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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Previewing the Pakistani Election; Bangladesh Worker Safety Concerns; Chinese Demand for Ivory Sends Elephant Populations Plummeting

Aired May 9, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Pakistan goes to the polls on Saturday. And for the first time in its history, the country will see one democratically elected government handover to another.

Coming into the election, the leading candidate for prime minister is Nawaz Sharif. He's a former prime minister who was overthrown in 1999 by a military coup.

Opposing him is Imran Khan, the cricket champion turned politician, who's been gaining strong support for his insurgent campaign. Khan suffered a fall this week and broke two vertebrae in his back. And his last campaign rally was held while he was in his hospital bed.

But there's been little to celebrate in this campaign, because more than 100 people have been killed in election-related violence, most of it blamed on the Pakistani Taliban. Almost 50 people have been killed just this week alone. And today, Ali Haider Gilani, son of the former prime minister, was kidnapped by gunmen who killed two members of his party as well.

The Taliban threatens a bloody election day. "We don't accept the system of infidels, which is called democracy," the group's leader said in a letter to the Reuters news agency. Extremist violence is just one of the crises facing Pakistan. The main issue for voters is the economy, which is crippled by corruption, death and frequent power shortages.

In fact, a staggering 91 percent of Pakistanis say they're dissatisfied with the country's direction. We'll have more on the election in just a moment, but first, here's what's coming up later in the program.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Bangladesh, another factory goes up in flames. The world's biggest retailers are taking the heat. But they could be part of the solution. We'll explain.

And the lust for blood ivory: China's insatiable appetite is killing off Africa's gentle giants.

Then a Mother's Day tribute: a new report says the world's most important job can also be the most dangerous.

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AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first, because of Pakistan's election laws, we and other media are not allowed to interview the main candidates or show images of their last days of campaigning. Let's go now then to CNN reporter Saima Mohsin in Islamabad.

Saima, thank you very much for joining me.

How badly has the violence affected this campaign?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as far as the candidates are concerned, Christiane, it's hampered their ability to head out, campaign and canvas to meet people to hold those huge political rallies that they're used to holding.

I've met several candidates who said their hands are tied, that they haven't been able to go out because of that threat from the Taliban in particular, for secular and liberal parties. We've seen candidates assassinated. I spoke to a family of one of those candidates, who told us how it's torn their family apart.

But they're proud that their father or husband or son still stood for people's rights in Pakistan and still tried to take part in these democratic elections. And not just candidates that have been targeted; we've seen campaign offices bombed.

But the interesting thing is that doesn't seem to have stopped the public from coming out.

We've seen thousands of people turn up for the political rallies that are being held up and down the country by the BLMN or the PTI, the few parties that haven't been threatened by the Pakistani Taliban. And the people that I speak to, when I'm out and about, tell me that they're really looking forward to going out to vote on Saturday.

AMANPOUR: So what is it that they're really looking forward to seeing changed? What do they think or what do they want their vote to accomplish?

MOHSIN: Well, you know, Christiane, the big thing that a lot of people are saying to me is, yes, great; we've enjoyed the first-ever democratic dispensation that's completed a full term. But that doesn't mean we've seen good governance.

And that's what's really lacking. And that's what they're hoping they'll find in the next five years with a democratic government. They're looking for a resolution to the energy crisis. We're constantly suffering power outages here. And, of course, those that can afford it can make up for that with generators.

But the poor people of Pakistan really suffer at the hands of that. All can't go out to work. We have widespread corruption that people want to see tackled. We have a fiscal deficit which is impacting business and the economy here in Pakistan.

More IMF loans is a huge concern, of course. So there's a lot of the things that people in Pakistan want to see addressed by a government. So not just democracy, but good governance too.

AMANPOUR: And what about the issue of the United States? U.S. popularity is really, really low. Has that played any part in this election?

MOHSIN: I'm sorry, Christiane; I didn't hear your question there.

AMANPOUR: Just a quickie, and we have to be really quick now.

Has the U.S. played any part in this election? People's feelings about the United States?

MOHSIN: Well, again, this is very interesting. We've seen for years that people have come out on the streets, protested against the United States. In particular, of course, drone attacks are not popular because not least they don't just target militants; a lot of civilians die, too. And they're very unhappy about various other incidents between the United States and Pakistan.

But that doesn't have necessarily have been a key issue for candidates this time around, because as I say, they're looking for good governance. They want to see things change at home and that's when they think they'll be less dependent on the USA.

AMANPOUR: Saima Mohsin, thank you very much for joining me. And we'll be watching to see those results.

And turning now to Bangladesh, which was, of course, once East Pakistan before a war for independence.

This haunting and unforgettable photo from that terrible garment factory collapse outside the capital, Dhaka, a man and a woman found locked in a deathly embrace two weeks after the catastrophe. And the death toll now stands at a staggering 931, making it the worst garment industry disaster in history.

And as bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble, another factory in Bangladesh caught fire early this morning, killing eight more people. And of course, adding to the rash of such disasters in recent years, last November 112 people were killed in another major factory fire.

Just days ago, I spoke to the country's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, who told me that it was a terrible accident.

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SHEIKH HASINA, PRIME MINISTER, BANGLADESH: . you know, in anywhere in the world, any accident can take place. You cannot, you know, predict anything, even in many developed country, we can see. Recently there was a, you know, accident in a fertilizer industry in Texas. So accidents may take place.

AMANPOUR: But when you say we couldn't predict it, of course you could. This factory was shown on television the very night before. There were huge cracks in the walls. The owners said, oh, no; this is just about the plaster. And the very next day the factory collapsed.

So it could have been predicted.

Who does the blame fall on then?

HASINA: Listen, the industrial police, time and again, they told them that the labor should not work in this condition. But that moment, the accident took place.

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AMANPOUR: Sheikh Hasina also laid some of the blame on Western retailers, who flock to Bangladesh to take advantage of the cheap labor. Minimum wage there is a measly $38 a month. But will this tragedy have been a turning point? Will Western consumers and retailers insist on fair fashion trade and better conditions for workers who the pope himself called slave labor?

The Walt Disney Company has already pulled out. But is that the right way to make things better? Some of the biggest retailers in the world, like Walmart, H&M, Gap, JCPenney, they still remain. So what's their responsibility?

To help answer these questions, I'm joined now by Michael Posner, who was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, and he's now starting up the first business and human rights center in this country at New York University Stern Business School.

So welcome to the program.

MICHAEL POSNER, NYU STERN BUSINESS SCHOOL: Thanks. Good to be here.

AMANPOUR: So I guess the first thing really is from a business perspective. Is what Disney did the right thing? Is it a cut-and-run or should people try to stay and improve, as somebody said?

POSNER: I don't think what Disney did is right. I think it's important for companies to make a commitment, to stay in countries like Bangladesh, to make a long-term commitment, to work with each other and to recognize that they can't keep running after the cheapest labor cost.

There's got to be a better way where companies are working together. They shouldn't be competing here. They should be working to make conditions better.

AMANPOUR: And yet a company like Disney might say, well, hang on a second; you know, people don't want to see these terrible disasters. And that's our responsibility not to contribute to that.

POSNER: Well, but they're going to see these disasters. And the reality is they're 4 million people, mostly young women, working in these factories in Bangladesh. They're often the only breadwinners in their families.

And this is a desperately poor country. It's useful; it's what American and Western consumers want, to help people out, get out of poverty. But at the same time, we ought to be doing it in a way that companies can be competitive and can make -- can make a good living.

AMANPOUR: So how can one do that? What can the retailers do either unilaterally or in conjunction with the Bangladesh government to lift the wages?

POSNER: I think one of the challenges has been that companies don't want to sit with each other. They're so used to competing with each other. And so for example, Walmart last week said they're going to put $1.5 million into fire safety inspections. That's fine that they're doing it, but it's a drop in the bucket.

There needs to be really a way in which the companies come together and they say, let's say the 100 biggest retailers came together and they said, we have a collective plan. We're going to push the government of Bangladesh to do better. We're also going to contribute to the solution.

AMANPOUR: Is there a precedent for that in other industries?

POSNER: Yes, I think there's even precedent in some of these industries. Years ago, I worked on an issue with soccer balls in a little town in Pakistan called Sialkot (ph).

Little kids were stitching the balls, 20 retailers, 20 brands came together, the big companies -- Adidas, Nike -- and they said, we're going to figure this out together, with the World Bank, with the U.S. government. They built a stitching center.

AMANPOUR: So let's say the Western retailers and others do that. Now what can and what will and what should the Bangladesh government do? I mean, for instance, one of the economists who you've no doubt been reading, Jagdish Bhagwati, says the emphasis should be on the Bangladeshi government, not the retailers.

He said, "By misassigning the responsibility to global retailers, Western media and consumer movements allow the real culprits to get away scot-free."

POSNER: You know, everybody picks on one aspect of this. It's a problem that needs a comprehensive solution. The Bangladesh government has behaved irresponsibly, no doubt; 40 percent of their parliament are garment factory owners. So they're not doing the right thing. But they're also under enormous pressure.

And they're under pressure because they know if they spend money and prices go up, then these brands are going to run to the next place, to Burma or to some place in Africa. They need to be both pushed to do the right thing and they need added resources so that they can correct the situation.

AMANPOUR: And you were in the Obama administration. What has the Obama administration done or what should it be doing to effect part of this change?

POSNER: I think it's the Obama administration has taken some very preliminary steps. We had several meetings where we called in a group of retailers or a group of American brands and said, we want you to do more.

But I think we have to go farther than that. We have to send a clear signal to the government of Bangladesh, it's not business as usual. There are going to be consequences economically if they don't correct this.

And at the same time, press our brands, press the American companies, the European companies, to come together to be part of the solution and, frankly, there's an element of this where the U.S. and Western European governments also need to contribute finally to the solution.

AMANPOUR: And again, is that going to be palatable? And I guess what I find really interesting is that China was once the cheap labor capital. And now because wages have increased in China, that's why Bangladesh has taken over.

POSNER: Right. And what we see -- we see this happening over and over again. It was, you know, Latin American countries, China -- it keeps moving. I think we've now reached a point where we're running out of room, running out of road.

And it's imperative that companies, governments, the international communities say, OK, this is a bad model. Let's have a better model where there's more sustainable production of these things in places where women in these factories don't feel afraid to go to work in the morning.

AMANPOUR: And just very briefly, finally, what would happen to these garment workers and to their families, should these retailers pull out?

POSNER: They're going to be back in desperate poverty. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. This has brought them out of poverty, some of these families. And it's imperative that we keep them in a position where they can earn a living.

AMANPOUR: Michael Posner, thank you very much indeed.

POSNER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll turn from the exploitation of workers to the wanton exploitation of these adorable creatures. Take a look at elephants at play in the African wild. China's limitless demand for their tusks has increasingly made them targets for poachers. The terrible traffic in blood ivory when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to the struggle for survival in the animal kingdom: we all thought the ban on ivory more than two decades ago had ended this illegal trade and saved Africa's elephants.

But instead, these magnificent creatures are again in danger of extinction because of a resurgent soaring demand for ivory half a world away in China.

Twenty-five thousand elephants were killed in 2011. Poaching levels that haven't been seen in more than 10 years. The U.S. describes a new sort of ivory organized crime that spurs on these massacres by heavily armed militias. In many parts of the African continent, murder rates now exceed population growth, meaning that the African elephant could simply disappear altogether.

In his documentary, "Battle for the Elephants," "National Geographic" reporter Bryan Christy investigated how Asia's booming ivory industry is keeping African poachers in business. He joined me here in the studio.

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AMANPOUR: Bryan Christy, welcome to the program.

BRYAN CHRISTY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: This is an incredibly important story, so really, I'm so glad you're here. Give me the scale of China's demand for this ivory now.

CHRISTY: Well, China's 1.3 billion people -- and so the smallest fashion interest in China resonates across the world. And in the case of the African elephant, it's leading to just a bloodbath across the continent.

We're seeing unprecedented levels of killing across Africa. Ninety percent of those elephants found in Central Africa -- dead elephants found -- have been poached. We're seeing -- there was just a study out; 62 percent of a little species called the forest elephant, a smaller elephant, have been killed over the last 10 years. It's just terrible.

AMANPOUR: There used to be -- I mean, I remember; we thought we got a grip on this ivory trade. There's this famous picture of the president of Kenya, torching a whole stack of tusks.

CHRISTY: Right.

AMANPOUR: What happened --

CHRISTY: Right.

AMANPOUR: -- between then and now?

CHRISTY: So then was the 1980s. In the 1980s, the African elephant population dropped from 1.3 million to 600,000 in a decade. And as a result, President Bush was one of the first leaders around the world to say we ban ivory. Americans stood up; they also said we won't buy ivory.

And that launched this global consensus that ivory is inappropriate to buy and the international organization known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, imposed a ban.

And that lasted for a while, but --

AMANPOUR: What broke it?

CHRISTY: The Southern African countries have fairly healthy elephant populations and a long history of ivory trade. And they said, look, we should not be penalized because Kenya can't protect its elephants or Tanzania can't protect.

So South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, they said we want to sell. And in 1999, they were allowed a one-time opportunity to sell. They called it an experiment. Three of those countries sold 50 tons of ivory to Japan.

And China said, "Now we want to buy." In 2008, they allowed a second sale. And when you sell ivory to China, you create a cover for ivory trade and you signal to the Chinese people that ivory is OK. And now it's gone off the charts.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about part of your film. We're going to show a little clip, where you go to the container port in Hong Kong in search of these -- of these shipments. I'm going to play it and then you can tell me about it.

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CHRISTY (voice-over): In the container port of Hong Kong, 60,000 containers arrived each day. Customs agents inspect fewer than 1 percent. It's a smuggler's dream.

CHRISTY: You can almost feel the scale of elephant poaching here as you look out on these containers, massive containers. Somewhere in here there's a container with ivory. You can almost feel it. You can almost grab a tusk.

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AMANPOUR: How do shops and stores get away with selling them?

CHRISTY: Well, that's a great question. You know, one of the things -- first things I noticed as an -- I'm a criminal investigator. I'm not an elephant person.

One of the first things I noticed about the ivory trail and the ivory problem was, unlike the drug world -- in the drug world, we would never have put botanists in charge of policing the drug world, even though cocaine is a plant, heroin is a plant. But we put wildlife people in charge of policing ivory crime.

AMANPOUR: So you need to put law enforcement --

CHRISTY: You need to put -- exactly.

AMANPOUR: And I've heard it even described by the U.S. State Department as akin to organized crime, the kind of crime that leads to the slaughter of these animals and the eventual delivery to the consumer as organized crime.

CHRISTY: Well, absolutely. The surprising thing is that they've taken so long to call it organized crime. It's clearly organized crime. I mean, ivory is big. It's physically large. You need connections to be able to move something that large and heavy clandestinely across the world like this.

AMANPOUR: So as a investigator -- you're a criminal investigator, you said.

CHRISTY: Yes.

AMANPOUR: What do you suggest? What is the solution?

CHRISTY: I was a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a time, and this is the sort of question a Washington, D.C., lawyer loves.

You've got a small number of people in China causing a major problem for others. So you've got -- I mean, the numbers here are important. The -- we have 35 registered carving factories in China.

That's all; 135 registered retail shops, only 300 or 400 registered known carvers. It's a very small number of people imposing an incredible cost, not just dead elephants. We have corruption throughout Africa. It's killing the economies of countries that really rely on tourism. All this - - and rangers are dying in the field.

AMANPOUR: So do you see an end in sight? Do you see another situation whereby we did have an effective ban on ivory?

CHRISTY: History says the only solution is a ban, a ban plus law enforcement with real teeth.

Right now, the level of law enforcement is just really shockingly low. I mean, we could make major revelations in this story as complete newcomers. All we have is a criminal background. And you can shine a new light on this. This should have been fixed in this way a long time ago.

AMANPOUR: Bryan Christy, thank you very much for joining me.

CHRISTY: Thank you.

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AMANPOUR: An important documentary to be watched.

And after a quick break, we'll pay tribute to the women whose work is never done, a Mother's Day bouquet when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: A final thought: Sunday here in the United States is Mother's Day, a time for greeting cards, for flowers and pampering Mommy with breakfast in bed. But imagine a world where being a mom can be hazardous to your health.

Save the Children has published its annual Mothers' Index. It's a global survey of countries where mothers and their babies are thriving and where they're at risk.

The rankings are based on factors like maternal and infant mortality, education, per capita income and participation of women in national government.

As you can see, Finland is the best place to be a mother while the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place. Bangladesh and Pakistan, the two countries we focused on tonight, are 136 and 139 respectively, and surprisingly, the United States of American doesn't even crack the top 20, coming in at number 30.

In fact, a woman here in America is 10 times more likely to die of pregnancy related causes than a woman in Greece or Russia. But it isn't all doom and gloom; while mothers tend to live longer and better in wealthier nations, there are signs of progress in some of the poorest countries on Earth.

Again, Bangladesh, for all its problems, has cut its infant mortality in half. So all the moms out there, a very happy and healthy Mother's Day this year.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, amanpour.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

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