Friday, August 06, 2010

Why not to buy Chinese products

Look, I know it's hard. Some things you just can't find made anywhere else. But, really, we need to try. Here's why:

Yan Li spent his life tweaking tiny bolts, on a production line, for the gadgets that make our lives zing and bling. He might have pushed a crucial component of the laptop I am writing this article on, or the mobile phone that will interrupt your reading of it. He was a typical 27-year-old worker at the gigantic Foxconn factory in Shenzen, Southern China, which manufactures i-Pads and Playstations and mobile-phone batteries.

Li was known to the company by his ID number: F3839667. He stood at a whirring line all day, every day, making the same tiny mechanical motion with his wrist, for 20p an hour. According to his family, sometimes his shifts lasted for 24 hours; sometimes they stretched to 35. If he had tried to form a free trade union to change these practices, he would have been imprisoned for 12 years. On the night of 27 May, after yet another marathon-shift, Li dropped dead.

Deaths from overwork are so common in Chinese factories that they have a word for it: guolaosi. China Daily estimates that 600,000 people are killed this way every year, mostly making goods for us. Li had never experienced any health problems, his family says, until he started this work schedule; Foxconn say he died of asthma and his death had nothing to do with them. The night Li died, yet another Foxconn worker committed suicide -- the tenth this year.
It's the human equivalent of battery farming.
The political practices of Maoism were neatly transferred from communism to corporations: both regard human beings as dispensable instruments only there to serve economic ends.

But there is some possibly hopeful news emerging:

An epic rebellion has now begun in China against this abuse -- and it is beginning to succeed. Across 126,000 Chinese factories, workers have refused to live like this any more. Wildcat unions have sprung up, organised by text message, demanding higher wages, a humane work environment, and the right to organise freely.

Of course, whether or not this movement manages to succeed is yet to be seen. It may, of course, end up being thoroughly crushed by the Chinese government.

You can read the whole article right here.

In the meantime, let's all do our best to buy goods that are manufactured where workers are treated decently. One good way is to buy used items from flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. True, the items may still have been originally made somewhere unsavory but at least your dollars and mine will be helping people trying to make it as entreprenures or supporting non-profits organizations. Those dollars will not then be going into the pockets of the big corporations that exploit people.


  1. It is difficult to find items manufactured in the US anymore, since US manufacturers moved their plants to foreign countries to take advantage of lower wages, lower taxes and few environmental controls. Have you noticed the increase in the past few years of recalls of Chinese-made goods? Obviously there is no quality control in China -- and the American companies are not performing quality control on the goods when they are imported into America for distribution. This is especially disturbing because baby food and formula, pet food, toys and nutritional supplements are all coming here from China, with little or no quality control. Lead paint and cadmium, among other contaminants, are being used to contaminate goods meant for distribution in the US.

    So, while I am sympathetic to Chinese workers, I am more strongly against foreign-made goods imported into our country because: a)it costs us American jobs; b)it loses us taxes; c)it endangers our population due to contamination, accidentally or on purpose (cheaper ingredients); d)it makes us dependent upon foreign countries.

    So, Congress, bring the boys (and girls) home from Iraq and Afghanistan and bring manufacturing back to the USA!!!

  2. I agree with you, "Classof65", on all the points you mentioned.

    You know, I don't understand why having almost all our manufacturing being done overseas isn't considered a security issue.

  3. You're right, exports do present security risks. It is well-known that no one is inspecting all those 40-ft. ocean containers arriving every day in our harbors. There are not enough customs inspectors to do it. No one seems to care though...


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