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August, 04 2004 |  Download PDF |  Share

Puma Workers in China

 

Puma's Workers in China Facing an Olympian Struggle to Survive

Enduring Grueling Hours, Pitifully Low Wages,
Exploitation, Abuse and Denial of their Rights

 

Introduction

Puma sponsors Olympic teams and star athletes around the world. But it is unlikely that even these finely conditioned athletes could keep pace with Puma's workers in China, forced to work up to 16 ½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, six or seven days a week, for wages of just 31 cents an hour. How many athletes could endure the constant production line speed-ups, the relentless numbing repetitive motions, being yelled and screamed at, humiliated, only to return home exhausted to a crowded dorm room shared by 12 workers, without hot water and forced to eat food resembling "pig slop." How many athletes could stand to be stripped of their most basic rights, knowing that if they ever dared to speak the truth, they would be fired immediately. Yet Puma workers in China endure just this, day in and day out, year after year

In a very direct sense, these workers in China are toiling for the Puma Corporation, for the athletes Puma sponsors, and for us—for the consumers who purchase their products.

In fact, the workers in China are carrying Puma on their backs. Puma is making a net profit of $12.24 per hour on each worker in China making their sneakers. Annually, Puma is reaping a profit of $38,189 on each worker. In a single factory, Puma's profit from the workers can reach over $92 million a year. It is the workers in China who are actually paying all of Puma's bills, including the $206 million a year Puma spends on advertising. Puma spends $6.78 to advertise a $70 pair of sneakers—almost six times the $1.16 that they pay the workers to make those sneakers.

Puma's Code of Conduct and their "Perspective Sustainability Report" reads well. Puma even quotes Lao-tzu, a 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher, and the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. However, Puma should worry less about the sustainability of its rhetoric and more about the real lives of the people who make their products. There is a great disconnect between what Puma says and what Puma does.

A major part of this disconnect is that we never hear from the workers. In the United States, the American people purchase two billion pairs of shoes made in China each year, which amounts to seven pairs of shoes for every man, woman and child in the country. But we have never heard from any of these workers, not even once. Advertising is, of course, meant to brand us. But now it is time to also hear from the workers who make the products we purchase.

Puma is certainly not the worst company. Far from it. Puma is pretty much like the rest, if not even a little better.

So what should Puma do? Certainly the workers are not asking Puma to pull out of Pou Yuen Plant F. On the contrary, they desperately need those jobs, or they would not put up with the abuse and repression. It is better to be exploited than to have no job at all. The Puma workers in China do not want a boycott, but they do want to be treated like human beings.

Nor is anyone saying that Puma should not make a profit. The real question is: why can't healthy profits co-exist with sustainable wages? A worker in China makes enough Puma sneakers in the first five days and two hours of work—before the first week of the year is over— to pay his or her entire year's wages. Suppose Puma did something utterly remarkable and said that the company would increase the base wage of its Chinese workers by just 20 cents an hour. This would increase the workers' wages by 46 1/2 percent, allowing them to climb out of misery and at least into poverty.

This 20-cent-an-hour increase would have an enormous positive impact on the lives of the workers. If Puma did this, it would now take the workers seven and a half days to make enough sneakers to pay their salaries for the year. In other words: It is very do-able, especially given that Puma's gross profit on every pair of $70 sneakers is $34.09!

If the workers' wages were raised by 20 cents an hour, it would add 54 cents to the cost of the sneakers. If Puma could not handle this alone, suppose concerned citizens offered to split the difference. We could pay 27 cents more, and so would Puma.

No matter how nice corporate Codes of Conduct and company monitoring reports sound, if a worker is earning below subsistence-level wages, the factory is still a sweatshop. And, Freedom of Association is either respected, or it is not. The Puma workers in China definitely do not have the right to Freedom of Association or to organize.

Puma should seriously address these human rights issues: the right to earn at least subsistence level wages, freedom of association, and the right to organize—but should do so in reality, with concrete actions and not just words.

The National Labor Committee, China Labor Watch and many other human rights organizations are ready to meet with Puma on these issues anytime, anywhere.

Ultimately though, if the Puma workers and others across the developing world are to win respect for their human and worker rights and fair wages, much will depend upon the engagement, awareness and demands of consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world. Only when this happens will a brake be put on the race to the bottom in the global sweatshop economy.

 

Picture of Factory from Outside 

 

Executive Summary

Abusive Working Conditions at Pou Yuen, producing for PUMA in China

Forced Overtime:

  • Mandatory 13½ to 16½ hour daily shifts, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m. or midnight.
  • Workers receive one, three, or four days off a month. Depending upon production demands, workers are at the factory 76½ to 100½ hours a week.
  • Workers receive just 10 holidays off a year.
  • The grueling hours are exhausting and workers try to nap during their lunch and supper breaks.
  • On the rare holidays, most workers remain in the dorm to sleep.

Below-subsistence wages:

  • Base wage is just 31 cents an hour, $2.48 a day, and $12.56 a week.
  • Even including all overtime and production bonuses, the average take-home wage is still just 35 cents an hour and $20.93 for a 60-hour workweek.
  • Workers are routinely cheated of the legal overtime wage due them. Sometimes management withholds up to 20 percent of the workers' wages as punishment for failing to meet production goals.

PUMA thrives on its exploited and abused workers in China:

  • From beginning to end, the total cost of labor to make a pair of PUMA sneakers in China comes to just $1.16. The workers' wages amount to just 1.66 percent of the sneakers' $70 retail price. It takes 2.69 hours to make a pair of sneakers.
  • PUMA's gross profit on a pair of $70 sneakers is $34.09.
  • PUMA's hourly profit on each pair of sneakers is more than 28 times greater than the wages the workers received to make the sneaker.
  • PUMA is making a net profit of $12.24 an hour on every production worker in China, which comes to an annual profit of $38,188.80 per worker. For Pou Yuen Plant F alone, PUMA's net profit gained from the workers exceeds $92 million.
  • Even after accounting for all corporate expenditures involved in running its business—which the workers in China are ultimately paying for—PUMA's net profit on each $70 pair of sneakers is still $7.42, or 6.4 times more than the workers are paid to make the sneaker.
  • In the first five days and two hours of the year—before the first week is even over—the workers in China have made enough PUMA sneakers to pay their entire year's salary.
  • If PUMA did something quite remarkable, but very affordable, and raised the base wage of the workers by just 20 cents an hour, which would allow the workers to climb out of misery and would have an enormously positive impact on their lives, it would then take a worker in China 7 1/2 days to make enough sneakers to pay for their entire year's salary. This is very do-able.

Repression, Fear and Abuse:

  • Workers describe factory management as "militaristic." Workers report that after forced calisthenics, they march to their positions chanting company slogans.
  • Twelve workers share a crowded dorm room, and 100 workers share each bathroom. Even during the cold winter months the dorm often lacks hot water.
  • Workers eat food described as "pig slop." The meat is unsafe and sickeningly greasy.
  • Anyone daring to speak the truth will be fired. Anyone talking back to a supervisor will be fired. Anyone even suggesting improvements in factory conditions will be fired. The workers are in a trap, stripped of their rights.
  • Supervisors routinely shout and yell at the workers for working too slowly. The workers have no choice but to bow their heads and accept the constant humiliation in silence.
  • Talking is prohibited.
  • No one can leave the factory without first receiving permission and a special pass. Company security guards search the workers' dorm rooms, and anyone found with contraband goods, such as cigarettes, will be immediately fired.
  • Anyone arriving five minutes late to work will be fined three hours' wages.
  • Workers handle toxic chemicals that can cause skin and eye irritation, headache, dizziness, vomiting, breathing difficulties, drowsiness, and with prolonged exposure, nervous breakdown.
  • The hands of workers on the stock-fitting line gradually change shape over time due to the repetitive, rapid and precise movements they must make day in and day out. The workers' thumbs are thin at the base and thick at the top, with prominent nails. Thin veins stand out. Their hands are blistered and sore, causing the workers difficulties sleeping.
  • PUMA's Code of Conduct is meaningless. Pou Yuen functions as a well-run prison, one that manufactures massive profits for PUMA, on the backs of its exploited and abused workers.

 

people walking in front of the factory

Workers Entering Pou Yuen Plant "F" 

 

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