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Opinion: China Decision Violates Human Rights

The decision by the US Congress to grant China permanent normal trade relations is not excellent news as our Government is saying. It is a day of infamy and pork-barrel politics against human rights. John Howard writes.

On the very day that Congress voted to grant China permanent normal trade relations, a new report issued by the US National Labour Committee for Human Rights, reveals inhumane and brutal sweatshop conditions in factories that manufacture products exported to the world's markets.

The Committee has found that some Chinese workers put in 98-hour weeks, work compulsory unpaid overtime, while their "conditions' include a ban on talking during working hours, unsanitary conditions and 24-hour prison like surveillance.

"For years, companies have claimed that their mere presence in China would help open that society to democratic values," the report said.

But, far from promoting human rights, the record shows companies and their contractors in China are actively involved in the systematic denial of worker rights." it said.

Chinese factories routinely violate "the most fundamental human and worker rights, and pay below subsistence wages," said the Committee.

For example, the report documented what is a typical factory where women work in production of export shoes at Pou Yuen Factory V, Zhongshan City in the country's Guangdong Province, typically work 14-hour days, seven days a week during the season.

The factory employs 16 and 17 year-old girls, pays them US 22 cents an hour and mandates excessively high daily production quotas that cannot be reached in eight hours.

Worse, the girls and women employed there are regularly cheated out of overtime pay because "all overtime work is mandatory and is either unpaid or compensated at just the standard piece rate," the report said.

Meanwhile factory temperatures routinely soar over 40 degrees celsius and workers reported "handling toxic glues and solvents without gloves." They also complain of high dust levels, excessive noise and strong chemical odours.

"As is standard practice in China, any workers attempting to defend their rights or form an independent group are imprisoned. The workers are also coached to lie to US company auditors," the report said.

Emplyees at Qin Shi Handbag Factory fare even worse. There, workers are paid 8 cents per week or 36 cents per month.

An example is cited. "Mr C, from the Henan Province started work on July 22 1999, receiving his August wages on September 30, earning $30.24. This was the highest wage in the group, coming to $6.98 a week - 8 cents an hour. However, the following month he received only partial payment."

Pay for the top 14 percent of workers at Qin Shi was $18.10 per month, or just five cents per day. "Half the workers surveyed actually owed the company money after a month's work," the report said.

"Top of the line car stereos costing up to $1,300 retail are made in China by young women who are paid 31 cents an hour and sit hunched over a microscope 9 hours a day, six days a week, soldering the fine components of the stereo."

Above the women is an electronic scoreboard which monitors their progress in meeting their production quota of 720 stereos a day.

US company executives argue that they and their contractors in China pay decent subsistence wages.

The factory wokers in China do survive on their wages because they work 12 to 14 hour days, mostly seven days a week during peak seasons, with just one day off in the off-season.

The report said "They survive because most factort workers are migrants from rural areas who, once they arrive at the factory, are housed in 10 to 20 people dormitory's. For years they are at the factory - their "home" is the space of a metal bunk bed. They subsist on two or sometimes three dismal meals a day provided by the factory canteen."

This Scoop correspondent says it is not a day of celebration for world free trade, it is a day of more human misery - a day of infamy, of which New Zealand seems willing to take part.

For other information on Chinese imprisonment work and manufacturing camps see www.laogai.org.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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