Washington, DC -- U.S. Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today called for an investigation into U.S. corporations' importation of goods made by Chinese slave labor. Brown, a senior member of the International Relations Committee, called for answers into U.S. corporate practices before the House of Representatives votes on granting China permanent normal trade relations.
"We cannot afford to ignore the evidence unearthed by the National Labor Committee. Chinese laborers are working for pennies an hour while U.S. companies get rich. We need to know the truth behind U.S. corporations' role in Chinese human rights abuses. We need answers now," Brown said.
Brown called on the Department of Labor to conduct an extensive investigation into the working conditions of factories in China owned by American corporations or contracted by American corporations for product manufacturing. The demand for more information was made after the National Labor Committee released a report this week by Charles Kernaghan documenting human rights abuses in ten Chinese factories producing products for U.S. companies.
Brown noted the Department of Labor's report should include an analysis of whether or not any U.S. laws are violated by practices pursued by U.S. companies overseas. He also called on the corporations lobbying on behalf of PNTR to open their Chinese facilities to human rights inspectors to prove their businesses are operating under humane conditions in China.
The report includes a description of Wal-Mart's contract with the Qin Shi Factory to make their line of Kathie Lee handbags. Workers are held in indentured servitude as they work 14-hour shifts, 7 days a week, 30 days a month. They bring home 3 cents an hour, a total of $3.10 for a 98-hour workweek. Because they are charged for room and board, which consists of 16 people to a dorm room and two dismal meals a day, some employees end up owing the factory money at the end of the month.
Brown noted that 1,800 U.S. workers have lost their jobs as Huffy has moved production of their bicycles to China and Mexico. In 1998, the company fired 850 workers in Celina, Ohio, who earned $17 an hour. Now, they pay Chinese laborers 33 cents an hour to build bicycles 15 hours a day, seven days a week. This amount is less than 2 percent of the wage earned by Celina workers.
The findings in Kernaghan's report illustrate why democratic countries in the developing world are losing ground to authoritarian countries. In the post-Cold War decade, democratic developing countries' exports to the U.S. fell from 53.4 percent in 1989 to 34.9 percent in 1998, a nosedive of 18.5 percentage points. Democratic nations, such as India are losing out to countries like China, where workers are not free and work under the fear of totalitarian reprisals.
"This report proves what opponents of permanent normal trade relations have been saying all along. PNTR is not about gaining access to 1.2 billion Chinese customers. It's about allowing U.S. corporations access to 1.2 billion low-wage workers. This report documents abuse by major U.S. corporations -- Nike, Wal-Mart, Huffy, Timberland, and Alpine. While their CEO's walk the halls of Congress lobbying for PNTR, their products are being assembled in Chinese sweatshops by indentured servants," Brown said.
Brown joined Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Bernard Sanders (D-VT) in making his announcement.
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