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[Interview] Phaedrus2129 with the CLB

post #1 of 37
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I conducted an interview recently with Geoff Crothall from the Chinese Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based research and outreach organization founded in 1994 by renowned labour reform activist, Han Dongfang. CLB is dedicated to eliminating labour abuse and improving working conditions throughout China through education, research, political lobbying, and legal assistance for Chinese workers in need.

In light of the lack of knowledge many on OCN have, I've asked Geoff some questions about working conditions in China, especially in regards to electronics manufacturing and the companies that make our beloved computer parts.



Hello, Geoff. Most people don't know a great deal about what life is really like in China for the working class. Could you describe an average day in the life of a typical electronics factory worker in China?

Factory workers will typically do a ten hour day, six days a week, performing one simple task, thousands of times a day. There will be little social interaction on the production line, and management will often strictly supervise workers' performance.
Workers will sometimes live in the factory dormitory, shared with up to ten others. Others prefer to live in rented accommodation nearby that gives them more comfort and privacy.
Factories all have canteens but the food quality is usually poor and workers often prefer to eat at small cafes near the factory gate.
On their one day off workers will typically go shopping in local markets or just hang out with friends and relax.

How important is electronics manufacturing to the Chinese economy, and about how many workers are employed in that field?


According to the National Statistical Yearbook - electronics manufacturers made a total profit of 287 billion yuan in 2010, and employed on average 7.7 million people out of a national total of 95 million employees in various industrial sectors. These official figures do not tell the whole story, they just give an indication of reality.

Everyone hears about Foxconn these days. What other notable manufacturers are there? Are there any that are particularly egregious, or any that go above and beyond for their employees?

Foxconn is neither the worst nor the best employer in China. There are certainly a lot worse places to work than Foxconn (a small unregulated coal mine for example) but Foxconn does have a bad reputation in terms of its quasi-militaristic management style and its use of temporary and short-term labour to cut costs and increase flexibility.

What is typical pay for a factory worker? How much chance is there for a promotion or raise?

Factory workers typical get the legal minimum wage plus overtime and bonuses, which in the Pearl River Delta can add up to 2,000 or 2,500 yuan per month, maybe only around 1,500 yuan in a less developed inland province.

What obstacles stand in the way of workers climbing the social and economic ladder?

Very simply, factory workers find it very difficult to earn enough to advance up the social economic ladder. The vast majority of their income goes on daily necessities, especially if they have a family to support.

How dangerous are working conditions for factory workers? What are some common dangers and long term health effects?

Working in overly hot and dusty conditions is very common. Faulty and outdated machinery are a major issue, as is the use of toxic chemicals in the production process. Dangers also come from long working hours, which lead to carelessness and accidents. Also there is very lax enforcement of health and safety regulations, meaning employers have little incentive to ensure safe work practices if that involves additional expenditure.

Many workers complain that employers will refuse to pay the promised wage, especially what is owed for overtime. How common is this?

Such complaints are commonplace and widespread. More than 1.2 million complaints, primarily on these issues, were heard by China's labour mediation and arbitration committees in 2010.

Are conditions as bad for managers and engineers as they are for assembly line workers?

No, although many have to work very long hours as well.

Why do so many Chinese end up in terrible factory jobs, even after graduating secondary or post-secondary school?

Because those are still basically the only jobs available. Please see our recent report on the vocational school system for more details. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/share/File/general/vocational_school_system.pdf

What legal mechanisms are in place for workers to seek redress against companies who have refused to pay wages or caused the worker injury?

Please see our introduction to the labour dispute resolution system http://www.clb.org.hk/en/node/100618 It was written three years ago but the system is basically the same.
See also our research report on the remedies for occupational illness disputes http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/share/File/research_reports/Hard_Road.pdf

What steps is the Chinese government taking to remedy these problems?

The Chinese government is continually revising and updating legislation and recently criminalized the malicious non-payment of wages. The problem once again is the lack of enforcement, which means it is still basically up to the workers themselves to seek redress.

How much influence might American companies have when it comes to regulating working conditions in Chinese factories?

It depends if they are the owner of the factory or merely a customer of the factory. Most like Apple are merely customers, which means they have limited impact. External audits have very little effect on working conditions. American companies can improve matters however is by paying more for the products they buy and thereby ensuring more profit for the supplier factory. Once that factory starts to make more profit, the workers themselves will start to demand higher wages and a fairer share of that profit. It is unlikely however than any company will pay more than it has to for any product.

What could American consumers do to help improve the lives of Chinese workers, either directly or indirectly?


Try to keep as informed as possible about the realities of factory work in China and make decisions on what to purchase accordingly.

Thank you very much, Geoff.
post #2 of 37
That was a good read, thanks thumb.gif
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post #3 of 37
You THE MAN!!
Good read!!
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post #4 of 37
Great read, thank you.
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post #5 of 37
Thank you for the good read!
 
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post #6 of 37
Fantastic read.

However I would like to bring to everyone's attention that it really isn't just apple and foxconn isn't the worst or best.

I'm sure apple isn't helping but neither are other company's by the sound. It seems like once the media get fixated it's hard to get them off. I would think all american company's / anywhere in the world need to do something about it. But then again I'm sure once our computer hardware started costing a terrible amount then there are other repercussions.
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post #7 of 37
Well done Phaed!
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post #8 of 37
Quote:
electronics manufacturers made a total PROFIT of 287 billion yuan in 2010

And paid roughly 204 Billion yaun for labor per year... ($220 - $250 US Dollars / Month Per Factory Worker)

Hmmph, I can't say anything nice about that, so I guess I'll say nothing...

Thanks for the review Phaedrus, outstanding work!! I applaud you profusely! biggrin.gif

*edited* cut my excessive opinion out of the post...
Edited by _GTech - 2/16/12 at 6:11pm
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post #9 of 37
well well well.........the mountain comes to mohammed........thanx Phaedrus thumb.gif
    
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post #10 of 37
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys. I do urge you to read some of the CLB's published papers, including the ones linked in the article. Enlightening stuf. Imagine your college forcing you to work in a factory for their profit, and if you decline you're denied your diploma.
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