Crimson hires Cambodians for $50 per month

The Harvard Crimson now has an eastern branch.

In an effort to create a free internet database of all of its issues since 1873, Harvard’s student newspaper has employed about two dozen Cambodian workers to typeset its archives over a six-month period. The decision to cross an ocean and two continents to find labor has angered many student activists at Harvard and elsewhere. After the Crimson had frequently editorialized in favor of a living wage for all university employees, the question looms of whether the Harvard paper has gone back on its word.

“In no way does it contradict our editorializing,” Crimson President C. Matt MacInnis said. “A living wage in Cambodia is very different from a living wage in Cambridge.”

The poverty line in Cambodia is defined at 66 cents per day, which is far below what the Harvard-employed Cambodian workers will be making. The typists will be working two six-hour shifts per day, bringing in $50 per month.

This tops the monthly minimum wage in Cambodia by about five dollars.

However, some still feel that there are moral questions about employment at such a low salary.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with jobs going to people in developing countries who need them,” Yale activist Justin Ruben ’02 said. “But do they have an ethical responsibility to provide better-than-average jobs? The Crimson can probably afford to pay more than 40 cents an hour.”

The project will cost $500,000, and according to MacInnis would be be unaffordable to the Crimson without foreign workers. A total of $45,000 will go to paying the Cambodian workers to typeset 19th-century editions of the Crimson, with other expenses including the employment of monks in India to typeset the 20th-century editions.

Aside from financial concerns, MacInnis also says the Crimson has altruistic motives. The project is being managed by Digital Divide Data, and brokered by Follow Your Dreams Cambodia, a nonprofit organization trying to create high-tech jobs in the country.

Jeremy Hockenstein, a Harvard alumnus and founder of Follow Your Dreams Cambodia, started the organization to open opportunities to disadvantaged Cambodians. Many of these people are injured and unable to find other work.

“We’ve hired this nonprofit organization to try to raise the bar and set a standard for work in Cambodia,” MacInnis said. “We’re very proud of the work we’ve done.”

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