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A new archiving project by The Harvard Crimson is drawing controversy for its employment of Cambodian typists.
The Crimson, the nation’s second oldest college daily, plans to invest almost $500,000 dollars to digitize all 128 years of the newspaper.
For the project, The Crimson has worked with companies in Virginia and Massachusetts who in turn employ workers in India and Cambodia to type articles from every issue of the paper since it began as The Harvard Magenta in 1873.
Crimson President C. Matthew MacInnis ’02 says that he believes the resulting database will be the largest archive of free newspaper material on the Internet.
“This is a very exciting project not only for us, but for the entire Harvard community. This is going to be a indispensable tool for historians and journalists alike,” MacInnis says.
When the project launches at the end of the summer it will include 30 years of Crimson issues, and the number of issues will quickly increase to include all 128 years of The Crimson by year’s end.
The Crimson has not yet decided how to restrict access to the archives or whether users will be charged a fee. However, MacInnis says he hopes The Crimson will be able to provide free unrestricted access to at least University affiliates.
The Crimson is designing a new website to place about 150,000 articles online in such a way that they are easily searchable by keyword, author or issue date.
In addition, users will be able to access a high-resolution image of every newspaper published between 1873 and 1955. Imaging of the computer pages are being completed by an Oklahoma company.
The project, which had been scheduled to be announced in August when it went online, began to draw controversy following an Associated Press story on Monday.
The AP article touted the benefits of the project for the Cambodian workers and the exciting prospects of Digital Data Divide, the non-profit company overseeing it.
The following day, however, the Boston Globe ran an article charging The Crimson with hypocrisy because it advocated a “living wage” for Harvard workers while outsourcing work to Cambodia.
Both MacInnis and the owner of Digital Data Divide, Jeremy Hockenstein, deny any hypocrisy and say that the working conditions offered in Cambodia would meet any American worker’s expectations.
“The non-profit company working with the Cambodian typists aims to create work for disabled people and provide a working environment that sets an example for other Cambodian companies,” says MacInnis. “This isn’t a sweatshop. We’ve been assured that it’s a comfortable, professional working environment.”
MacInnis says The Crimson went overseas because of the wage differentials and found that the Cambodia-based non-profit not only met the financial needs of The Crimson but also provided a service to Cambodians.
He says having such work done in the United States is so prohibitively expensive that doing so is next to impossible.
“It would be too expensive for huge newspapers like the Post or the Times, let alone a small student newspaper like ours,” he says. “We just don’t have resources like that.”
MacInnis expects $45,000 of the $500,000 to be spent with the Cambodian typists. The remainder will be spent with the company employing Indians.
Digital Data Divide was founded to bring high-tech jobs to Cambodia and to try to bring Cambodians closer to the Internet, according to Hockenstein. The Crimson’s archives are the company’s first major project.
Digital Data Divide’s workers are paid $2.40 for a six-hour day. The poverty line in Cambodia is less than fifty cents per capita per day in Phnom Penh, according to the World Bank. The company employs up to a dozen workers on two six hour shifts, for a total of 30 hours a week, compared to the standard 12 hour shifts common in Phnom Penh’s factories.
“The non-profit we have hired not only pays over five times more than so-called poverty wages in Cambodia, it also provides health benefits, free English language lessons, breaks for employees as they see fit, and even has people lead typists in stretching exercises to prevent RSI,” MacInnis says.
Hockenstein says his company also intends to offer profit-sharing plans, where the surplus revenue from the project will be distributed among the workers—a one-time bonus of upwards of $300 dollars per employee, almost doubling their salaries for the work.
The Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), which has led a three-year crusade against the University’s use of sweatshops to produce apparel, has been hotly debating the morality of the Crimson’s decision to employ Cambodian labor, according to PSLM member Benjamin L. McKean ’02.
While some members feel the paper’s decision represents just another outsourcing move in the increasing trend of globalization, others say they are glad to see that The Crimson and Digital Data Divide are at least trying to provide good wages and good jobs to the Cambodian workers.
“This just reinforces the importance of independent monitoring,” McKean says, who spoke earlier in the week with Hockenstein to discuss the project.
Hockenstein assured McKean that the company intends to employ independent monitors from the company Verité to ensure good working conditions.
“While I’m satisfied that [Digital Data Divide] doesn’t intend to run a sweatshop, I need to hear that from someone other than management before I can buy it,” McKean says.
However, McKean said he was excited to see the Crimson employing resources for its overseas workers that the University itself has refused to grant for its overseas apparel workers.
“Maybe the Crimson project will finally show the University that monitoring is the right thing to do,” McKean says.
—Staff writer Garrett M. Graff can be reached at email@example.com.
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