Posts Tagged ‘cheap chinese labour’

Another day in the land of cheap labour…

October 28, 2011

I watched a documentary last night called China Blue. It was that same old story which is always the theme of most documentaries based on China – that being a girl from a poor family setting out to work in a clothing factory, only to work excruciatingly long hours for absolute peanuts.  

Sixteen-year-old Jasmine is a thread-cutter at the Lifeng Factory, one of dozens of denim manufacturers in Shaxi, South China. As she puts it, she makes the “big and fat” jeans we wear. Like her new friends at the factory – Liping, a seamstress, and Orchid, a zipper installer – Jasmine is one of hundreds of millions of people, mostly young women, who make up the largest pool of cheap labour in the world. She works gruelling 16 hour days for scant wages. Midnight trips downtown to buy “energy tea” with Liping provide some relief from the onerous production cycle and harsh working conditions.

I have written about such documentaries before and the result is always the same, they are always sad and depressing yet fascinate me all the same. I often feel an overwhelming need to help these people but of course never do; not from not wanting to – but how does one exactly help these millions of people stuck in the same circumstance? It certainly gets my mind thinking. The sad thing is, despite their crappy situations, they’re probably better off than many others – but not by much.

China is a ridiculously complicated country. It’s a country that has so many social issues affecting it, that whenever someone mentions that they will one day rule the world – while quite possible given the rate of their advancement, it’s still difficult to imagine, when their greater population is effectively in poverty.

What happens when the demand for their cheap products finally declines? Human rights is always a big issue, and there’s always stories floating around about companies sending inspectors to factories to check on the conditions-  yadda yadda yadda – but as the documentary highlighted, the factories often falsify their statistics. There’s no ethics, it’s all about making a profit, and damned the quality of life that the employees are facing. In the show, the boss thought he’d improve work efficiency by putting up a ‘motivational’ poster:  

“Work hard today or you’ll be working hard trying to find a job tomorrow!”

That’s so bad it’s almost laughable. What is that, a motivational threat? If the employee isn’t happy…they’re always free to leave. The boss doesn’t care and is only too happy to remind the staff of this fact as there’s practically an unlimited supply of replacements who’ll gladly step in to fill up the vacancy.

One scene showed an English business man pushing for lower prices on the individual items – prices which the factory then had to compensate for by further reducing the pay of employees – the employees who were already raking in around 4 yuan an hour. Ask yourself, would you work for 40 cents an hour?

What I would like to see is a documentary based on the smiling foreigners who toured the factory, commenting on how impressive it was. I’d like to see it based on these people living at the factory themselves for a period of six months, then hearing their praise for how good the factory was. Wow, what a great factory you have! *smile smile* Try living there yourself – you’d be purchasing a ticket home within the day – let’s see your smile then.

So while our wonderful foreign brands send representatives to check the conditions, they’re only receiving a falsified glance as no-one really wants to stick around any longer than the brief tour – where they’re treated to huge smiles and banquets – I mean, who wouldn’t feel impressed – the Chinese know how to pander to our foreign ego’s, making us feel like mini-kings.

Eventually, the shit will hit the fan. Eventually, the media will expose these companies and it will be embarrassing for them to be associated with these armies of underpaid overworked Chinese. And so they will take their businesses to somewhere else – somewhere less in the spotlight – India perhaps. And when the demand for Chinese products disappears – god help these poor Chinese factory workers, as the first change that’ll happen will be their jobs disappearing.

One thing is for certain – we the foreign masses are not prepared to pay any more than minimum for our day to day products. While we trumpet about these kind of issues, ultimately, we’re still buying the products, and moreso, we bitch about hikes in price as they occur. The only real way to enforce change is by ceasing to by the products of these companies that exploit the poor workers of countries such as China. But the day people cease buying iPhones and the like, is the day hell freezes over.


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