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Baseball, Rawlings Bring New Meaning to Free Trade: Postscript

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In 2006, this reporter shed light on the seemingly unfair labor practices taking place in the Central American country of Costa Rica, in a factory operated by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., Inc., and now a subsidiary of the multi-national corporation, Jarden Corp.

As we embark upon the 2010 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, let us take another look back on this important issue regarding free trade and on that which has transpired since.

At that time, Rawlings was a subsidiary of K2, Inc., primarily a snowboard and in-line skate manufacturer. Then in 2007, Jarden absorbed all of K2's holdings and Rawlings became one of the many assets of Jarden's portfolio.

The Jarden Corp.'s holdings, prior to 2007, had primarily been in the consumer household goods industry, such as with Mr. Coffee, Oster, Holmes and CrockPot. It became pro-active in the purchase of outdoor clothing and camping equipment companies such as ExOfficio and Coleman and then with the purchase of K2, which owned Rawlings, Jarden became a force in the professional sporting goods industry as well.

But much like the way corporate takeovers can surface rapidly and on a global scale, with what appears as little hands-on management, corporations' goods are then subject to manufacture n far-off lands with little oversight, too.

And unfortunately, this accomplished strategy, having culminated primarily over the past 25 years, has enjoyed the muscle and delight of the U.S. government and other state governing bodies of countries throughout the world.

Unfortunately, global trade does little to improve the standard of living and human condition of the citizens living in such impoverished countries, where many global giants relocate.

Since this last report, to wit, Costa Rica has become a member of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Costa Rica, the oldest democracy in Central America, held a voters' referendum in 2007, giving its citizens a voice as to whether they would like to join DR-CAFTA.

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The United States Congress rushed through DR-CAFTA in record time, over several months in 2005, but never expected a country such as Costa Rica to actually fight its demands or to obstruct its rush-through process; for all six other CAFTA countries El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic were all on board by 2007.

As it were, approval for DR-CAFTA was barely passed by Costa Rican voters, and it was not until January 1, 2009 that Costa Rica formally became another Free Trade Zone in Central America.

Few working for or playing in MLB, or for that matter most people living in the U.S., are aware that Free Trade Zones are but a win for the U.S. government and multi-national corporations operating offshore, only.

Such corporate entities are not required to pay taxes or tariffs, are allowed to import their supplies duty-free, and electricity and water usage are subsidized. Yet, they are not responsible or required to enforce labor and environmental policies, that would be required had they remained doing business in the U.S.

The following contains parts of the 2006 article, that encapsulates the story of Rawlings Sporting Goods, Inc. and its subsidiary, Rawlings de Costa Rica, S.A., and its manufacture of some 2.2 million baseballs each year made by hand. These laborers work for MLB's gain, its billionaire owners, and multi-millionaire players, who largely remain mum on this topic to date:

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As America's National Pastime has continued to rake in record high revenues over the past several years in the billions of dollars each season MLB continues to remain deaf to its critics concerning the manufacture of its Official Baseball, apparel and other accessories, with regard to unfair labor practices in the Third World.

In 2004, a 60-page report produced by the National Labor Committee (NLC), an international labor rights organization, entitled, Foul Ball, initially exposed the poor working conditions of the Rawlings baseball factory in the remote city of Turrialba, Costa Rica.

MLB had a tepid response to such claims. Then, following the report, life-long consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, wrote a letter to both MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, and then-Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Executive Director, Donald Fehr, to address Rawlings' labor practices. Selig referred Nader's letter to his legal department and Donald Fehr said he was unaware of such claims. Neither man ever followed up.

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Diane M. Grassi is an investigative journalist and reporter providing topical and in-depth articles and analysis on U.S. public policy and governmental affairs, including key federal and state legislation as well as court decisions relative to the (more...)

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