The Killer Bargain referred to by this hard-hitting documentary's title is the availability of cheap consumer goods, imported by Western companies, whose prices don't reflect the actual human and environmental costs associated with their production in the developing world. Consumers remain largely unaware of the conditions under which the goods they buy are produced; this film makes those connections shockingly clear. While some retailers and manufacturers refuse to talk to the filmmakers, workers, doctors and scientists testify eloquently to the tremendous human costs of globalization.
The film takes as a case study the production of textiles in northern India, from the growing of cotton, through the dying of cloth to its final sale as towels and sheets in European and American stores. A Danish company, Cheminova, produces much of the pesticide used in the Punjab; while it saves crops from insects, however, these pesticides are known to cause cancer and have long been banned throughout the West. There are exponentially more pesticides found in the blood of Punjab farmers than in any other population in the world. Whereas in 1998 there was only one cancer clinic in the Punjab's 'Cotton Belt', there were six by 2004. Representatives of Cheminova and Aarhus University, the largest stockholder in the company, have refused to review the filmmakers' documentation. The WHO has lobbied for decreasing the use of chemicals and for introducing protective measures. One Indian doctor denounces the purveyors of these pesticides as "merchants of death, marketers of murder."
The film next moves to Panipat a leading textile producing center, where many retail chains buy their products. The filmmakers were able to gain access to the factory of GS Exports only by posing as an imaginary Scandinavian company, 'Beautiful House.' There they find open tanks of fuming chlorine gas, banned in Europe for twenty years and used as a poison gas in World War I, a 'weapon of mass destruction.' GS Exports pays its workers less than $60 a month, including overtime; if they join a union, they are fired. Approximately 50 of the employees are children, and the workers are housed in sub-human conditions. Dansk Supermarked wouldn't speak to the filmmakers but claims that, as a result of their investigations, they have suspended their contract with the factory. ICA, another large Scandanavian retailer, after watching the footage, claimed it would investigate immediately.
JYSK is the largest textile chain in Denmark, outstripping McDonald's in growth. They buy from Kapoor Industries, a modern plant which discharges its waste water into ponds, polluting the surrounding farmland. The viewer watches as company security stops the filmmakers from shooting, and Kapoor's executive director threatens them with beating, personally confiscating their tape. In its statement of corporate ethics, JYSK claims to be improving the environment but refuses to confront the filmmakers' evidence to the contrary.
An economist explains that, often, the availability of cheap consumer goods is due to fact that they were produced by underpaid workers in environmentally destructive plants. Some Indian textile suppliers use environmentally friendly techniques but, because their products cost marginally more, many western retailers shun their products for cheaper goods. Corporations, even those with stated commitments to buy from suppliers that respect their workers' rights and the environment, cannot be trusted to enforce these principles if their enforcement would result is a cost increase.
A Killer Bargain, like Black Gold, makes it clear that it is up to consumers to hold companies accountable for the conditions under which their products are produced - even if that means a slightly higher cost. An Indian economist points out that globalization may create work in the developing world, but often at the price of shortening workers' lives. An Indian doctor adds that we in the West should realize that the clothes we wear are often made at the expense of someone else's life. The film ends with a quote from Gandhi: "There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for one man's greed."
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