There is no doubt that China has a true competitive advantage in the global economy, but the question is at what cost does this come? This competitive advantage benefits other consumerist countries like the United States, in which one estimate claims “products made in China have saved the average American family $500 a year.” (Harney 2) With the China Price, China’s “share (of the world’s manufacturing output by value added) had grown to 12.1 percent, making China the world’s third-largest producer after America and Japan.” (Harney 4) So how does China achieve this competitive advantage? It achieves it by the exploitation of their workers. While these workers continue to slave away in harsh conditions and face physical costs, their plight remains unknown by many consumers which benefit from their hardships. Not only is the treatment of Chinese workers unethical, but it is also imperative that consumer and foreign corporations alike understand the roles they play in perpetuating these conditions.
Who belongs to the group of Chinese workers that continually face unbearable hardships? The largest group exploited workers is migrant workers, which is made up of men, children, but mostly women. But it is not only the migrant workers that are facing this plight. Anita Chan, author of China’s Workers Under Assault, discusses these other workers facing poor conditions. Chan explains that “For many formerly privileged workers in the state-owned industrial sector, working conditions, benefits and job security have declined precipitously over the past fifteen years.” (Chan 13) No matter who belongs to this group of mistreated workers they all face similar harsh conditions within their respective factories. Workers work for extremely low wages, often for a hundred hours a week, all the while receiving poor benefits. These low wages are commonly below the minimum wage which the Chinese government set in the Labor Law. In fact “In 1997, for a forty-four-hour week, the minimum monthly wage was set at 420 Yuan (U.S. $54.00) for the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, 290 Yuan for Beijing, and 315 Yuan for Shanghai.” (Chan 11) Not only is the minimum wage unreasonably low for the high cost of living in these Chinese cities, but it is even worse that many manufacturers do not even comply with it. Much like other so called rights that are protected under the Labor Law, this one is rarely followed. The reasons that many businesses are able to get away with the violation of the Labor Laws will be discussed later.
The low wages paid to workers is not the only mistreatment these workers face. As discussed in numerous documentaries, articles, and first hand accounts the list of mistreatments go on and on. Many workers work for about a month only to get one to three days off. Within these ongoing months of work they face an austere system of discipline and punishment, where fines are often and unreasonable. Fines cause deductions in the pay workers receive at the end of the month and they can be earned anywhere from breaking factory rules to taking too many bathroom breaks. “But the penalties can also be for behavior not related to production: fines for talking and laughing at work, for littering outside work hours, for forgetting to turn off lights, untidy dormitories, and so on.” (Chan 12) Another reason worker’s pay can be reduced even further is if they have just started. Many factory owners keep the first one or two month’s pay of each worker as a deposit on that worker. This practice is used in order to deter workers from leaving or quitting. Not only is the pay unreasonably low and the hours long, but the living situation of the workers are often cramped and unsanitary. These poor living conditions are illustrated in the documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China. In this Michael Redmond documentary a close look is taken at the Tai Kuen Bead Factory which makes beads for Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. In this...
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