Businesses are booming on a global scale. Even with traditional business, you can sell your goods or offer your services to virtually everyone on the World Wide Web. The growing capitalist economy did an excellent job in conditioning the minds of the people to desire more material things in their lives, which drives the economy even further. While traditional economic principles explain the law of supply and demand, the new breed of entrepreneurs totally changed the landscape by creating demand for things and services that used to be not a necessity in people’s lives.
So, you get big markets for almost everything under the sun: towels and bedding, furniture and appliances, heck, even water pipes and bongs. Meanwhile, the advent of technology brings about a wave of tech gadgets for your every need. The most recent favorite are smart gadgets that not only look sleek and fancy but can do multiple things all at once using just one gadget. They also serve as portals to the web. You no longer need bulky computers or laptops to access the World Wide Web. And with this newfound freedom comes a new set of needs and wants. And for a country with the highest population on the planet today, an opportunity just opened up for China – cheap Chinese labor to meet the market’s demand. The Chinese workforce has been riddled by controversies for quite some time now as the Western World learns more about dire working conditions in most Chinese factories all over Mainland China.
I recently had Mr. Yang, a coal miner from Hunan, the province where the former Chinese leader Mao Zedong was born, on my Radio Free Asia program. He told me that in 2013, the local government closed down the state-owned coal mine where he worked for 12 years. A total of 268 workers were dismissed without any compensation. Mr. Yang, one of the 10 elected worker representatives, said many of his colleagues had lung diseases and an array of crippling injuries ― none of which were work-related, according to their former employer. They were denied compensation and medical care.
Also a few weeks ago, in the northeastern city of Changchun, thousands of Volkswagen contract workers walked off the assembly lines in protest. Their demand: equal pay for equal work. Their claim: they were getting paid as little as half the salary of a full Volkswagen employee.
When the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping initiated China’s economic reforms in 1979 ― under the slogan “let some people get rich first” ― it was implied that the rest of China would follow suit, improving their livelihoods. It’s been almost four decades and still only a few have benefited. In fact, inequality has risen to such levels that an embarrassingly small segment of the population, including Communist Party cadres, is picking the fruits of economic development.
The party has taken note. During the recent National People’s Congress annual meeting, Premier Li Keqiang prioritized in his report the increase of domestic consumption through higher wages, under “complex and challenging circumstances in China and abroad.”
What are these “challenging circumstances”? The party faces a severe loyalty deficit in its ranks, after years of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign that, though popular among supporters, makes government officials at all levels uneasy about their bookkeeping. Xi may need to rely more on public support instead, but time is not on his side.
What a twisted principle, that is. “Let some people get rich first and the rest of China will follow suit.” It seems that this principle really worked well for some while the majority of the Chinese population are still living in poverty considering how powerful and rich China’s economy is. Most popular brands nowadays have factories in China, because duh, cheap Chinese labor. For them, the end justifies the means. These companies enjoy bigger profits without sacrificing production by getting things done in China than in their own countries.
In response to Daily Mirror‘s article that claimed adidas factory workers in China were paid a monthly wage of £147 ($184 USD), the German brand has responded.
Specifically, the original report also tied in Kanye West, claiming his YEEZY sneakers “are made by workers who slave for 10 hours a day, six days a week. They are expected to arrive 15 minutes early every day to sing the company song and attend production meetings, meaning they do an hour and a half unpaid time every week.”
The accusatory post went on to include images of the factory, the machines the workers use, and photos of their accommodations, ultimately presenting adidas unfavorably. Adding merit to the claims, the Daily Mirror also cites U.S.-based China Labor Watch as a partner. The New York-based NGO works aims to defend workers’ rights in China, and the information was supposedly uncovered during investigation into labor practices at a factory named Apache Footwear in Guangdong, China.
For a country that takes pride in their fast rising economy, military, and technological advancements, it is disheartening to hear about stories like this where the people are exploited by their own people or even by the government itself. Most Chinese are forced to endure these unacceptable working conditions in filthy and possibly dangerous factory environments only to earn a few dollars each day because most of them are contractual workers – meaning no work, no pay.
The rest of the world do not seem to mind, especially the big companies and corporations that have offshore offices and factories in China – because they got to do what they go to do to grow their business and make sure everyone profits even at the expense of that poor and starving Chinese laborers who’ll forever remain without names. As these stories reach social media and more liberal news outfits, will these conditions change or will this be just a case of minding your own business?