While Wal-Mart shoppers across America pushed and shoved one another today on Black Friday, fighting for first rights to Blu-Ray and High Def televisions, a new report about the retailer’s factories in China paints another kind of black. Everyday looks black to the Chinese workers who help produce low-priced goods and high profits for the Wal-Mart corporation. A group called China Labor Watch (CLW) released a report today which finds that conditions at Wal-Mart’s vendor factories have not improved much this holiday season compared to Christmas’ past. The CLW study focused on the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province, where millions of migrants work in light manufacturing. “Labor conditions in the Pearl River Delta have somewhat improved in recent years,” the new study notes, “but remain devastatingly brutal, characterized by long hours, unsafe workplaces and restricted freedom of association, and are in blatant violation of Chinese and international labor law. The case of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, shows that corporate codes of conduct and factory auditing alone are not enough to strengthen workers’ rights if corporations are unwilling to pay the production costs associated with such codes.” Wal-Mart does not own any of its 100,000 supplier factories around the world. Tens of thousands of these vendors are located in China. Wal-Mart buys about $18 billion worth of products in China. The CLW report focuses on labor violations in five factories “to illustrate systematic violations cited in Wal-Mart’s supply chain.” One of the Wal-Mart factories visited was the Dashing Decoration Company in Dongguan City, which has been in operation for seven years. The factory specializes in production of candles and Christmas lights, and employs roughly 1,800 workers. During its site visits, CLW found: 1. None of the workers were given copies of their work contract with Dashing. Workers stated that their contracts were fake and do not include basic information that is required by the Labor Contract Law. 2. Workers who work over six months have difficulty quitting. 3. Workers only get two days off a month, and sometimes workers must work 24 hours consecutively. 4. Overtime is illegally underpaid and workers are fined for refusing to work overtime. There are long overtime hours in the factory, and overtime is mandatory. Workers who refuse will receive a penalty equivalent to three day wages. The hourly rate at Dashing is around $0.65/hour. Overtime wages are illegally low at rates of $0.44/hour for regular overtime (45% of the legal minimum), $0.88/hour for weekend overtime (68% of the minimum) and $1.32/hour for holiday overtime (68% of the minimum). It is extremely difficult to ask for a day off at Dashing, unless it is for sick leave, which requires medical authorization. There is no paid vacation and pregnant women are offered 45 days of unpaid maternity leave. 5. Workers must sign false pay stubs to deceive clients and lie during audits. CLW investigators discovered last year that workers are required to sign a false pay stub. Several days after signing false document, workers were given a chart with real figures 6. Living conditions are very poor: bathrooms have no running water, canteen sanitation is poor and fees are deducted from wages regardless of whether workers eat there. 7. Workers are fined 9 days wages for absence of more than half a day. In the Dashing worker dormitories, each room has the capacity to hold 12 persons, and currently average 10 workers per room. Communal restrooms have no running water and can hold no more than ten people. There is a bucket of water in the restroom for workers to flush the toilet, but since demand for water is higher than supply, most of the toilets are left unflushed. The workers have production quotas. If workers are unable to meet quotas four days in a row, on the fourth day Dashing will deduct overtime wages. There is no union at this factory. There are complaint boxes located on the stairway of each dormitory floor, but workers say no one ever checks the boxes. The CLW found that every day was a black day at the factories churning out goods for American consumers at Wal-Marts.
As a result of their study, the CLW concludes that “Wal-Mart pricing is too low.” The report notes, “As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart leverages its huge orders to convince factories to sell goods at low prices that are not sustainable. This puts pressure on other brands to pay less, thereby setting a dangerous industry precedent.” CLW says Wal-Mart’s audits fail to identify all labor violations. “After failing two Wal-Mart audits, factories may bribe auditors on the third audit to avoid losing Wal-Mart orders.” The group calls for a system of external monitoring of these factories. “Wal-Mart’s corporate structure needs to focus on real change and not on image,” CLW says. “Wal-Mart routinely turns a blind eye to poor conditions in supplier factories unless investigations are made public.” CLW charges that Wal-Mart is not enforcing its basic standards. “It has the size and power to be an industry leader,” CLW writes. “Wal-Mart needs more transparent ethical sourcing efforts.” American shoppers don’t want to hear that Wal-Mart’s low prices are built on a system of exploitation and deceit. But that’s all part of the price of shopping at Wal-Mart. You save money — but the worker’s don’t live better. For a full copy of the China Labor Watch report, go to www.chinalaborwatch.org.