Monday, October 16, 2006

Big Business Fighting China's Labor Law

This is an interesting post from Jonathan Tasini:
Since the spring, there has been a debate within China--ignored by the mainstream media in the U.S. and much of the world--about a new labor law in China. [...] As The New York Times reports:
China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers' rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980's.
This is fairly extraordinary, as is the response of multinational corporations:
The move, which underscores the government's growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here. [...]
Up until now, China did its bidding for U.S. corporations. As the AFL-CIO's petition to the U.S. Trade Representative pointed out, China artificially suppresses wages by anywhere from 47 to 85 percent of what they should be. In the Chinese labor system, people work twelve- to eighteen-hour days with no days of rest, earning meager wages, in factories full of chemical toxins and hazardous machines, and suffer sickness and death at the highest rates in world history.

But, this new labor code may begin to force wages up.

Which is driving corporations up the wall. Today, Global Labor Strategies is releasing a startling report. [pdf file] The report reveals that:
US-based global corporations like Wal-Mart, Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, acting through US business organizations like the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the US-China Business Council, are actively lobbying against the new legislation. They are also threatening that foreign corporations will withdraw from China if it is passed.
Opposition to the labor code is being led by three major organizations representing foreign corporations operating in China: The American Chamber of Commerce, the US-China Business Council, and the European Union Chamber of Commerce.

I'm skeptical of China's motives because it is a communist country and they never showed much concern for their workers before, but I have to give them credit for addressing the widening income gap - even though it is partly motivated by concern for the stability of Chinese society. China faces work actions, protests and strikes nearly everyday and the government fears that the widespread unrest could threaten its rule.

I should be surprised that big business is trying to fight these changes but I'm not. They're proving to be the liars I always suspected they were. They fed us the idea that globalization would raise living standards around the world, but when it comes time to put their money where their mouths are they cry foul, hire lobbyists and start throwing threats around.

Additional reading about corporations that do business in China:
DeVos and Amway Soft on China Trade Enforcement
Official Union in China Says All Wal-Marts Are Organized, yet not a single Wal-Mart store in the U.S. is unionized.
U.S. Corporations Work to Prevent Chinese Workers' Rights
Corporations, China and Unions


Kvatch said...

I think that China has recognized, as we've known in the US for at least 120 years, that enlarging and protecting the middle-class is the key to socio-political stability. We're also seeing, as we've seen in the US for at least 40 years, that corporations have given up on the notion that a stable middle-class benefits them in any way.

Interrobanger said...

I hope you're planning on knocking on doors or helping with GOTV some way or another (I already saw you're voting straight Dem, so I don't have to worry about that!)

I'm in DC myself, or I'd be there. I'll actually be doing GOTV with the O'Malley campaign just next door. The GOP GOTV campaigns are no joke. We can't afford not to take them seriously.

Lew Scannon said...

A corporation has no conscience. It is only answerable to it's stockholders, who only demand a steady influx of dividends. If Chinese labor becomes too expensive, they will merely find some other dictatorship willing to enslave it's people for the chance to belly up to the corporate feeding trough.

Kathy said...

Interrobanger, yep, I've been doing all I can to help the cause - donating money, writing letters to the editor, using bumperstickers, etc. We need to put this country back on track.