Tuesday, October 30, 2007


James Fallows vs. the reality of Chinese labor

by Larry Geller

I met James Fallows at a dinner in Honolulu some time ago. We sat together discussing some obscure common topic, ignoring the rest of the table. Fallows is capable of focusing his intellect very sharply on whatever has grabbed his interest for the moment.

On an NPR Fresh Air interview broadcast today I learned that he is living in China and writing about its manufacturing revolution. This is a must-listen, his explanation contains a lesson for this country, and also for Hawaii. In explaining how Chinese manufacturing works he is also, of course, letting us know why we are pretty much out of the businesses they are taking over.

He describes working conditions in Chinese plants very favorably, including living conditions in company dorms.

Fallow's glowing account is in sharp contrast to today's Democracy Now segment, Gap, Mattel, Speedo, Wal-Mart Products Linked to Child and Sweatshop Labor in China and India. This is also a must-listen, although there's a transcript you can skim as well. If you are reading this on Tuesday you can also catch the program at 10 p.m. tonight on Olelo channel 56.

I've been critical of Mattel's lax quality assurance that has brought lead-painted and other hazardous toys to our shores. The Democracy Now interview is far worse than I had read anywhere before. Check it out. It goes well beyond bad QA into absolute greed.

The interview begins, referring to the Barbie Pet Doctor set:

And it was made in a factory called Xin Yi by young women forced to work fourteen-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, at a minimum. Sometimes they work until midnight, sixteen-and-a-half-hour shifts. They’re at the factory eighty-seven hours a week, paid fifty-three cents an hour as their wage and then cheated of their overtime wage.


The workers can be fired if they’re inattentive at work. They can be fired if they’re seen speaking to each other during working hours. They can be fired if they don’t reach their production goal. The workers tell us they’re sweating all day; the factory is incredibly hot. They have to sit on hard wooden benches with no backs. They say after a few hours -- they’re prohibited from standing up; after a few hours, their legs go numb, their arms hurt, their backs hurt. They have no right. The supervisors will yell and scream at them to go faster. You’re not allowed to answer back or even look at the supervisor, or you’ll be fired. Their housed in primitive dormitories. It’s a sweatshop of enormous abuse. The workers are cheated of about two days’ wages every single week.

Hearing the two programs in the same day was a trip.

I don't see any cure for this unless people really get together and boycott Mattel products. Will this happen? I doubt it, but in my humble opinion, it's what that company deserves. It would also help protect children in the future by making an example of this company that cheats workers on one end and poisons children on the other.

By the way, ingesting lead lowers IQ. It ruins lives.


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