Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas and Our Global Neighbors

Very few of the items we buy at Christmas (and other times of the year) are made in the United States.  While I often hear people complain about jobs that have shifted overseas, I know most would not want those jobs as they come with a heavy price.  Further, some of those same people, while complaining of jobs moving offshore, also insist on low prices.  We want to make decent wages and yet we want to pay little for the products of labor.

According to BusinessWeek, China is the largest single source of American imports.  This year an investigation by the National Labor Committee at one Chinese factory revealed that 

the factory recruits 16 – 17 year old high school students — mostly girls – to work during the summer for 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week for just less than one dollar per hour. On top of that, employees were found to working in wretched conditions. Apparently, one-thousand workers were packed into small and uncomfortable 105 by 105 foot rooms. Also, fourteen workers are forced to share primitive rooms. They sleep on narrow bunker beds.
In 2007 and 2008, 14 to 15 year old children were reportedly recruited to work the 15 hours a day. The company prefers hiring women, as they are allegedly easier to control. In average, shifts start at 7:45 AM and end at 10:55 PM. The food the factory serves is discounted from their already low wages. In addition, employees are strictly forbidden to talk, listen to music, and use the bathroom during work hours. Workers who violate the rules or make mistakes are forced to clean the bathrooms. Workers are allowed to leave the premises during regulated hours only.
One worker is quoted saying:
“We are like prisoners. It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work.”
Chinese manufacturers are under pressure by U.S. corporations to mass produce toys, electronics, and other items as quickly and cheaply as possible so that Americans and other westerners can get that latest, "must have" toy or gadget.  

Another investigation revealed that " manufacturers --which served a handful of global players, including Walt Disney Co, Bandai and Hasbro Inc -- paid 'little heed to the most basic standards of the country.' 'Instead of concentrating on improving product safety and workers' lives, companies spend their energy creating beautiful pamphlets on social responsibility, disputing critical reports and shifting blame."

Some critics point out that families in third world nations feel fortunate to have the jobs they do, that without them, they could not feed their families.  While this is often true, westerners are supporting brutal conditions by insisting on low, low prices.  Rather, we need to learn to consume responsibly - buy less junk, more quality items - and to insist on living wages and decent conditions for those who labor for us.

Many of the things we buy, both the necessary and the frivolous, are made by people living and working in inhumane and slave-like circumstances.  Next time you're shopping, try to find out where some of the items in your basket are made and then consider the people who made them.



Shona~ LALA dex press said...

I didn't get to see it since we no longer have cable, but I think it was IFC that had a series about a group of British students who went to live in India to work in the clothing factories. I saw clips, but it looked like a very interesting series.

On a different subject, I seem to recall a post you did in which you spoke about someone not filling their closet and leaving room to breathe, which is where I got the title for my last post. I keep thinking about that as I remove things from to breathe!

This comment is about my vague remembrances of things...I need to get a good night's sleep!

Deanna said...

My daughter is already pretty good about watching where products come from and under what conditions they were produced. I plan to follow her lead more in the coming year. For me, the hardest thing is not buying clothing made in China.

Cherie said...

Shona, sounds like a good series. A friend told me she watched a documentary called "China Blue" about factories that make blue jeans. She said it was so appalling that she vowed to buy used clothes whenever possible. I've got to get better about what I buy.

I did post about room to breathe and plan to work more on that after the first of the year.

Hope you got that much needed sleep!

LRS4AMANDA said...

Hi Cherie,

This is why I do not buy things like "fake" designer purses, etc. It supports child labor and terrorism.

Also I was a little shocked when I saw things made in China at Nordstrom!