The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, January 07, 2008

Pollution, Safety, in China


Below is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times regarding the appalling working conditions that are present in China. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

National Geographic Magazine this month has an article about how recycling is largely off shored (big surprise there). This recycling generally goes on in third world countries using very primitive technology and is extremely dangerous to the workers, and ends up putting toxic materials into the environment. A link to the article is here.

In Chinese Factories, Lost Fingers and Low Pay

GUANGZHOU, China — Nearly a decade after some of the most powerful companies in the world — often under considerable criticism and consumer pressure — began an effort to eliminate sweatshop labor conditions in Asia, worker abuse is still commonplace in many of the Chinese factories that supply Western companies, according to labor rights groups.

The groups say some Chinese companies routinely shortchange their employees on wages, withhold health benefits and expose their workers to dangerous machinery and harmful chemicals, like lead, cadmium and mercury.

“If these things are so dangerous for the consumer, then how about the workers?” said Anita Chan, a labor rights advocate who teaches at the Australian National University. “We may be dealing with these things for a short time, but they deal with them every day.”

And so while American and European consumers worry about exposing their children to Chinese-made toys coated in lead, Chinese workers, often as young as 16, face far more serious hazards. Here in the Pearl River Delta region near Hong Kong, for example, factory workers lose or break about 40,000 fingers on the job every year, according to a study published a few years ago by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Pushing to keep big corporations honest, labor groups regularly smuggle photographs, videos, pay stubs, shipping records and other evidence out of factories that they say violate local law and international worker standards. In 2007, factories that supplied more than a dozen corporations, including Wal-Mart, Disney and Dell, were accused of unfair labor practices, including using child labor, forcing employees to work 16-hour days on fast-moving assembly lines, and paying workers less than minimum wage. (Minimum wage in this part of China is about 55 cents an hour.)

In recent weeks, a flood of reports detailing labor abuse have been released, at a time when China is still coping with last year’s wave of product safety recalls of goods made in China, and as it tries to change workplace rules with a new labor law that took effect on Jan. 1.

No company has come under as harsh a spotlight as Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, which sourced about $9 billion in goods from China in 2006, everything from hammers and toys to high-definition televisions.

In December, two nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, documented what they said were abuse and labor violations at 15 factories that produce or supply goods for Wal-Mart — including the use of child labor at Huanya Gifts, a factory here in Guangzhou that makes Christmas tree ornaments.

Wal-Mart officials say they are investigating the allegations, which were in a report issued three weeks ago by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based NGO.

Guangzhou labor bureau officials said they recently fined Huanya for wage violations, but also said they found no evidence of child labor.

A spokesman for Huanya, which employs 8,000 workers, denied that the company broke any labor laws.

But two workers interviewed outside Huanya’s huge complex in late December said that they were forced to work long hours to meet production quotas in harsh conditions.

“I work on the plastic molding machine from 6 in the morning to 6 at night,” said Xu Wenquan, a tiny, baby-faced 16-year-old whose hands were covered with blisters. Asked what had happened to his hands, he replied, the machines are “quite hot, so I’ve burned my hands.”

His brother, Xu Wenjie, 18, said the two young men left their small village in impoverished Guizhou Province four months ago and traveled more than 500 miles to find work at Huanya.

The brothers said they worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $120 to $200 a month, far less than they are required to be paid by law.

When government inspectors visit the factory, the young brothers are given the day off, they said.


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