WORKING


A welder repairs a tank at the American-owned Doe Run smelter in La Oroya, Peru. Photo by Santiago Bustamante.

Profiles of workers in the global economy, broadcast as a special monthly feature on Marketplace from 2007 to 2009. Also an interactive website featuring photo galleries, reporter's notebooks, and the Worker Browser tool (currently under repair).

Winner of the Sigma Delta Chi Award for radio feature reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, and individual awards from the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the New York Festivals.




Stories  
Runner (7:58) | Jon Miller | July 16, 2009 | Learn more
Salina Kosgei was the tenth and youngest child of poor farmers in the highlands of western Kenya. The family hut had no electricity or plumbing. As a kid, Salina used to run 10 kilometers to school, barefoot, just for the fun of it. At 16 she decided to go pro. It was a long slog, with lots of ups and downs. Then one day she found herself elbow to elbow with the defending champ in the most prestigious marathon in the world, with the finish line in sight.
      

Shipbreaking Worker (7:41) | Sandy Tolan | June 18, 2009 | Learn more
Ismael "Babu" Hussein works as an assistant in one of Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards, where armies of laborers dismantle old vessels the way ants devour a carcass. The work is perilous, the bosses abusive, the hours exhausting. Babu's reward? Just over two dollars a day, and nightmares about being crushed by giant sheets of steel. Heavy stuff for a 13-year old kid.
      

Banker (6:28) | Sean Cole | May 28, 2009 | Learn more
Brandon Davies' life is all about risk. A guru of global financial markets, he's on the boards of two new banks; he runs a trading operation, using his own money, just for kicks. Risk, he says, is how we learn and grow as people. We should embrace it, not avoid it. At least that's what he said last summer, when producer Sean Cole spent a few days with him in London. Then the global financial system collapsed.
      

Electronics Recycler (6:35) | Ingrid Lobet | April 29, 2009 | Learn more
For Mexican women of a certain age, finding decent work can be nearly impossible. Vicki Ponce was in her 50s, selling tamales, grateful for the money her daughter sent home from the US. Then she and some unemployed friends decided to make the leap into the booming trade in electronic waste. Today Las Chicas Bravas ("The Tough Girls") spend their days dismantling old TV sets by hand. Now to convince the jealous mayor to turn on the electricity.
      

Human Smuggler (6:46) | Gregory Warner | March 19, 2009 | Learn more
For most Afghan refugees, fleeing the war-torn country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Alidad, it's a job. He's spent 30 years smuggling Afghans on a secret nighttime passage through the mountains of western Pakistan into Iran. Sometimes he finds out too late they can't handle the journey. "We go when it's raining, when it's snowing. People fall off the mountain, people die," he says. "I have a lot of sad memories."
      

Marriage Broker (7:44) | Kelly McEvers | February 12, 2009 | Learn more
If you're a Korean man who wants to marry a Vietnamese woman, Hang Nga is your go-to gal. She'll help you select a bride, buy the rings, and arrange the ceremony, reception, and honeymoon. It only takes three days—and a few thousand dollars. Vietnam's communist government frowns on the match-making business, but Nga says it's worth the risk. The money means a brighter future for her two young children.
      

Circus Performer (6:33) | Sean Cole | January 15, 2009 | Learn more
As a performer with The Great Moscow State Circus, Svitlana Svystun spends ten months a year traveling from fairground to fairground around the United Kingdom. Her coworkers include a human cannonball, a crossbow artist, and a crew of Hungarian roustabouts. Home is a cramped trailer that she shares with her ringmaster husband Andrey and their three-year-old son Maxim. She does two performances a day, six days a week, risking serious injury every time she steps into the ring. It's a dangerous, nomadic life. But it's surprisingly domestic, too.
      

Labor Inspector (7:58) | Sandy Tolan | December 18, 2008 | Learn more
In the mid-1990s, journalists and human rights groups began to uncover a web of slave labor linked to some of Brazil's biggest export industries: cattle, soy, sugar cane, and pig iron (used in making steel for automobiles). The Brazilian government responded, setting up rapid-response teams to find and liberate victims of forced labor. Since 2000, more than 30,000 slaves have been freed. Leandro Carvalho had a comfortable job as an insurance agent on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach when he decided to join the force. And he says he doesn't want to quit until the last slave is freed.
      

Miner (7:52) | Gregory Warner | November 20, 2008 | Learn more
Your cell phone or your laptop wouldn't work without a mineral called coltan. The Democratic Republic of Congo has about 80 percent of the world's coltan reserves, and that has spawned a corrupt and violent industry. Military factions vie for control of the mines, earning millions of dollars while the miners themselves barely scrape by. One of those miners is Fidele Masafiri, a small man with a hammer, a spike, and a dream of striking it rich. But the soldiers are never far away. Winner of the Richard H. Driehaus/Third Coast Festival award for best news feature.
      

Pirate (6:48) | Kelly McEvers | October 30, 2008 | Learn more
Agus Laodi could barely feed his family with his earnings as a cocoa farmer. So eight years ago, with his wife's blessing, he left his Indonesian village to seek his fortune on an island in the Strait of Malacca. Now he slips out in the dead of night to rob cargo ships with a machete. Sound romantic? Think again.
      

Industrial Designer (6:52) | Jon Miller | September 18, 2008 | Learn more
There's a huge amount of human effort buried in almost everything around us. Look deep into a toaster or a loaf of bread and you'll find engineers and farmers, bankers and accountants, scientists, secretaries, architects, and graphic artists, not to mention politicians and tax collectors, health inspectors and extension workers, truck drivers and mechanics. Industrial designers may be the ultimate "embeds." They're the anonymous people who decide how the things around us look and feel. Raffaella Mangiarotti lives in Milan, the global capital of design. She designs everything from toilet brushes to baby seats. For her, design isn't about colors or shapes. It's about solving problems.
      

Sex Worker (7:27) | Kelly McEvers | August 14, 2008 | Learn more
Samanta moved to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, for the same reason that thousands of other foreigners did: the oil boom. As the eastern terminus of a new pipeline carrying oil from the former Soviet Union to Europe and points west, the city has swelled with oil workers, construction workers, businessmen, and engineers. And, as in boomtowns everywhere, with sex workers like Samanta. In a corrupt and violent society, it can be a very dangerous life—especially for a woman who was born a man.
      

Iceberg Wrangler (6:59) | Janna Graham | July 10, 2008 | Learn more
Whyman Richards says he'll give anything a try. A fisherman from a tiny town in northern Newfoundland, he has struggled to make ends meet since the cod fishery collapsed in the early 1990s. So when a local businessman asked him if he'd be willing to steer his homemade boat toward the mountains of ice that break off the Greenland ice sheet every summer, he said why not. Whyman and his brother Dale snag chunks of ice with a giant net, haul them on board with a hydraulic lift, and chop them up with axes. Hours later the water is in plastic bottles, heading for Texas.
      

Tannery Worker (7:21) | Gregory Warner | June 12, 2008 | Learn more
Mohmen left his village at 13 and quickly found work stacking animal skins in one of Karachi's many tanneries. Now 17, he's still doing the same job. His boss says Mohmen's a good kid - smart, hard-working, easy to get along with. But with no education, he's gone about as far as he can go. He can't even stand by the window when the fumes overtake him. He sends almost all of his money home. Sometimes, Mohmen says, he feels caught in a loop: the longer he works, the deeper his debt; the older he gets, the more his parents depend on his income. "I don't want to smile," Mohmen says, "but it's all I can do."
      

Movie Director (7:44) | Jon Miller | May 14, 2008 | Learn more
Nigeria's movie industry is less than two decades old, but it's already the third most productive in the world. "Nollywood" videos have become an entertainment staple—and a source of pride—for Africans everywhere. With little government support, daily power failures, no real studios, and the most rudimentary equipment, Nigerian filmmakers must be artists, entrepreneurs, and masters of making do. That describes Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. At 37, the man known as "The Governor" has already directed more than 150 films. And every single one has been a struggle.
      

Trader (6:40) | Kelly McEvers | April 3, 2008 | Learn more
For thousands of years, traders have plied the waters of the Persian Gulf, braving pirates, warships, and sudden storms in wooden cargo boats called dhows. Hussein Ralib Esfandiari is one such trader, crossing back and forth between Dubai and his native Iran laden with whatever bargains he can find at market. The Gulf is one of the most politically volatile regions on earth. But politics is the least of Hussein's worries.
      

Cargo Agent (6:00) | Kelly McEvers | March 3, 2008 | Learn more
About one-fourth of the people who live in Saudi Arabia are foreign workers. Many come from Sunni Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. But others are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and minority Shiites. All foreign workers have the same rights in the kingdom, as long as they're alive. But when non-Muslims die there, as thousands do each year, they have to go home for burial. And somebody's got to get them there. Meet Wahid Khan Habibula.
      

Chocolate Taster (7:25) | Jon Miller | February 12, 2008 | Learn more
The New York Times called Chloé Doutre-Roussel a "goddess." Chocolate guru Martin Christy compares her to Joan of Arc. As a freelance chocolate expert, she is in great demand around the world—not just because of her extraordinary palate but because of her brutal honesty. "Diplomacy is not one of my known traits," she confesses. Nor is self-satisfaction. Globetrotting chocolate taster may be many people's idea of the best job in the world, but Doutre-Roussel says it has its drawbacks.
      

Cabinet Minister (5:41) | Sandy Tolan | January 31, 2008 | Learn more
Remember Hercules, the hero from Greek mythology? He's famous for the twelve labors he was forced to perform by one of his rivals. One of the toughest was to get rid of 30 years worth of manure left by a herd of royal cattle. That's a lot like the job facing Macedonia's interior minister Gordana Jankuloska. Only in her case the mess is decades of corruption and violence in a former East Bloc country desperate to catch up with the rest of Europe. At barely five feet and 100 pounds, she doesn't quite have Hercules' physique. But she's got the shovel, and she's determined to use it.
      

Textile Worker (7:17) | Jon Miller | December 20, 2007 | Learn more
The garment industry is a place where dreams are more often shattered than fulfilled. The margins are low, the work is exacting, and the competition is brutal. It's hard to imagine why anyone would actually choose to get into the business. But that's what Marco Moreno Gonzales did. Moreno's parents were tailors, with a tiny shop in a working-class neighborhood in Lima, Peru. He and his brothers decided they could do better.
      

Basketball Scout (6:33) | Jon Miller | November 8, 2007 | Learn more
More than one-fifth of all NBA players are from outside the United States, including some of the league's biggest stars. Most of these foreign players have been on the league's radar since they were barely old enough to dunk. That's thanks to a global army of basketball gumshoes, scouring the planet for talent. Sam Ahmedu is a foot soldier in that army. He's based in Nigeria, but his brief is all of Africa. A few of Ahmedu's finds have made it to the NBA, but that's not what motivates him.
      

Lobster Diver (6:48) | Claudine LoMonaco | October 11, 2007 | Learn more
Walk into your local chain restaurant and you can get a lobster tail for around 15 bucks. Ever wonder where the lobster comes from, or why it's so cheap? The US imports about 100 million pounds of lobster from international waters every year. Much of it is caught by hand by divers in the Caribbean Sea. In Honduras, about 3,000 men make their living that way. Every year several dozen of them get seriously hurt, and some of them die. Romulo Greham, a Miskito Indian, almost lost his life in a diving accident. Now he's trying to keep other divers from the repeating his mistakes.
      

Oil Worker (8:02) | Chris Brookes | September 13, 2007 | Learn more
Pam Pardy and Blair Ghent left good jobs in Toronto to return home to rural Newfoundland. They thought the quality of life would be better there for their son Brody. But work is hard to come by on the island, and soon Blair found himself joining thousands of unemployed Newfoundlanders commuting 3,000 miles to the oil sands fields of Alberta. The fields are huge, and raise huge questions about the planet's energy future. But for Blair and Pam, they raise more immediate questions—like who will help Brody with his homework, and whether their marriage will survive the time apart.
      

Silk Merchant (6:15) | Rachel Louise Snyder | August 16, 2007 | Learn more
Like thousands of educated Cambodians, Chanta Nguon fled the Khmer Rouge and spent years in exile. When she returned, she decided not to be a victim anymore. She moved to the remote rural town of Stung Treng and started a non-profit for the unemployed and underemployed women there. Today she is CEO of Mekong Blue, a hybrid business-NGO that produces beautiful handmade silk products for the international market. She says Cambodian women are supposed to be quiet and cool, like moonlight. She, in contrast, is sunlight.
      

Express Mail Driver (16:57) | Sandy Tolan | July 19, 2007 | Learn more
Every weekday, Mr. Wang says goodbye to his daughter and his beloved pigeons in an old-fashioned Beijing neighborhood, mounts his bicycle and ventures into the chaos of the city. His destination is a local post office, where he parks his bike and climbs into a green express mail van. Over the last 12 years, Mr. Wang (known as Laowang, or "Wang the Elder") has picked up perhaps a quarter of a million packages destined for dozens of countries. Does he ever wonder what's in those packages? Or who will receive them on the other end? Or why there's such a big rush? "No," he says, "I just want to make some money!"
      

Pop Singer (8:13) | Sandy Tolan | April 26, 2007 | Learn more
Diana Dimova says she's never so moved as when she sings the ancient mountain music of her native Bulgaria. The music, distinguished by its haunting harmonies, was briefly popular in western Europe, and still enjoys a small but loyal audience. But it's no way for an ambitious, attractive young woman to make a living. So Diana (better known by her stage name, Dayana) has decided to become a pop star. She sings chalga, a popular form of dance music in central Europe. She performs for $10 a night at clubs, plus tips. It's hardly glamorous, but stardom could be just around the corner.
      

Fixer (7:29) | Kelly McEvers | April 3, 2007 | Learn more
Read a dispatch in the world news section of your local paper, or listen to a foreign feature on the radio, and there's a good chance a fixer helped make the story possible. Tarek Haidar Eskandar doesn't work for the A-list news organizations. He hangs around Beirut's popular journalists' hotels, looking for people looking for access. He can deliver on an interview with a rebel commander, or an interview with a victim of the latest catastrophe. Or at least that's the promise. It's a seat-of-the-pants business, and Tarek's a seat-of-the-pants type of guy.
      

Metal Worker (8:24) | Jon Miller | February 28, 2007 | Learn more
Almost everyone in La Oroya, Peru, depends on the giant multi-metal smelter and refinery that sprawls across the valley floor. It doesn't just dominate La Oroya visually, aurally, and olfactorily, but also economically, politically, and emotionally. That makes most townpeople tolerant of conditions that elsewhere might lead to open rebellion. Not so Pedro Córdoba Valdivieso, a mechanic who works in the smelter. He is suffering from an incurable lung disease caused by years of inhaling rock dust. And he's determined to make the company pay.
      

Mine Clearer (8:39) | Sandy Tolan | January 31, 2007 | Learn more
Long after the fighting ended in Kosovo in 1999, the people of the region are still struggling to free themselves from the legacy of war. Thousands of landmines and unexploded bombs remain in farmers' fields, in forests, along roadsides. Valdet Dule is a Kosovar (and father of two young children) whose job is to find and detonate those explosives. Until the land is safe, he says, his people won't be able to realize their dream of independence.
      

 

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