Tag Archives: Remittances

Finding Friends on Microfinance, but Western Union Not so Much

Phoenix 3462_WesternUnioncampaignimage Winning any kind of global financial justice for low-and-moderate income families is admittedly a slog, but misery loves company, and I cannot resist keeping you in the loop as ACORN International pushes forward on these campaigns.

Good news first.  Our report, “Mega Troubles for Microfinance” www.acorninternational.org, picked up some friends in high places, which felt very nice, though we will have to see if it develops into real progress.  A letter from the Swiss international development agency indicated that they were in agreement with us that microfinance does not reduce poverty, and in line with our recommendations they had already scaled back involvement.  They were still hopeful about microcredit, though we are not sure what that really means other than saying that the poor should save, which is not exactly a development program.  Similarly when we issued our report the head of the United Kingdom parliamentary committee which has oversight over development joined in our argument heartily and indicated that they will take the report up more seriously now that the summer is past.  All very encouraging since we feared that we might burn at the stake for heresy!

On the other hand there is Western Union.  A long, as these things go, direct conference call between leaders of ACORN International and ACORN Canada with representatives from the Loveland, Colorado based king of remittances was difficult and indecisive.  Western Union conceded that there fees were not the 5 to 6% they claimed in their correspondence, but tried to argue that they were transparent nonetheless even though perhaps not fully.  If you can follow that sentence, you must have been behind the looking glass with us.  Their primary argument continued to rest in a defense of competition, which essentially is to say that they charge what the market will bear, until the market changes, and in response to ACORN International’s three reports on these questions tried to argue that there were 16,000 remittance channels so our dozen countries might just be out of luck.  We have pleaded with them for a direct face-to-face meeting in hopes of making real progress, and they agreed to consider it, but promised nothing.

Meanwhile we are pursuing meetings of the major countries who are soon looking at development issues to see if there might be a way to push ahead on financial justice for the global poor at those forums.  Optimism is boundless, but reality continues to intrude.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Ripping off Mexican & Caribbean Migrant Workers in Canada

Buenocurrency-transfer-compareds Aires One of the flash points in the USA immigration reform debate continues to be over the demand from farmers for help in their fields from migrant agricultural workers.  Recently  they left the Republican (and Obama Administration) consensus in droves as US-farmer organizations and Congresspeople bridled at the fact that employers, i.e. farmers, would have to pay steep fines for hiring undocumented workers.  The so-called bracero program has long been out of business in the US, which used to bring up seasonal workers from Mexico into the fields of California, Texas, and Arizona, and from the Caribbean to help in tobacco, cranberry, and other harvests in the Northeastern states.

ACORN International crack researchers led by Carleton University (Ottawa) volunteer, Amanda Sullivan, and ramroded by ACORN International and Edinburgh University (Scotland) super-summer intern, Melanie Craxton, stumbled onto a huge program though in Canada while researching remittance ripoffs as part of ACORN International and its federated partners on-going Remittance Justice Campaign (www.remittancejustice.org).   The Canadian SAWP is not an armed strike team, but 20,000 migrant workers from Mexico and the Caribbean Islands who are recruited through bi-national agreements and shipped up to the fields of Canada, largely in British Columbia and southern Ontario, as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.  Needless to say conditions are regularly reported as substandard and exploitive by our long-time partners, the UFCW and its agricultural workers organizing program which has been in the fields for years with these workers.

In fact the Canadian government extracts a 25% of wages share for taxes and the like which will never benefit these workers who will return home after a maximum of eight (8) months in the field.  Neither does the Canadian government seem to care much about how much money they actually go home with even though ostensibly that is one of the goals of this cooperative labor exchange.  The workers are in fact even chosen according to the SAWP criteria because they have stable families, and that means invariably they send significant remittances (about 50% of wages while in Canada) back home to their families.

The money transfer organizations of choice according to our researchers interviews are Western Union and a smaller, somewhat cheaper company called Vigo.  Either way a huge chunk of their checks are extracted by these MTOs, way over the 5% maximum demand that ACORN International has made as part of the Remittance Justice Campaign and that Canada as part of the G-8 has claimed to adopt as a world standard.

Talking to SAWP representatives though was like visiting Mars.  Yes, Canada collected its taxes.  Yes, the migrant workers made remittances home.  No, the governmental representatives had no idea how much was extracted by the MTOs of the checks, despite these bi-national agreements with Mexico and Caribbean countries.  It is impossible to escape the core immorality, even venality, of this predatory governmental operation.  The Canadian government gets migrant help for its agricultural enterprises, profits from taxes that can’t benefit the workers, and then turns a blind eye as predatory fees are extracted from the laborers before they return home with what little is left.

ACORN International and its federated partners like ACORN Canada, ACORN Mexico, and ACORN Dominican Republic, have stumbled onto a scandal and are busily preparing demands to force immediate change in these practices along the lines we have continued to make in recent months for cost caps and desperately needed regulations.  Without a doubt this is an outrage that demands the authorities finally listen and act!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail