Made in China

I am going to sleep and can’t find the strength to expound on this extraordinary article. But I don’t think there’s much I could add anyway.

Clothes and toys on sale in Britain’s high streets are made by Chinese workers forced to endure illegal, exhausting and dangerous conditions, according to a new study. It will increase the pressure on retailers to monitor the conditions in which their products are made.

A three-year investigation into booming export factories for companies such as Marks & Spencer and Ikea discovered the human cost of China’s “economic miracle”. It found an army of powerless rural migrants toiling up to 14 hours a day, almost every day. Many were allowed just one day off a month and paid less than £50 a month for shifts that breached Chinese law and International Labour Organisation rules. Despite evidence of the shocking working conditions, cheap clothes, toys and increasingly electronic goods from the sweatshops are on sale in British shops with household names, including those with ethical buying policies.

Ethical trading consultants for Impactt, which works with businesses to improve their social impact around the world, were allowed into 100 factories supplying 11 British retailers.

They found that “ethical audits” – the conventional method of checking conditions – were ineffective because of falsification of records. Instead, working hours were cut by improving efficiency, said their report, Changing Over Time, sponsored by the Co-operative Insurance Society. But even these reduced working hours still exceeded Chinese labour limits, said Rosey Hurst, Impactt’s director. She added: “What has surprised and depressed us since 1998 when we started working in China is that all the efforts of the … companies have made very little difference to the working standards. The response by Chinese factories is to work out how better to cook the books.”

Companies are attracted to doing business in the People’s Republic of China because of its low-tax development zones, cut-price abundant workforce, and totalitarianism. Independent trade unions are banned by the Communist Party. Assembly-line personnel in free-trade zones in south China operate machinery without safety guards and spray paint with inadequate face masks. They often die in industrial accidents or fromgulaosi, the Chinese term for death from overwork. Workplace death rates in China are at least 12 times those of Britain and 13 factory workers a day lose a finger or an arm in the boom city of Shenzhen. In a sign of official disquiet, the state-owned China Daily reported in November that a 30-year-old woman, He Chunmei, died from exhaustion after working 24-hours non-stop at a handicraft factory.

There’s more, much more. Thanks to the commenter who left the link. It goes back to the issue of limits, to the point at which you say no, even when it means you may have to pay more for or a product or lose some business.

Remember, this is the liberal Independent. And they refer to the nation’s totalitarianism. If the shoe fits…?

The Discussion: 10 Comments


It’s Dickensian. So ironic that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” seems to equate with the worst abuses of 19th century Manchester School, Steam Intellect industrialisation.

January 14, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

Your comment is a great start to this thread, Sojourner. Out of the horrible working conditions in Western countries in the 1800s and early 1900s arose organized labor movements. Will Chinese workers organize and demand their rights in officially socialist China?

January 14, 2006 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

As I recall, when the labor movements arose in the 19th century, while they were not welcomed by those in bug business, they were not illegal either. In order for such movements to arise, the conditions have to alow it.

January 14, 2006 @ 10:52 pm | Comment

While a comparison can be made with the US in the 19th century, I don’t think it holds much weight. In the US, the terrible abuses of workers by Robber Barons and mine owners and other rogue employers created huge backlashes, played on by the media and resulting in legislation and change. In China, the backlashes often seem to bring on yet more abuse. There has to be, as Thomas indicates, certain conditions for these situations to change, such as a freer press, greater levels of representation and a population more concerned with the plight of its fellow citizens. On that last item, China is making progress, and the Internet is spurring it on. As to the other two, China is still in the dark ages, and it often seems it’s only getting darker.

January 15, 2006 @ 12:00 am | Comment

Yes,it is true.I feel very sad about it.CCP should responsible for it

January 15, 2006 @ 3:31 am | Comment

I was asking a rhetorical question. Of course, the situation in China is different from that in the 19th Century US in many respects.

Just had to share with the folks at PD the Target ad from the Sunday paper (Target is a Walmart competitor for those who’ve never been to the US). The ad showcases Target’s “global bazaar” of goods including “woven furniture skillfully crafted in China from banana leaves.”

January 15, 2006 @ 9:35 am | Comment

Early 19th Century Britain in this regard WAS similar to China. Just as in China, there were laws against independent trade unions.

Just as anyone trying to set up a union in China may find themselves in a labour camp, their 19th century British equivalents could end up being transported to penal servitude in Australia (e.g., the Tolpuddle Martyrs).

January 16, 2006 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

There are certainly parallels that can be drawn. I see some fundamental differences, too, i.e., a muckracker like Dickens was free to rock the boat and make everyone aware of the horrors. When the system is as closed and as entrenched as China’s, that’s not easy. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Awareness precedes change.

January 16, 2006 @ 5:49 pm | Comment

“Clothes and toys on sale in Britain’s high streets are made by Chinese workers forced to endure illegal, exhausting and dangerous conditions”

Given that Britain’s modern day fortunes are largely based on the exploitation of its own people in exactly the same way during the industrial revolution, I can infer one of two things

A) That whites will exploit their own until such a time that they can find someone else to exploit

B) That China is merely following the same path of exploitation-profit-improvement that just about every other industrial country in the known universe under went.

Maybe you would like me to point out that while today, America is supplied with cotten products that were harvested in hot, filthy and exhausting conditions, yesterday, it was supplied by black slaves doing exactly the same thing, except a lot closer to home.

January 19, 2006 @ 7:23 am | Comment

“Slavery” is not as clear-cut a concept as we like to think. Studying the American Civil War, we always seem to be told it is a thing of the past, etc and we express horror at the apparent resurgence of slavery in China.

But having moved from a part of the USA which always considered itself “free” to a part that once held slaves, I have learned that the cultural aspects permeate life, subtly but significantly.

I now question whether the concept of “slavery” really should be attached to the issue of “pay for work, free to quit”. It seems more that it is attached to the concepts of “human flesh as commodity” and “human personality as a social privilege, not an innate trait”, and is not primarily an economic condition, but a perceptive condition. There have always been “wealthy” slaves, but they were still slaves. And “poor’ free people were still free.

What strikes me most, finding myself “closer” to slavery, is the subtle ways a slave culture can impress “non-human” status onto individuals.

May 15, 2006 @ 10:13 am | Comment

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