US Hearing Blasts Working Conditions in China

Posted August 1st, 2012 at 8:30 am (UTC-5)
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Labor activists say worker's rights and labor conditions in Chinese factories continue to deteriorate.

The activists testified Tuesday before the Congressional Executive Commission on China, which was created to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China.

Co-chairman, Congressman Chris Smith blamed Chinese leaders for doing little to ensure worker's rights are guaranteed, either in law or in practice.

“Workers are routinely exposed to a variety of dangerous work conditions that threaten their health and their safety. Low wages, long hours and excessive overtime remain the norm. Chinese workers have few if any options to seek redress and voice grievances under these harsh conditions.”

Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights executive director Charles Kernaghan described working conditions at factories associated with VTech, the world's largest manufacturer of cordless phones.

“Workers (at VTech factories in China) are paid $1.09 an hour, which is a below subsistence wage, with very few rights or any benefits.”

Kernaghan says workers live in “primitive” group quarters and are fed, sometimes rotten, food. He says if workers do not meet production goals they are not paid.

Labor activist Li Qiang told the panel that working conditions such as those described by Kernaghan “exist at most plants and most factories throughout China.” Li placed some of the blame on multi-national companies, saying audit systems they use to monitor conditions are often fraudulent and produce inaccurate findings.

In particular, Li said Apple, whose China operations have faced accusations of harsh labor conditions, has the ability to improve the situation. He noted the U.S. company's annual profits are enough to pay more than 100 years of wages for 300,000 workers at the Chinese factories of Foxconn, where workers assemble popular iPad and iPod devices.

Other witnesses and lawmakers at the committee urged the administration of President Barack Obama to put more pressure on China to better protect workers.