Press

USA : Wal-Mart Christmas jewelry made in sweatshops - activists

fibre2fashion |  By  | December, 13 2007 |  Share  | Source Article

At a press conference at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in the shadow of the Christmas Tree, the country's leading labor rights activist, National Labor Committee director Charles Kernaghan, released a 58-page report, documenting the horrific conditions under which Wal-Mart's Christmas ornaments are made in China.

The release includes unprecedented photographs and video footage of child laborers and workers in the Spray Painting department handling potentially dangerous chemicals without the most rudimentary safety gear.

The National Labor Committee's report, "A Wal-Mart Christmas Brought to You from a Sweatshop in China" provides a rare inside view of the giant Guanzhou Huanya ornaments factory in Guangdong, where every single labor law, not to mention internationally recognized worker rights standards, are being grossly violated on a daily basis.

Among the abusive conditions documented in the report are:
• Five hundred to 600 16-year-old high school students were employed last summer, along with some children as young as 12 years of age, toiling 10 to 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and going for months on end without receiving a single day off. Wal-Mart Christmas ornament workers are at the factory a minimum of 84 hours a week, while at least half the workers are at the factory 105 hours a week.

  • Anyone daring to take a Sunday off will be docked 2 1/2 days' wages.


• Some workers earned as little as 26 cents an hour, just half China's legal minimum wage of 55 cents an hour, which itself is not close to a subsistence level wage. Pay sheets smuggled out of the factory show workers earning a median wage of 49 cents an hour, including overtime, and $42.29 for 110 hours of work, while they should have earned $74.77. Workers were cheated of one-third of the wages legally due them. Factory pay sheets showed just eight percent of the workers earning the legal minimum wage, while 92 percent fell below that.

• Workers in the Spray Paint department who develop skin rashes and sores while handling potentially dangerous chemicals have no choice but to leave the factory, as management does not pay medical bills or sick days. For quitting on short notice, workers are docked one month's pay.

• By July, the high school students were so exhausted from the grueling 12 to 14-hour shifts, seven days a week that they went on strike and brought a legal suit against the factory, denouncing the grueling, illegal hours and seven day workweeks for which they were paid below the legal minimum. The students also reported to the Labor Bureau that some 12-year-olds worked at the factory.

"With its expensive PR campaign, and masquerading as Tiny Tim, Wal-Mart is glorifying the virtue of buying cheap goods in its stores, claiming this is the real holiday spirit," said Charles Kernaghan, "But, especially at this time of year, no American would knowingly purchase a product in Wal-Mart if they knew that bargain was based on the exploitation of children and teenagers forced to work grueling hours, seven days a week, who are stripped of their rights and paid pennies an hour.

Wal-Mart will remain a Scrooge, so long as its bargains are based on the cheapening and immiseration of the lives of the young workers in China who make 70 percent of the goods sold in Wal-Mart."

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said in a statement released in Washington, D.C., "Chinese sweatshops now produce not only the toys under our Christmas trees, but even the ornaments that hang on those trees. It is completely against the spirit of Christmas to produce ornaments in sweatshop factories where the workers are physically abused and financially cheated.

We need to get serious about keeping the products of foreign sweatshops off American shelves. And we shouldn't wait until next year's holiday season rolls around before we take action."
 
National Labor Committee