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China Blue

9 Feb

Today, in my  “Managing Global Production and Technology” class with Prof. Ellis, we watched parts of a PBS documentary named “China Blue“. This 80min film followed a second-born farmer’s girl that packed her things (duffel bag, green bucket, and 100 yuan) to go to the city and work as a thread cutter in a jeans factory.

The movie is very disturbing on different levels. The girl (Jasmine) and her co-workers, earn ridiculously low wages. At times the factory owner (a ex-policemen that loves to do calligraphy) defers salary payments for weeks and when asked how his management style works, he replies: “I like the relaxed management style, but you don’t want your workers to get out of hand.” Apart from the questionable living conditions, the young workers are forced to work long days (20hrs shifts) with no overtime pay, they get their eyes clipped open with clothes-pins, get their first months pay withheld as a “deposit”, and  get fired when they get pregnant (among other things).

I understand that the socioeconomic and cultural differences should force us to look at this problem through a different, open lens. Also, as a supporter of the free-market, I understand that the trend of Chinese low-wage labor is not reversible, and that it is in our and Chinas interest to have our stuff produced in the “third world”.

However, I did feel a little uneasy when some of my class mates referred to the girl as “happy”, and “fulfilling a live-long dream”. Some classmates scrambled to come up with comparisons to our world and were quick to find explanations for Jasmin’s situation.

“We have to work all day, too.” – “She chose to take on that job.” – “There is nothing we can do about that [problem].”

I believe that we have the choice, and privilege to make choices. Choices that Jasmin does not have. As a second-born child, she is unwanted by the government (One Child Policy), and the fact that she is a girl does not help the situation. Therefore, when we are made aware of obvious labor law violations, we should not hesitate to send a signal. We can do that by thinking twice when buying “Made in China”.