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From fightback9955@my-deja.com Fri May 26 06:50:25 2000
Date: Wed, 24 May 2000 23:25:15 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Wal-Mart+China: 'Always the slave wage. Always.'
Article: 96895
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

see www.worldnetdaily.com for the full report with illustrations

Free trade v. slave trade: Brutal Chinese working conditions benefit Wal-Mart, others

By Jon E. Dougherty, WorldNetDaily.com, [24 May 2000]

A new report issued by a U.S.-based human rights group said it has photographic and other evidence documenting inhumane sweatshop conditions in communist Chinese factories that manufacture products exported to the United States for major companies including Nike, Wal-Mart, Timberland, Huffy, JanSport and the Kathie Lee (Gifford) label.

The report comes during the lead-up to a landmark China trade bill scheduled for congressional debate in Washington Wednesday or Thursday, with lawmakers in the House scheduled to take up the controversial bill that is supported by the Clinton administration, but opposed by labor groups and a bipartisan coalition of congressional members.

The Chinese labor report, issued earlier this month by the National Labor Committee for Human Rights, details brutal working conditions in Chinese factories, where workers are paid wages as low as 3 cents per hour.

The committee found that some Chinese workers put in 98-hour work weeks and compulsory unpaid overtime. Furthermore, the report said, some factories placed a ban on talking during work hours and incorporated 24- hour prison-like surveillance. Most factories, said the committee, had a host of unsanitary working conditions.

For years, U.S. companies have claimed that their mere presence in China would help open that society to democratic values, the report said. But, far from promoting human rights, the record shows that U.S. companies and their contractors in China are actively involved in the systematic denial of worker rights.

Chinese factories routinely violate the most fundamental human and worker rights, and pay below subsistence wages, said the committee.

For example, the report documented that women working in the production of Timberland shoes at Pou Yuen Factory V, Zhongshan City in the country's Guangdong Province, typically work 14-hour days, seven days per week, during the busy seasons. The factory employs 16- and 17-year- old girls, pays them 22 cents per hour ($16.13 for 70-hour work weeks), and mandates excessively high daily production quotas that cannot be reached in eight hours.

Worse, the girls and women employed there are regularly cheated out of overtime pay, because all overtime work is mandatory and is either unpaid or compensated at just the standard piece rate, the report said.

Meanwhile, factory temperatures routinely soar above 100 degrees, and workers reported handling toxic glues and other solvents without gloves. They also complain of high dust levels, excessive noise and strong chemical odors, committee researchers found.

Workers are also threatened and coached to lie to U.S. company auditors. And as is standard practice in China, any workers attempting to defend their rights or form an independent union will be imprisoned.

China accounts for 60 percent of all the shoes imported to the U.S., with a retail value of $16.9 billion a year, the report said. And Timberland, specifically, posted record first-quarter revenue and earnings in April.

Footwear factory in China. Sixty percent of all shoes imported into the U.S. come from China.

Employees working at Qin Shi Handbag Factory, where they sew Kathie Lee [Gifford] handbags for Wal-Mart, fare even worse. There, workers are paid 1/10th of a cent per hour, or 8 cents per week (36 cents per month).

'Mr. C,' [from the] Henan Province, [s]tarted working on July 22, 1999, receiving his August wages on September 30, earning $30.24 (251 rmb), said the report, which documented the pay of several workers at the Kathie Lee plant. This was the highest wage in the group, coming to $6.98 a week -- 8 cents an hour. However, the following month, he received only partial payment.

High walls and guard towers surround the Tae-Kyung factory where Fubu sneakers are made.

Pay for the top 14 percent of workers at Qin Shi was $18.10 per month, or just five cents per day, and nearly half the workers surveyed (46 percent) actually owed the company money after a month's work, said the report.

Other factories making other high-end products for the U.S. market have employees suffering similar conditions.

Top of the line Alpine car stereos, some costing up to $1,300 each, are made in China by young women who are paid 31 cents an hour and sit hunched over, staring into microscopes 9[product] hours a day, six days a week, soldering the fine pieces of the stereo, the report said. Above the women is an electronic scoreboard which monitors their progress in meeting their production quota of 720 stereos a day.

According to factory management, there is a 9[product] hour daily shift, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., six days a week, with an hour off for lunch, the report said. Though researchers could not independently confirm this with the workers ... if management was accurate, the workers would be in the factory 57 hours a week, while being paid for 51 hours.

China has a greater income disparity than the U.S., with the top 20 percent controlling nearly 53 percent of the country's wealth.

Though U.S. company executives argue that they and their factory contractors in China pay decent subsistence wages -- wages that are very competitive given the low cost of living in China, they say -- the committee disputed those claims.

Wages in China's export assembly industry do provide a subsistence level existence if it is meant in the sense that H.H. Cutler's CEO said of the 28-cent-an-hour wages they paid in Haiti: 'Well, the workers are alive aren't they? So they must be subsistence wages,' said the committee.

And that is precisely the point, researchers argued.

The factory workers in China do survive on their wages because they work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week during peak seasons, often with just one day off a month, researchers said. They survive because most factory workers are migrants from rural areas who, once they arrive at the factory, are housed 10 to 20 people to one small, crowded company dorm room. For the years they are at the factory, their 'home' is a 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 by 6 1/2-foot space on a metal bunk bed. They subsist on two or three dismal meals a day provided at the factory canteen.

The committee said that averaging factory pay among all industries amounts to about $65 per month. But to maintain a very modest diet for a three-person family costs approximately $72.29 a month, which is more than most factory workers earn.

To substantiate arguments encouraging U.S. lawmakers to grant China permanent normal trade status, North American companies claim their presence in China would set an example of respect for human and worker rights, and that this example would spread throughout China.

But committee researchers also debunked this conventional wisdom, saying that -- for example -- companies like Wal-Mart have been in China for a decade, but workers are still treated much like indentured servants. At the Kathie Lee factory, many [workers] did not even have the bus fare to leave to look for other work, and when they protested the grueling mandatory overtime work for literally pennies an hour, or nothing at all, 800 workers were fired, said the committee report.

In fact, the report by the labor committee harkens to the pre-child labor law era in the U.S. Then, as in China now, workers -- some as young as ten or twelve years of age -- were sometimes forced to work long hours for little pay in often-horrendous conditions. Only after U.S. lawmakers took seriously the issue of forcing inhuman work conditions on children and adults in the early 20th century were laws passed prohibiting such treatment and conditions. Wages began to rise steadily as well.

There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work, wrote New York City schoolteacher and child labor law advocate Lewis Hine in 1908.

In position papers published online, however, Wal-Mart said it was proud of our association with Kathie Lee Gifford and the numerous inroads and improvements our factory certification programs have brought to factories all over the world.

Adding that Wal-Mart, not Kathie Lee or her company, chooses the suppliers that produce the Kathie Lee merchandise, the company said suppliers then select the factories which are inspected and must be certified before production begins. If the factory fails in the certification, no merchandise is allowed to be produced in the factory.

Wal-Mart and its suppliers ensure that all inspections are completed before any Kathie Lee merchandise is produced, officials said.

But China, the research committee report found, also has an abysmal record when it comes to women's rights -- a politically hot topic for U.S.-based corporations.

North American companies are particularly sensitive to the issue of women's rights, and they go out of their way to proclaim their steadfast commitment to protecting and guaranteeing the rights of women, said the report. They tell us they have zero tolerance for abuses of women rights.

And yet, the report noted, the companies [operating in China] only hire single women 17 to 25 years of age, after which they are replaced with another crop of young women when they finally wear out, the researchers noted.

The report said it appeared as though Chinese factories hire only women, presumably because they feel that the young women will cause less trouble, will talk back less, and will be less likely to demand their rights.

Noting that it is rare to find a factory worker over 26 years old, the committee said that after working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with perhaps only one day off a month during the long peak seasons, the women become worn out, exhausted, and used up after just a few years, maybe three or four, working under such conditions.

No one lasts long working under these conditions, so the women either leave or are pushed out after they reach 26 years of age. At any rate, they are replaced with another batch of young women, and the work goes on, said the researchers.

And, researchers found, if a woman happens to become pregnant, the unwritten rule is that she will be fired.

U.S. companies claim they too support better working conditions, human rights and basic freedoms. Though Wal-Mart, for example, carries merchandise made by Chinese laborers in abhorrent conditions, the official policy for vendors reads: Wal-Mart favors Vendor Partners who have a social and political commitment to basic principles of human rights and who do not discriminate against their employees in hiring practices or any other term or condition of work, on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability, or other similar factors.

Still, supporters of normal trade status for Beijing, including the White House-sanctioned China Trade Relations Working Group, say it is important to understand the one-way nature of the concessions in this agreement. China has agreed to grant the United States significant new access to its market, while we would simply maintain the market access policies we already apply to China by granting it permanent NTR.

If Normal Trade Relations status is not granted, the Working Group said, we risk losing the full market access benefits of the agreement we negotiated, special import protections, and of course the rights to enforce China's commitments through WTO dispute settlement.

Traditionally, free traders have also trumpeted the benefits of opening tariff-free borders all over the world as a boon, rather than a drag, to U.S. consumers, workers and the economy. But, as likely Reform Party presidential nominee Pat. Buchanan, one of the most vehement critics of the China trade bill and its free-trade predecessors, said last year, the U.S. trade deficit is set to hit a record $300 billion by the end of 2000.

A fourth of our steel, a third of our autos, half our machine tools, and two-thirds of our textiles will be imported. America, once the world's greatest creditor, will once again be its greatest debtor, Buchanan said, according to his campaign website. Both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush support extending normal trade relations to China.

In the meantime, according to an Associated Press poll Tuesday, 189 lawmakers -- 132 Republicans and 57 Democrats -- said they would vote for or are likely to vote for permanent normal trade relations with China. Saying they would vote against or leaning against making normal trade relations permanent were 171 lawmakers -- 122 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents. The other 75 lawmakers -- 43 Republicans and 32 Democrats -- were undecided.

Our focus must remain on the role of the North American companies and their contractors in China in denying worker and human rights, the committee report concluded. The only way to put a human face on the global economy is to guarantee that human and worker rights standards and payment of a fair wage are made a condition of trade, in a system that is verifiable and enforceable.