Posts Tagged ‘Sweatshop’

A Chinese mentally-handicapped man, sold into slavery and fed on dog food, labors

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“God help us if the labor-management relations being developed in China become the new low standard for the rest of the world.”  — Charles Kernaghan, Director of the NLC

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“Almost all the workers who have tried to organize… have been arrested.” — Elisabeth Tang, Chief Executive of the HKCTU

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This is fascism at work. This is what it looks like. You hear the terms fascism, communism, socialism, whatever-ism,  but they all mean the same thing and this is it.

My belief is they basically have China in mind as the model for us, more or less. An over-bloated central government runs everything, just like you see these guys wanting to do here now — slowly trying to take over everything, infiltrate and corrupt everything, control and surveil and probe and license and tax and seize everything that is and isn’t nailed down, everything  they can get their greedy hands on, if it moves they want to know what it is and who’s moving it, and they want their cut.

And if they don’t get their cut, some guys are going to be manning some machines in the prison sweatshop for 40 cents an hour, 40 hours a week, for the next 15 years, doing their part to bring in an average of around a publicized $850 million a year in the federal prison system alone. And I say publicized, because these guys always have all kinds of illegitimate kickback schemes going on and who knows what. There’s no more corrupt an entity than any variety of prison.

Now we already have a state-run, mandatory, criminalized health care and insurance racket in place, with the state already having taken up “equity stakes” in some of the largest national and international corporations and financial institutions, and we now have laws on the books concentrating power into the hands of the executive branch (dictator-military-secret police-detention system), as well as other laws circumventing the Constitution and stripping the sovereign American citizen of his or her basic protections, freedoms, and civil liberties.

This is fascism at work. This is what it looks like. You hear the terms fascism, communism, socialism, whatever-ism,  but they all mean the same thing and this is it.

In the immortal words of the WWII Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

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On February 5, 2009, Charles Kernaghan and the National Labor Committee (NLC), a Pittsburgh-based human rights group which campaigns for workers across the globe, released a 60-page report, High Tech Misery in China, documenting the grueling hours, low wages and draconian disciplinary measures at the Meitai factory in southern China. The 2,000  workers — mostly young women — produce keyboards and other equipment for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft and IBM. Along with worker interviews, photographs of primitive factory and dorm conditions and extensive internal company documents were smuggled out of the factory.

Workers sit on hard wooden stools as 500 computer keyboards an hour move down the assembly line, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with just two days off a month. The workers have 1.1 seconds to snap on each key, an operation repeated 3,250 times an hour, 35,750 a day, 250,250 a week and over one million times a month. The pace is relentless.

Workers are paid 1/50th of a cent for each operation they complete.

Workers cannot talk, listen to music or even lift their heads to look around. They must “periodically trim their nails,” or be fined.

Workers needing to use the bathroom must learn to hold it until there is a break. Security guards spy on the workers, who are prohibited from putting their hands in their pockets and are searched when they leave the factory.

All overtime is mandatory and workers are at the factory up to 87 hours a week, while earning a take-home wage of just 41 cents an hour. Workers are being cheated of up to 19 percent of the wages due them.

Ten to twelve workers share each overcrowded dorm room, sleeping on metal bunk beds and draping old sheets over their cubicles for privacy.

Workers bathe using small plastic buckets and must walk down several flights of stairs to fetch hot water.

Workers are locked in the factory compound four days a week and prohibited from even taking a walk.

For breakfast the workers receive a thin rice gruel. On Fridays they receive a small chicken leg and foot to symbolize “their improving life.”

Workers are instructed to “love the company like your home”…”continuously striving for perfection” …and to spy on and “actively monitor each other.”

One Metai worker summed up the general feeling in the factory: “I feel like I am serving a prison sentence… The factory is forever pressing down on our heads and will not tolerate even the tiniest mistake. When working, we work continuously. When we eat, we have to eat with lightning speed… The security guards are like policemen watching over prisoners. We’re really livestock and shouldn’t be called workers.”

Charles Kernaghan, director of the NLC commented, “God help us if the labor-management relations being developed in China become the new low standard for the rest of the world. The $200 personal computer and $22.99 keyboard may seem like a great bargain. But they come at a terrible cost. The low wages and lack of worker rights protections in China are leading the race to the bottom in the global sweatshop economy, where there are no winners.”

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Photos of female workers, their heads resting in their arms while on what passes for their “break”, were smuggled out of the KYE Systems factory at Dongguan, China, in April, 2010, as part of a three-year investigation by the National Labour Committee.

According to the report, KYE, who manufactures products for Microsoft, recruits hundreds of “work-study” students 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week, making webcams and accessories.

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“Like Something Out of a Horror Movie”

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A passing tourist, who stopped at the Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory, located in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang to ask for some water to drink, was Shanghied and enslaved for over 2 years. Forced to toil every day with a tin bowl of noodles and a beating his only compensation, he twice tried to escape, only to be captured, returned, and flogged mercilessly for his efforts.

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According to Chinese state media and Global Times  reports from mid-December, 2010, at least 11 workers, including eight intellectually disabled people, were sold to the same building materials factory to work without pay.

The state media reports also cited authorities as saying that the workers were given no protective gear and were given the same food as the factory manager’s dogs. and that they had been confined to the factory, living in the most deplorable conditions imaginable and toiling like galley slaves, for at least three years.

China has had many previous cases of mentally ill people being abused as laborers. For instance, in May 2009, police in the eastern province of Anhui arrested 10 men for enslaving more than 30 mentally handicapped people who were forced to work at brick kilns. Hundreds of brick kiln slaves, many of them handicapped, were freed in raids in 2007 in northern China.

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The 2007 Chinese slave scandal

The 2007 Chinese slave scandal, also known as  the “Shanxi Black Brick Kiln Incident”, was a series of forced labor cases in Shanxi, China. Thousands of Chinese people including children had been forced to work as slaves in illegal brickyards (kilns), and tortured by the owners of the brickyards. In June 2007 alone, approximately 550 people were rescued from such situations.

Shanxi is located in the Loess Plateau in northern China, which is known for its rich clay deposits which are easier and cheaper to mine than coal. Through corrupt relationships with officials, slave “bosses” opened illegal brickyards. Due to the scarcity of labor in Shanxi, some factories outsourced production to middlemen who recruited workers from other provinces, making huge profits for the bosses.

The existence of illegal brickyards was first reported to authorities in 1998 by a laborer who had escaped from one. The escapee also wrote to the chairman of the Shanxi People’s Congress. As a result, slave rescue operations were carried out by provincial government authorities without notifying local officials. Over 150 slaves, three of them child laborers, were freed from the illegal brickyards as a result.

There have been continuing reports of cruelty committed at these illegal brickyards. In May of 2007, Henan TV Metro Channel reported the case of five minors around sixteen years old who had disappeared from the environs of Zhengzhou Railway Station. Having heard of earlier instances of child laborers being kidnapped for brickyards in Shanxi, their parents suspected their children might be found there.

Two months later these five were among fifty minors from Henan who were found at an illegal brickyard. Human traffickers had sold them to the brickyards for 500 Yuan each. The slaves included children as young as eight years old.

Moreover, brickyard owners hired guards and wolfdogs to watch their slaves. These slaves were forced to work over sixteen hours every day and any mistakes were punished by brutal torture.

One teenager who was rescued from an illegal brickyard said that, during his slavery, he had been taken to another brickyard by his boss to watch another slave being fed to a meat grinder.

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Sweatshop Hall of Shame 2010

The Sweatshop Hall of Shame 2010 highlights apparel and textile companies that use sweatshops in their global production. Hall of Shame inductees are responsible for evading fair labor standards and often are slow to respond or provide no response at all to any attempts by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), workers, or others to improve working conditions.

I wasn’t able to find any results for 2015 — or anything after 2010 for that matter, which has me wondering, but what can you do. So…

The official inductees of the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame are:

Abercrombie and Fitch

Gymboree

Hanes

Ikea

Kohl’s

LL Bean

Pier 1 Imports

Propper International

Walmart

This list also includes an Honorable Mention to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, a national trade association representing apparel and footwear companies. This association has exhibited a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights by primarily focusing on maintaining trade with Honduras in the middle of a military coup.

Most of the companies listed employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages. When these workers attempt to form a union to voice their collective concerns, they face threats from management and risk being fired, beaten… or even worse.

Many of 2010’s inductees used suppliers that practiced illegal tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize. Some of the companies mentioned weave shame into their clothing by continuing to use cotton sourced from Uzbekistan where harvesting is accomplished through forced child labor.

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The changing face of the landscape as we become a nation of keepers and captives

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“America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” — George W. Bush

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In 2009, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 1,524,513 prisoners in state and federal prisons. When local jails are included, the total climbs to 2,284,913. These numbers are not just staggering; they are far above those of any other liberal democracy in both absolute and per capita terms. The International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College London calculates that the United States has an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 people, compared to 325 in Israel, 217 in Poland, 154 in England and Wales, 96 in France, 71 in Denmark, and 32 in India.

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America’s enormously high incarceration rate is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to a 2010 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), U.S. incarceration rates between 1880 and 1970 ranged from about 100 to 200 prisoners per 100,000 people. After 1980, however, the inmate population began to grow much more rapidly than the overall population, climbing from about 220 per 100,000 in 1980 to 458 in 1990, 683 in 2000, and 753 in 2008.

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Why are American incarceration rates so high by international standards, and why have they increased so much during the last three decades? The simplest explanation would be that the rise in the incarceration rate reflects a commensurate rise in crime. But according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the total number of violent crimes was only about 3 percent higher in 2008 than it was in 1980, while the violent crime rate was much lower: 19 per 1,000 people in 2008 vs. 49.4 in 1980. Meanwhile, the BJS data shows that the total number of property crimes dropped to 134.7 per 1,000 people in 2008 from 496.1 in 1980. The growth in the prison population mainly reflects changes in the correctional policies that determine who goes to prison and for how long.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s played an important role. According to the CEPR study, nonviolent offenders make up more than 60 percent of the prison and jail population. Nonviolent drug offenders now account for about one-fourth of all inmates, up from less than 10 percent in 1980. Much of this increase can be traced back to the “three strikes” bills adopted by many states in the 1990s. The laws require state courts to hand down mandatory and extended periods of incarceration to people who have been convicted of felonies on three or more separate occasions. The felonies can include relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting.

What have longer prison sentences accomplished? Research by the Pew Center on the States suggests that expanded incarceration accounts for about 25 percent of the drop in violent crime that began in the mid-1990s—leaving the other 75 percent to be explained by things that have nothing to do with keeping people locked up.

As for the costs, state correctional spending has quadrupled in nominal terms in the last two decades and now totals $52 billion a year, consuming one out of 14 general fund dollars. Spending on corrections is the second fastest growth area of state budgets, following Medicaid. According to a 2009 report from the Pew Center on the States, keeping an inmate locked up costs an average of $78.95 per day, more than 20 times the cost of a day on probation.

More important is the long-term impact that the tough-on-crime policies of the last two decades have had on prisoners and society. Housing nonviolent, victimless offenders with violent criminals for years on end can’t possibly help them reintegrate into society, which helps explain why four out of 10 released prisoners end up back in jail within three years of their release.

As the Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and the University of Washington sociologist Becky Pettit showed in a 2010 study published by the Pew Center on the States, incarceration has a lasting impact on men’s earnings. Taking age, education, school enrollment, and geography into account, they found that past incarceration reduced subsequent wages by 11 percent, cut annual employment by nine weeks, and reduced yearly earnings by 40 percent. Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent of never-incarcerated men who started at the bottom.

It isn’t just offenders whose lives are damaged. Western and Pettit note that 54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers. One in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

While we don’t yet have data on the income mobility of these children, Rucker C. Johnson of the Goldman School of Public Policy found in 2009 that children whose fathers have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than their peers to be expelled or suspended from school (23 percent compared to 4 percent). Johnson found that family income, averaged over the years a father is incarcerated, is 22 percent lower than family income the year before his incarceration. Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration. Both education and parental income are strong indicators of a child’s future economic mobility.

Attempts to estimate the costs and benefits of prison have proved difficult and controversial. In 1987, for example, the National Institute of Justice economist Edwin Zedlewski used national crime data to calculate that the typical offender commits 187 crimes a year and that the typical crime exacts $2,300 in property losses or in physical injuries and human suffering. Multiplying these two figures, Zedlewski estimated that the typical imprisoned felon is responsible for $430,000 in “social costs” each year he is free. Dividing that figure by an annual incarceration cost of $25,000, he concluded that the public benefits of imprisonment outweigh the costs by 17 to 1.

Zedlewski’s findings have been debunked many times. A severe rebuttal came from the Boalt Hall Law School penologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, who argued in a 1988 article published by the National Council of Crime and Delinquency that Zedlewski overstated the net benefit of incarceration by inflating the numerator (crimes per offender and social costs per crime) and deflating the denominator (annual cost of confinement). They cited several studies to bolster their charge, including one indicating that the typical offender commits 15 (as opposed to 187) crimes in a year. According to a 1991 Brookings paper by John J. DiIulio and Anne Morrison Piehl, making this one adjustment to the calculations reduces the benefit/cost ratio to 1.38. In other words, the benefit of incarceration is probably small, especially compared to the high cost of locking people up. Also note that Zedlewski assumed imprisoned offenders were predatory criminals, although a substantial share of real-world convicts are guilty only of victimless crimes.

Fortunately, economists are getting better at understanding how to keep people out of jail. In a 2007 paper for Economic Inquiry, for instance, the U.C.–Santa Barbara economist Jeff Grogger found there are large deterrent effects from increased certainty of punishment and much smaller, generally insignificant effects from increased severity. Such findings call into question the economic rationality of increasingly long prison terms. Who knows how many more millions will be locked up by the time public policy finally catches up with economics.

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