Human working conditions vs pizza topping
Do you see yourself as respectful of human rights and a staunch defender of those whose rights are violated? OK, let’s not anticipate the story – do you consider yourself a decent human being?
Most of us would answer “yes” to these questions with the same thoughtless eagerness with which we ignore red flags that should tell us something is wrong.
I remember knocking on a door in Manama for directions once and being greeted by a young domestic helper rushing in with a tray of tea that she spilled on me.
I was so outraged by the tea stains on my sari that it wasn’t until much later that the wobbly fatigue on her face registered itself in my consciousness.
And what about the many times we order party food at our favorite restaurants? These quick men in their flying (two-wheeled) machines that bring you your biryani and shawarma take 16-18 grueling hours to deliver your goods to you and often get yelled at for being 10 minutes late or bringing the wrong order packed by the restaurant.
Most of these delivery people are contract workers employed by micro-enterprises which hire out their services to the big names in the trade.
By the time the starting salary is split between the maze of contractors and subcontractors, the delivery guy gets the bare minimum – often around BD100.
They are expected to fill this with the tips they receive. This is outrageous, given that delivery services hack a hefty commission from participating outlets and every delivery.
All this money is clearly generating good profits since the parent company only updates the application and manages the back office and the delivery and maintenance of the fleet is outsourced. So why can’t infantrymen benefit from more decent wages and working conditions?
Worse yet, there is no responsibility for the welfare of the workers because of the layers of contracts. The living conditions of these delivery people are often disastrous. I once saw a dilapidated villa in an alleyway in Manama with broken roof shingles and plank windows. Just when I thought the house was ready to be demolished, I noticed that the little backyard was crisscrossed with clotheslines on which hung dozens of recognizable uniforms from a popular delivery service. This meant that at least 15 men lived in this three bedroom villa.
There is also no safety net when it comes to health or insurance checks.
Overworked and often exhausted, these men vacillate at high speed on highways and streets at all hours. The insider story is that accidents, injuries, and downtime are deducted from the meager pay they earn, making them reluctant to report them.
We live in an unbalanced world where we are more concerned with improving the quality of our pizza toppings than with the working conditions of the people who prepare and deliver them to us.
Remember the 1980s when a consumer movement started to hold the fashion industry accountable for the sweatshop work environment in garment factories? Initially flouted, the movement revolutionized the industry and dramatically improved the lives of factory workers, even eliminating child labor in many cases.
We need to seriously consider how our invisible patronage of these services affects the quality of life of thousands of people.
A simple generous tip will not help, although it is welcome. Let us pledge to challenge and hold employers accountable for the well-being of the underlings who run the machine.