Why You Should Boycott Disney
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida

When I was growing up, I loved going to Disneyland. My favorite ride was the "It’s a Small World" ride. I loved riding in the boat and watching the cute little dolls of diverse cultures dancing around and singing happily.

Last week, delegates at the 15-million member Southern Baptist convention voted to boycott Disney for its supposed promotion of gay and lesbian lifestyles. Apparently, the Southern Baptists believe that Disney is "gay-friendly" and immoral because they offer health insurance benefits for same-sex partners. Baptists say that the last straw was when Disney owned ABC-sitcom funny lady, Ellen Degeneres, came out as a lesbian last month.

Their plan is to boycott KABC-TV, Disney cartoons, movies and theme parks. I’m really bothered by this. Disney should be congratulated for refusing to discriminate against gays and lesbians on the health benefits issue. More businesses should follow the example set by Disney. I hope that Disney officials don’t cave in to the religious right-wing groups and change their benefits policies.

I think that the Southern Baptists are right in boycotting Disney. But they are doing it for all THE WRONG REASONS.

If they want to boycott Disney, it should be for Disney’s blatant exploitation of women and children who work under sweatshop conditions throughout the world. Disney contracts with factories in Indonesia, Thailand, China, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti. Independent monitoring groups sponsored by unions and religious groups (with the exception of the Southern Baptists) have reported abuse and terrible working conditions in Disney sweatshops.

Michael Eisner, CEO of the Disney conglomerate, earned the equivalent of $189 million in 1996, or approximately $100,000 per hour, according to Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee (NLC). That’s about half a million dollars before lunch.

In comparison, workers in Haiti making Disney-licensed products, earn approximately 28 to 30 cents an hour. That’s $1.50 before lunch. For every $11.97 pair of Pocohantas pajamas sold, a Haitian worker earns only 7 cents.

The NLC has reported that more than half of the 50 firms operating in Haiti are violating the country’s minimum wage laws. Workers, mostly teenage women work 12-16 hour days making Disney products in dusty, sweltering factories. Women who are pregnant are forced to quit so employers can avoid paying maternity benefits. If workers speak out against their conditions, they are fired.

Like many companies, Disney has responded to the complaints with excuses that they are not an employer in Haiti. "When we license our images to third parties in the U.S. and around the world, we require that they follow all applicable employment and environmental laws. Violation of any law is grounds for immediate termination of the contract," according to a statement by Disney.

The NLC has launched a campaign to get a living wage for Haitians making Disney products and raising their wages to 58 cents an hour. A small percentage of Disney shareholders have also shown moral leadership. Recently, 8.5% of Disney shareholders voted to improve their pay and working conditions and to hire an independent group to monitor overseas factories for labor abuses. It’s a small world and these are some small steps in the right direction.

As an Asian American woman, I believe we should support the Disney boycott. NOT because they have "gay-friendly" policies. But because my Issei grandmothers worked as seamstresses in Los Angeles factories for decades. Because of Thai garment workers toiling in sweatshops in El Monte. Because thousands of women of color continue to work under deplorable sweatshop conditions in Los Angeles, Asia, Central America and Haiti. Because as cute as Mickey Mouse is, he and the Walt Disney Co. should be held accountable for their corporate responsibilities.

If you are going to boycott Disney, do it for the right reasons. Because it’s a small world after all.

NLC has produced a short documentary Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti. For a copy or more info, contact: Disney Campaign, National Labor Committee, 275 7th Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001 or call (212) 242-0986.

Holdings of the Walt Disney Company:

Theme Parks: Disneyland and Disney World in Florida
Retail: The Disney Store (over 500 stores)
Movie studios: Selected films by Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Caravan Pictures and Miramax
Broadcast: ABC-TV and radio networks
Cable: Tne DIsney Channel and partial ownership of ESPN, A&E and Lifetime
Sports: Owner of Mighty Ducks hockey team, General Partner of Anaheim Angels
Music: Hollywood Records and Walt Disney Records
Print: Oakland Press, Albany Democrat-Hearld and the Daily Tidings of Ashland
Magazines: Discover and Los Angeles
Plays: "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway and "The Lion King" set to open this Fall
Other Ventures: Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Clubs, Club Disney

Source: Associated Press

Jenni Emiko Kuida writes from the Venice/Culver area of Los Angeles. She has fond memories of Disneyland as a child.

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, June 24, 1997

Updated: 11/10/02

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