While cases such as that of Kukdong graphically illustrate the importance of CSR and codes of conduct, anti-sweatshop activists continue to display considerable hesitation and equivocation as they wrestle with implementing CSR in China. In the words of the late activist Trim Bissell of the Campaign for Labor Rights, China has become a "planetary black hole" attracting global production with its cheap labor, but "the anti-sweatshop movement has been without a China strategy."9For example, in January 2000, the University of California (UC) announced that it would not allow any university-licensed products to be produced in countries that do no tallow freedom of association and collective bargaining, in effect banning products made in China (China and the American Anti-Sweatshop Movement (http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:MfmUl9ll5pwJ:laborcenter.berkeley.edu/globaleconomy/china_american.pdf+china+sweatshops+unions&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=9&ie=UTF-8)."
Efforts are underway to accomplish several things when it comes to China's sweatshops. The first thing that the union and labor leaders are demanding is that the world pay closer attention to the attitudes and treatments of the companies that own the sweatshops.
This is important if the worldwide human rights activists want the workers in China's sweatshops to rise up and demand change those workers have to be comfortable that there will be at least a minimum standard of employee treatment that will be followed or insisted upon under the threat of fines if the company fails to comply.
Those working to stop the sweatshop existence and mentality in China also want the workers to have the right to organize. In America workers have the right to organize and form union alliances. If companies do not want unions to enter the mix they often work to be sure that they are offering similar perks, wages, and benefits that the employees could receive from a union. Allowing the workers of China organize and form union alliances will provide insurance that companies there will begin changing their employee treatment practices, and it will allow workers to form union groups to watch out for their best interests if they want to take that route.
The third concern that labor groups have with the sweatshops in China is a practice that began several years ago and appears to be growing. Workers in that country are often asked to wait for their paychecks, days, weeks and even months beyond their scheduled payday. They come to work, perform the work, produce the products which are sold for a profit and instead of being paid for their efforts thy are being told they will have to wait to receive their checks. This causes them to not be able to feed the families but it also allows the company to keep control over them. The more the worker is owed the less apt the worker is to quit because of fears that quitting the job will never get their paycheck for them.
So the companies promote the practice of not paying workers on time and they are able to keep them working for nothing. As they get more indebted to the worker they sometimes are known to simply fire the worker and move their operation to another location so that they cannot be tracked, leaving hundreds of workers without paychecks after laboring for weeks to make the company a profit.
There have also been numerous cases of overtime hours worked without overtime premium pay, and some cases where Chinese workers have been smuggled into the U.S. illegally, forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to their smugglers, and made to sleep at their sewing machines at night. In August 2001, a San Francisco garment factory known as Wins of California closed down abruptly while owing 200 workers fourteen weeks of back pay, totaling around one million dollars.19The Chinese immigrant workers had not previously complained to the authorities about their lack of pay because this practice is common both in China and in Chinatowns. The authorities might never have known that this illegal practice was taking place if the employer had not closed her plant; even the paid factory monitor was not initially aware of it (China and the American Anti-Sweatshop Movement (http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:MfmUl9ll5pwJ:laborcenter.berkeley.edu/globaleconomy/china_american.pdf+china+sweatshops+unions&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=9&ie=UTF-8)."
AMERICAN UNION RESPONSE
American unions are working in two venues to halt the threat of companies here closing and taking their work overseas to China. The first line of defense has been to ease up on previous demands. The unions are still supporting the provision of a fair wage and good benefits, but strike threats are much less common in the hopes that the company will not close its doors and relocate to China.
The second thing that is being attempted is legislation to prevent companies from leaving the workers and going to China where the company can open a sweatshop.
It is important for union workers to understand the impact of ignoring the Chinese sweatshop issue. If unions in America do not unite in the quest to stop the sweatshops overseas then American companies will eventually begin to refuse to treat the employees well in America and simply threaten to move the operation to China.
CHINA WORKER RESPONSE
While American labor groups and union bosses work to right the wrongs in Chinese sweatshops it has provided the foundation for the China sweatshop workers to move for change.
But workers say some departments operate 100 hours a week with one shift of employees, leading to burnout. Pension benefits and annual bonuses were scaled back recently to cut costs, workers said. Each dorm room houses 10 workers in five bunks, 18 rooms to a floor, 180 workers to a bathroom, leading to long lines -- and sometimes to fights -- at the end of the evening shift (When Chinese Workers Unite, the Bosses Often Run the Union (http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/sweatshops/1436.html)."
It is important to the worldwide labor market to assist the workers in China in stopping sweatshop labor. For many years the mentality of companies there has been mistreating employees was an acceptable practice. Today, however, with the globalization of workers it becomes evident that many areas of the globe treat workers with dignity and respect. To prevent the closing of American company doors with a move to China by companies trying to avoid union organization it is important that American union workers and the join together and demand that the American government begin using sanction and other tactics to force China to follow universal standards of employee treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sweatshops and Women Workers