Research: Yasmeen Jones-Chollet

Research for my subject focused on the efforts of fellow NMIT (Nursing) student Yasmeen Jones-Chollet who has recently been highlighting working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers and others in what is effect a slave labour force.

A self-described activist, Yasmeen came to national attention during and following her physical (yet silent) protest: trying to live her life as if she were a garment worker in Bangladesh, in an effort to highlight sweatshop practices.

Yasmeen worked 16 hours a day sewing bags on Trafalgar Street in Nelson, only allowing herself to take three 10-minute breaks a day. In keeping with sweatshop practices, she wasn’t allowed to talk to other people or see her five-year-old son. However after her shift ended at 10pm each night she was allowed to upload a diary note to her Facebook event page.

After seven days of hard graft, she spent a further day in Trafalgar St, Nelson giving away the bags and talking to people about exploitation of workers. Yasmeen said she did it to raise awareness of exploitation in the fashion industry. She says after watching the documentary Udita she felt compelled to do something.

I did not see her protest, but first heard of it during her interview on Radio New Zealand (http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday/audio/2018642654/fashion-protest-highlights-plight-of-bangladeshi-workers)

Further her efforts were highlighted in print media with a half-page article in the Nelson Weekly, under the heading ‘Enslaved’ worker on Trafalgar Street (Page 9: Nelson Weekly, Tuesday 24 April 2018).

I made contact with Yasmeen via her Facebook event Page Enslaved by Demand (https://www.facebook.com/events/2041906562723599/permalink/2058107744436814/). I then interviewed her at the NMIT Library; recording the 20 minute interview, structured around five set questions. In a follow-up to this she is due to send me some reference material online.

Her formats for promoting her cause were; chronologically:

  • Her protest event held on Nelsons main shopping street over 1 week
  • Interviews and exposure through Nelson Media (radio and print)
  • Interview on National Radio
  • Facebook page dedicated to cause

Yasmeen could be described as an ‘Old-School’ activist; prepared to physically protest in the street, organise or coordinate protest marches (as she subsequently did for Pay Equity for Nurses in Nelson’s CBD on Saturday 12 May), leading chants with a loud-hailer. She is intelligent, confident and articulate; interviewing well on National Radio and for myself.

She is however less enthusiastic about social-media platforms; she uses Facebook sparingly under her personal profile and has been attempting to remove the ‘Enslaved by Demand’ Page from Facebook. In scrolling through this site, she had received almost entirely positive feedback from those supporting her efforts; however she had also been “trolled” in a couple of comments. While she responded to the trolls with well-considered and polite debate, the actions of a few can taint the online experience.

Her experience of her protest was that it kicked-off national attention to the issue. There was some international reaction from supporters, but not much from international Media. The New Zealand reporting on the protest was, however duplicated in international media sites and can be found on the likes of https://id-news.com (Indonesia) and news sites and Blogs in other less developed countries where labour rights are debated. I found the NZ articles duplicated in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Malaysia, but (perhaps, not surprisingly) in mainstream media in the US (including more liberal papers such as the Huffington Post).

It has reinforced her personal motives as an activist, but not just for slavery per se. She is also active in Green/Environmental and Women’s issues as well as community ethics and workers’ rights.

I feel her energies’ being diluted across a variety of causes (and a resistance to embrace digital/social media) will result in her not reaching a broad/target audience of those making commercial choices that will impinge upon slave labour. Many of the consumers of the cheaply produced garments are purchased by women, often on behalf of themselves or their children.

Billboards and info sheets she had posted around her physical protest required the passer-by to stop and read; something many younger women and busy Mom’s may not be prepared to do. Had they however, knowledge of the smart-phone application that rates local shops on an ethical scale (worker treatment and product origin/history), they may be more likely to make informed, ethical choices about their purchases.

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