriend Hugh's last year of high school, his family moved back to the United States and he got a job at a certain clothing store. OK, it was The GAP. Hugh got a job at The GAP. And on more than one occasion, a customer entered the dressing room and defecated on the floor. The carpeted floor, to be exact. He mentioned this about six months ago, and I was like, "We've been together for how long? And you're only telling me this now?" Because this kind of story is right up my alley. What kind of a person would defecate in The GAP?

It could be seen as a political statement, or an attempt to even some sort of a score, but that's probably giving credit where it's not due. There are bound to be exceptions, but from what I've gathered, the store itself is unimportant. In this woman's Target, people will crouch down in the middle of those circular clothing racks, do it right there with no door to hide them. In Pier 1, they'll just lean against the wall and lower their pants. The place is an outhouse, from what I've heard. So are Sears and Penny's. And this sort of thing has been going on for ages.

As an author on book tour, I believe it's my duty to spread pertinent information from one part of the country to another. Night after night, I addressed the subject of chain store defecation, and 97% of the audience would shake their heads, no. "You're putting me on," they'd say. "I don't believe it." The other 3% would nod, yes. And these were the ones who worked in retail.

One man that I spoke to stocks shelves at Kroger, and swore that it happens all the time. "In my case, it's mainly kids," he said, which is something I heard from quite a few people. Some poor four-year-old will ask to go to the bathroom, and the mother will point toward a dark corner of the shoe department or to a pyramid of canned pineapple. I guess they figure that, because it's a child, it doesn't really count. But I mean, come on, of course it counts.

In Chicago, I met a librarian who decorated her children's department with an elaborate cardboard castle, something she'd crafted by hand and painted to look like stone. The castle went up, and come the second day, what did she find lying just inside the drawbridge? A turd, that's what. Though, in this case, it was left by a teenager, who confessed after committing a similar crime in the elevator.

It's sort of a different category, but in Las Vegas, I spoke to a guy who worked for casino security that told me that people are so reluctant to leave a favorite slot machine that they'll often defecate in their pants. He orders them to leave, but instead of skulking out in shame, they'll put up a stink, or most of them will, saying they'll go back to their rooms when they're damn well ready. The nerve. I said to Hugh, "You'd expect that kind of behavior at the craps table. But slot machines?"

As my tour advanced, the stories got meaner and more senseless. I learned of a woman who'd entered the restroom of a bookstore and defecated into the center of the toilet paper roll, which is not one of those things you'd get right the first time. It would require a certain amount of practice, but practice where? When she had finished, the woman placed the roll back on its holder, which is inconsiderate, but not as inconsiderate as a college student who has taken to defecating into his dormitory's washing machines, the customer who defecates into the urinal of the delicatessen I heard about, or into the standing ashtrays of a once-grand hotel.

I'm guessing that most of these cases have to do with leaving your mark on the world, an impulse we all share on one level or another. Some shoot high, creating lasting works of art, and others-- well, who am I to judge? As a form of self-expression, defecating into a washing machine falls somewhere between scratching your initials into a bus window and setting fire to a trash can. Whatever notoriety there is to be gained is destined to be private, and hopefully short-lived. But that's what you get when you settle for number two.

Ira Glass

David Sedaris is the author, most recently, of the book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and editor of the book, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Diane Cook and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Amy O'Leary, and Lisa Pollak. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Production help from Sam Hallgren, Chris Ladd, Seth Lind, and Bruce Wallace. Music help from Jessica Hopper.

Our website, where you can get our weekly podcasts free, or listen to our old shows for free, www.thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our show by Mr. Torey Malatia, who feels this way about working with us.

Kennedy

I could say that I get a sense of emotional fulfillment, but not really.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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