'Arranged' Marriages Survey - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

For this ever-so controversial issue of 'arranged marriages' - I recruited the skills and charm of fellow Ctrl.Alt.Shift reporter Emily Jane Brown (jetting in all the way from Southampton), who was just as curious as me to see what our generation thought about this complex issue. Of course we had to keep in mind, what might not run so smoothly in our upbringing, could be perfectly tolerated, perhaps even welcomed in other more traditional societies... But would our public be so objective? Here's the report:

Vox Pops: Till Death Do Us Part?
Being tied up, drugged and carted off to a foreign country to marry someone just because of your religion is surely a scenario most of us can't begin to imagine. But for some women across the globe, this daunting predicament is never a step too far from reality - on August 3rd 2008 was flown to Bangladesh and held prisoner for five months by her own parents while they planned her forced marriage to a Muslim man.

Ctrl.Alt.Shift wanted to know how our youth felt about the subject and whether they felt that traditional values and strict religious regimes could still play a part in our modern day society.

In 2007 the government brought in the Forced Marriages Act to protect victims from being trapped into marriage - with that in mind, we also asked our interviewees if they felt as though enough is being done in the UK and abroad to help those forced into marriage, to spread awareness and to give people their chance to speak up and be free.

Abdul, 22:
"I disagree with forced marriage as I think it has to be given consent by both parties and not decided by anyone else, especially not the parents of the bride and groom - though if my parents forced me to marry Beyonce Knowles I guess I wouldn't mind. Still, I don't think this issue has anything to do with religion - it's more of a cultural problem. Parents are safeguarding traditional honour and respect for religion but harming their own children in the process. I think the government need to get to the heart of the problem because just imposing the Forced Marriages Act won't solve anything. People need to be educated and given a better understanding of the help around them, especially if they feel that they are a victim."

Oli, 23:
"Forced marriages are wrong - people shouldn't be made to do something they don’t want to do. I think strict religious regimes can have a place in society today, but it depends on the person and if it is in their favour, but it’s just not for me. Despite the Forced Marriage Act I don't think enough is being done by the UK government to expose this subject. It's very hard to comment on other places such as Bangladesh as I don't know enough about it, but of course it would be nice if there was more help available to those being forced into marriage; somewhere to go, like an agency."

Read the full set of answers here


Present Aid Survey - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

Here's a satirical survey reporter Ben Anderson and I conducted for Ctrl.Alt.Shift on the option of 'Present Aid' this Christmas. If I said to you, "Merrrrry Christmas! You got a child in the DRCongo a goat!) - what would be your honest reaction... and don't say 'It's the thought that counts." I'm good at detecting liars. Have a think, and for food for thought, here's our feature below:

Vox Pops: You Got Me a Goat?
"Merry Christmas. A donation has been made in your name to a farm in Kasangulu, DRCongo, for the amount of three cows and a chicken."

Now what do you say?

Buying 'charity'gifts for your family or friends, from the likes of Present Aid, can be an iffy one. It might not be exactly what you want, but then it is all in the name of a good cause. On the other hand, upon opening a virtually empty card, some might even respond with: "Why the hell didn't you stick to the list?"

We wanted to know what our youth had to say on the matter of unasked charity donations, so Ctrl.Alt.Shift took to the streets to question people’s ideal Christmas gifts.

We then asked our interviewees: "How would you feel if your loved ones made a charity donation (perhaps some money, a duck and a goat to a Kenyan struggler) in your name as a festive sentiment?" We followed that up by asking if they would ever consider doing the same thing for someone else.

Finally we tackled the subject of a 'real, meaningful gift' with charity in mind, by asking: "Do you think charity donations should be kept anonymous, or does publicising the giver taint the validity of the selfless sentiment – and does it become more about the donator than the donation?"

Siobhan, 21:
"For Christmas, ideally I’d like a car. Though, if someone made a donation in my name, I’d be happy with that, and yeah I would consider doing the same thing for someone else. Is it tainted to publicise the donator? I guess it just depends on the person and why they’re doing it. Still, you should be allowed to keep it anonymous, or put a name on it, even if it makes it more about the giver. Either way, it's a good cause, and a good gift."

Lucy, 20:
"I want a degree for Christmas. But I'd love a gift like that, I think it's a brilliant idea – especially if you don't know what you want, it'd be better than getting just another jumper. I'd do it, as I've done it before for my parents; I got them a donation (in their name) of some chickens so that an African family could become more self-sufficient. I've been to Kenya with my father at the age of nine, and after seeing the situation over there, a donation seems a much more worthwhile gift than the rubbish you can buy over here. I don't think it is necessary to name the donator, but I don't think it's a bad thing – I think it's important to recognise people doing good things and donating money, though the amount is not important."

Read the full list of answers here


Protecting Bangladesh @ London Primark Protest - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

BAD BAD NEWS! East Ham High Street (just down the road from my home in East London) will open Europe's biggest Primark to date. All together now - WHAT THE F... You know how this line ends. Not only will this giant superstore take out many of the local, smaller, independent retailers (Bingo will be rubble, and I fear for my local Pound Express), the inevitable success of this monstrosity will only illustrate further tolerance to Primark's intolerable history of sweatshop labour - an issue I've been following for a while now.

So for now, there was no better place in London to be than at the Primark protest (coverage here) outside the TUC building (Trade Union Congress Centre); I was representing Ctrl.Alt.Shift, joining forces with various anti-sweatshop groups to breathe down the necks of Primark's shameless shareholders - all of which had little to say to our Bangladeshi friends, flown in especially from their torrid and abuse-ridden working lives to tell their story, and demand justice from the source. It was freezing (and my Mauritian blood can't handle a minor chill), but I was in good company, chanting, placard in hand alongside rebel-with-a-cause Ben Anderson and the lovely Tara Scott from Labour Behind The Label. Here's the review of the day:

Ctrl.Alt.Shift @ Primark Protest
Whether it's 29p an hour for their workers in India, or recent allegations of 7p an hour for their Bangladeshi graftsmen, activists arrived geared up and prepped to voice their outrage at Primark's exploitative and despicable policies outside the TUC building (Trade Union Congress Centre) in central London this morning - just as those in the ivory towers of the corporation sat down for their cosy AGM.

No Sweat, Labour Behind the Label, War on Want and Ctrl.Alt.Shift (among other justice-seeking organisations) were all present, placards and banners in hand, never deterred by some of Primark’s shamed shareholders trying to shoo the loud and proud protesters away.

The high street giants have made around £233 million this year. Yet according to War on Want, a pitiful amount of that sum goes towards paying the average worker in developing countries £19.16 a month. This does very little to improve the already appalling conditions (and abuse in some circumstances) of the men, women and children striving away to make those fabulous Primark sequin dresses we see in the shop window - shoppers of the UK can go home delighted with a new buy, while the majority of Primark's hustlers will walk home after a 14 hour shift to small, crowded shacks, many lacking plumbing and adequate washing facilities.

What is most frustrating about this picture is how Primark will not own up and pay dividends for what they have done. They even have the nerve to call themselves an ethical company on www.ethicalprimark.co.uk. But today proved their wool will no longer be pulled over the eyes of the good people.

Chants echoed around the TUC of "Primark! Cut the spin!" and "What do we want? Living wage! When do we want it? NOW!" When a Primark shareholder came out to hold the fort (in a feeble attempt to justify Primark's actions by claiming they were not responsible for business procedures overseas), the campaigners seized upon his distasteful words with "Quit passing the buck!" and "Use your profit to pay the workers!"

Read the full article here

Sweatshop Primark Survey - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

I, and my Ctrl.Alt.Shift colleagues, Kevin E G Perry and Ben Anderson, wondered if we could derail some central London xmas shoppers away from the corrupt claws of Primark (found by Panorama earlier this year to be exploiting their child and female workers in Bangladesh).

We set up a survey, and armed with facts surrounding the retail giant's sweatshop history - we hit the bustling streets to conduct our report, ingeniously titled 'Santa Hates Primark'. Here's the results:

Vox Pops: Santa Hates Primark
Ctrl.Alt.Shift went to London’s shopping mecca, Oxford Street, to chat to people about whether the appalling conditions of those who make high street clothes will influence where they will be buying their presents this Christmas time. A new report says that workers in developing countries who make clothes for Primark get paid as little as 7p an hour - this works out at about £19 a month, while workers say they would need about £45 a month just to feed their families and pay for clean water, shelter and other basics. Given that the cost of rice alone has gone up by 70% in the last two years, there's not even enough money to put food on the table.

We asked our youth where they were planning on buying the majority of their gifts this year, and followed this up by asking whether they were aware about the conditions of the people who produce Primark’s wares. We wanted to know how this made people feel, and whether it would affect their decision making when it came to choosing where to shop in the future...:

Tereza, 21:
“This Christmas I will be getting most of my stuff from shops like Zara and Topshop and I also get a lot of my clothes from charity shops. Yeah I study fashion so we are taught about how certain brands misbehave and Primark have been focused on in the past. I sympathise with the situation loads, but at the same time there is a need for work in these countries and the people need money, so that sort of gives it another perspective - I still do think they should get paid more though.”

Demonsabert, 24:
“This year I’ll be doing my Christmas shopping here on Oxford Street, probably at Topshop and Gap. I haven’t heard about people who make clothes for Primark getting 7p an hour, but I’ve heard about other places like Gap. I think it’s bad, and I try not to buy clothes that are made in China or in bad conditions, but when you’re a student you don’t have much to spend, so no, it wouldn’t stop me shopping there.”

Read the full set of comments here

The Reasons I Don't Shop @ BLOODY Primark - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

"Their socks are soooo cheap!". I don't give a damn. After watching a Panorama episode exposing Primark's sweatshop labour, and their shameless attempts to conceal the evidence and stand tall as ethical retail giants - I'm forever more looking down Portbello Road's charity shops for my wallet-friendly bits and bobs.

Our consumer nature can ultimately consume us, and so I won't hate on anyone (including the shopaholic ladies in my life) not to be tempted by cheap-ass garms going a notch cheaper in the January sales - BUT I also challenge anyone to read my Ctrl.Alt.Shift follow-up report below (along with the vid above) and not feel even a spoonful of second-thought when ravaging through the racks of these corrupt superstore barons:

Feature: Bloody Primark Underwear
Getting paid pence for a 9-5, being exploited by the corporate machine, being a slave to the money-making game - it's not right, whatever continent you are standing on. But it’s even worse when the scandalous companies that rip off the non-the-wiser strugglers are sitting in our own back yard.

In June 2008, Primark was thrown under the spotlight, as BBC’s Panorama exposed the appalling conditions faced day-to-day by Indian hustlers grafting out clothes for the infamous store. Since then, Primark has taken no significant steps to alleviate the lives of these workers; they have done nothing to seize the exploitation of the women and children that keep the cogs of their dirty wheel turning. Instead, the company launched an audacious PR offensive through a new website titled www.ethicalprimark.co.uk, manufactured to convince us not to worry that their cheap-ass socks and boxers may be tainted by the hands of developing world penny-workers - well they might as well be stained with blood.

That is why organisations Labour Behind the Label and No Sweat have joined the fray, teaming up with Tara Scott and Stacey Dooley (from BBC’s reality show Blood, Sweat and T-shirts). Together they will demonstrate against the high-street giants on Friday December 5 as Primark sit down for their AGM from 10.30am at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) building, Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS – the mass of campaigners will bring the noise with hopes to shift the ignorant mindsets of Primark’s shareholders who have the power to alter the way their company operates.

Here's what 22 year old Tara, and 32 year old Labour Behind the Label campaigner Claire Milne, had to say about their upcoming publicity stunt, the cause and the opponent in the bloodied red corner - Primark:

What is the protest all about?

Claire: We want Primark to stop feeding us spin and lies. Having successfully revolutionized 'cheap' as the new black, the Primark brand has come to epitomise cheap, fast fashion and the worker exploitation that comes with it. We want Primark to come clean and start taking meaningful action to improve the lives of the workers making its clothes.

Tara: We have seen Primark is only interested in money not people, so we need to show the shareholders that consumers want the truth, not to be fooled...

Read the rest of the interview here


MC'ing @ The Vault, Winchester Uni - Ctrl.Alt.Shift Event

Life throws some major league curve balls at you sometimes, and during those moments there's really only one thing you should do - smack the ball right out the arena! And let's just say, being asked to spontaneously host a live dance show at The Vault club (Winchester Uni campus) was one of these 'curve ball' highlights of my professional life...

I was unashamedly bricking it, mostly because this was a completely unrehearsed, unscripted segment of our Ctrl.Alt.Shift gig; coming to Winchester for the first time to spread the good word of our anti-HIV stigma campaign (watch above), whilst getting all the snake bite, WKD, pound a pint-chugging students down for a bit of a boogie on the dance floor. It was a pop-locking success, until some bloody mad-moving Usher/Beyonce wannabes started battling it out - provoking my crew to initiate a dance contest (with the winner getting one of our EXCLUSIVE t-shirts and a spot in our dance show pencilled in for the new year). And who got pushed onto the mic? - Yours truly! Though I won't complain (now...), it was a riot, and for the first time in my life I got the power and the kind of rush only DJ's spinning for manic crowds get (alright, it was no Ibiza rave by far, but still, I don't plan for this to be my last spot on the frontline). Here's my review of the night for Ctrl.Alt.Shift:

Ctrl.Alt.Shift @ The Vault
Ctrl.Alt.Shift left its mark on Winchester University last night in the form of a good old raise-awareness club night, dance-off, and all round rave-up.

The Vault, in the basement of the Student Union, rumbled from the old-school hip-hop and R&B, but as the flashing lights bounced from the walls, our message for the night was illustrated: HIV stigma will not be tolerated.

This event came one day after World Aids Day, and three weeks after the Nothing to Declare campaign - which saw Ctrl.Alt.Shift take a stand outside various embassies in London, protesting against the HIV travel restriction of countries like South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The students of Winchester got a full taste of the cause as the demos were projected on the stage throughout the night.

Michelle, 21, said: "I didn’t know about the HIV travel ban, but I know now because of Ctrl.Alt.Shift. The ban is a joke, and Nothing to Declare is the best campaign I’ve ever heard about."

Twenty year old Natasha Jayatilaka was appalled and added: "I don’t think HIV status should have any relevance on where you can travel, but I think this campaign is working to change the way some people think."

Olivia Berry, 22, said: "I think the HIV travel ban shows ignorance and it seems strange that they only think about one disease. Ctrl.Alt.Shift is great - anything that raises awareness is good, especially getting young people involved."

The night was not a complete rip-roaring success, as scheduled dance act Fuzzy Logic cancelled at the eleventh hour – a major disappointment after their stunning routine at last month’s Ctrl.Alt.Shift Sadler’s Wells dance event.

Nonetheless, Winchester poppa-lockers improvised to display an array of movers and shakers in an unscripted Ctrl.Alt.Shift dance-off. With 60 seconds to impress, rude boy Biva came up trumps and won himself an exclusive Ctrl.Alt.Shift t-shirt...

Read the full article here

Note: The Winchester night of debauchery would've flopped on it's fat face had it not been for the assistance of my fellow organisers Kyla Samuel and Vishna Shah (from the uni), and Ctrl.Alt.Shift foot-soldiers Kevin Perry, Ben Anderson, Stephanie Hubbard, Jenny Archibald and Chris Mead. Big shout out the hustlers!