Angelina Jolie, the Tailor and the Mafia

I am considering myself as someone who is going through life with open eyes and knows a little about the underbelly of capitalism. But yet, when I heard the words “designer fashion” and names like Valentino or Dolce&Gabbana, well lit studios used to come to my mind where the nimble hands of highly professional and well paid seamstresses turned silk and satin into gorgeous clothes.

Roberto Saviano’s book “Gomorrah – Italy’s other Mafia” put an end to my naiveté.

The production of clothes in a price range that’s far beyond the means of a middle class person is auctioned out to sweat shops in Italy where the salary level is pathetic and where sometimes even child labour is found.  The sweatshop owners get presented with the original fabric and the design and will then state the price and the timeframe for the production of  a given number of clothes. Three to five bidders get the chance to make good on the promise and the fastest and cheapest sells it’s production. The rest of them can market their output in the grey area of semi-fakes. Of course, the fakes, which are still made with the original fabrics are sold with the knowledge and silent consent of the fashion brand. The control of the business is, as expected, in the hands of the Camorra.

The specific tailor, who actually made the white tuxedo-style suit actress Angelina Jolie wore at the Oscar ceremony in 2001, saw the pictures on tv and broke down crying, as Roberto Saviano, who was researching undercover for his book at that time, witnessed.

Whenever I see a gorgeous robe now, I see a dimly lit sweatshop where underpaid, often illegal, immigrants to Italy spend most days of the week to produce luxury for a world oblivious to their existence.

Read the review of Saviano’s book here and if you have the time read the whole book. It’s worth it, if only because the courageous man who wrote that book, now lives in costant fear for his life.

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The Somali Pirates

Johann Hari’s story about Somalia and the background of the Piracy is making the rounds and rightly so. Somalia is the ultimate failed state and it’s people suffers terribly. And yes, Europeans have taken advantage of the situation to rob the Somalis of their fish and dump waste, including nuclear material,  in Somali waters.

I doubt, however, if we should define the acts of piracy as they occur now as self-defense. It is not the Somali fishermen who profit from the buccaneering, anymore. They may have been initially, but

The BBC’s Mohamed Olad Hassan in Somalia says many of the pirates are former fishermen, who began by attacking ships they argued were “illegally threatening or destroying” their business.

“Businessmen and former fighters for the Somali warlords moved in when they saw how lucrative it could be. The pirates and their backers tend to split the ransom money 50-50,” he says.(read more)

The bosses are found to be elsewhere, too. The profits from the piracy off the Somali Coast, some $ 20 million last year, are going to people who are increasingly not based in Somalia anymore.

While small gangs of armed men riding in fast skiffs are the dramatic face of piracy, these men are just the foot soldiers of sophisticated criminal enterprises in which major infrastructure is land-based. The most successful pirates—those with the weapons and intelligence to pull off attacks on supertankers hundreds of miles from land—are employed by wealthy criminal bosses, many of them expatriates, and draw on information provided by paid sources inside key Kenyan maritime agencies.

[…]

Omar described pirate networks as something akin to the West’s mafia. Resources are concentrated in the hands of a few senior bosses, each employing “capos” commanding bands of low-ranking pirates. The capos, Omar said, are former Somali army soldiers from before the civil war, when Somali troops trained in the Soviet Union. The capos and their subordinates operate from pirate enclaves in northern Somalia, especially in the town of Eyl.

(read more)

And they reinvest in drug trafficking.

Somali pirates are investing heavily in trafficking the narcotic khat, along with other businesses, as they seek to spend big profits from ransom payments after months of attacks.Maritime officials say at least 26 ships have been hijacked off the coast of the Horn of Africa country so far this year.

Most of them brought ransoms of at least $10,000, and in some cases much more. A lot of that money is now in the hands of pirates in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.

Siyad Mohamed and his gang recently shared a $750,000 ransom after releasing a German ship they seized in May. Mohamed said they decided to invest in trafficking khat, a mild narcotic leaf that is very popular in the region. (read more)

To liken the Somali Pirates to Robin Hood is, in my opinion, a misinterpretation. Many organisations who are now undoubtedly criminal have their roots in social injustice. Take the very Mafia, which may well be involved in the dumping of toxic waste into Samali coastal waters. There are stories about how they were designed to protect the Sicilian peasants as far back as the Middle Ages and the Catalan marauders. The real origin is more likely later, but they still had lots of support by the people they purportedly protected from an unloved and alien aristocracy. Both, the Somali pirates and the Mafia, however, profited from weak or nonexisting governments. In the end there is nothing romantic about either of the two, they’re just criminals.

And the Somali people will continue to suffer in a failed state, which will continue to fail as long as criminals profit so nicely from the failure.